The Green Room

I'm a sustainability consultant for the events industry. AMA

Hi, I’m Karen and I founded the Global Good Awards in 2015 which has now become one of the leading global sustainability awards; and the only one that is truly run sustainably.

I have since set up a sustainable events consultancy service to help other awards, festival and event organisers to make fast positive change for the benefit of people and planet.

I’m also a member of the Independent Awards Standards Council where I act as an assessor for the Awards Trust Mark; an accreditation scheme to enhance trust between those entering awards schemes, and the organisations running them.

I live on the south coast and in my spare time, I walk on the South Downs, kayak and sea swim (even in mid winter!).

We are so excited to have @KarenSuttonECO join us this afternoon for a chat about her work as a sustainability consultant.

To kick things off, here are a couple of questions for you:

  • How did you get into becoming a sustainability consultant for the events industry?
  • What are the main things that should be considered throughout the process of planning a sustainable events?

Hi all,
I started off by launching the Global Good Awards 8 years ago and then realised how hardly any events were sustainable. We were the only ones serving sustainable menus, calculating the impact of our delegates etc.

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Venue, travel, food and event materials are probably the key considerations and the easiest to make big changes to.

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Hi Karen,

Thanks for being here today!
When I first started looking into sustainability and alternatives, I found out that there was so much more to it than I initially thought. Have there been clients who didn’t quite realise how much goes into sustainable event planning and are maybe a little intimidated once they did?

Thank you!

In terms of travel, sometimes events requires attendees and speakers to travel from other countries - in this instance, how do you advise your clients who may have attendees travelling from abroad? Or how do you minimise the travel of attendees to the event?

Oh yes! The few things I mentioned above are just scratching the surface really. So many people don’t realise the impact that such a small thing has… for example, we might be all plant-based menu for our events, but we also won’t serve avocados or almonds (for example) as the impact is too high. You may as well have welfare local chicken!

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That’s a very easy one… and made even easier since COVID. We don’t allow people to travel from overseas to our ceremony if they are finalists. Firstly, we ask them if they can send someone from the UK in their place to represent them. If they can’t… they can’t come. SIMPLE. We put out advice on travel from different parts of the UK where possible and encourage car shares, trains - anything but flying! Approx 25% of the emissions of a flight is for takeoff and landing, so even a shorthaul flight has a massive impact per mile.

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Do you think that Covid has made people think more about their sustainability choices and actions? And do you think that as a result of the pandemic, more people and organisations will continue to make positive change towards their sustainability goals?

I agree! Have there been clients who haven’t been as accommodating and absolutely insist on having an item at their event that does have a high impact, for example avocados as an ingredient in their menu even though an alternative is provided?
Have there been any issues you weren’t quite able to solve?

Yes it has but it’s also brought the issue forward for those that were ‘considering’ going virtual or hybrid. With so many audience engagement platforms around now, which have developed their product more over the last 18 months, it can be a much better experience for the audience. Also, more venues have HAD to adapt. We run the awards at BMA House and they are now fully equipped with all the latest streaming tech.

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It actually, in the main, comes down to cost (STILL!) - so menus being plant-based are an easier sell as they work out around £5 per head cheaper than meat.

Single-use signage is a killer… and the sustainable alternatives are often quite a bit more money. I try to advice clients that they should keep their messaging generic (avoiding dates and other things that can change like sponsors) and use the digital tech at the venue to focus on these. Then the signage can be re-used. I also try to encourage a minimalistic approach.


Hi Karen,

What would you say is the most difficult component to making a festival/ event fully sustainable?

It’s amazing how much streaming tech has come up this past couple of years and even more so post-covid.
Hybrid events are definitely something that’s going to stay in the coming years.

What has the been the most difficult experience for you throughout your career with trying to make an event sustainable?
How can difficult situations be tackled, for example when what you thought was sustainable did not end up to be as sustainable as they say?

Depends on the type of event I guess. If it’s festivals then it’s more about managing energy, waste and engaging the guests to change behaviour. Leaving tents in fields for example!

For more contained events - more like what I do - especially if it’s a big company, it’s getting them to communicate with all their departments so they are all on the same page. I’ve seen some howlers of marketing campaigns or ‘gifts’ used which the sustainability team would never have signed off. Let’s run an event sustainably, but we’ll award our top salesperson of the year… a 4x4 driving experience… hoooray! :frowning:

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Cost without a doubt. Currently everything (except menu pretty much) is more expensive to do sustainably. But we HAVE to do it…

If you mean how you communicate that afterwards, then just throw your hands up and say ‘we messed up… didn’t know… and change for next time’ and ask for advice! Someone will know the answer to everything. It’s a forever evolving journey…

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Thank you!

What other advice can you give companies who want to make that positive change?
And what is the best way for companies and for event managers to continue with their sustainability goals?

Generally, just stop and think before every decision and check if it’s the right way to go. If you’re not sure… ask an sustainable event organiser to hand-hold through your first few events.

Also, don’t leave things until the last minute and also put the ‘clear up’ high on the list as it’s always an after thought! At the end of any event, everyone is tired and wants to go home… that’s when more waste occurs!

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Amazing, thank you so much!
Definitely an advice that everyone can use.
Being properly prepared and taking the time to actually plan things is the best way to make sure that things will be sustainable in the long run.

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