Imagine hosting events that not only bring people together, but also help save the planet. It’s possible with sustainable event planning.

We are all now familiar with the terms ‘Net Zero’ and ‘Carbon Neutral’, particularly after Scotland hosted COP26 back in 2021. However, it is increasingly clear that the future looks bleak for our planet if we continue along the same trajectory, and we need to take serious action to try and turn things around as best as possible. I have been reflecting on the impact that events, and more importantly the events we run at Mearns & Gill, might have on the environment. As an Event Manager, I felt there was more that I could (and should) be doing to reduce that impact.

Sustainable event planning is essential for our planet’s future and our ethical responsibility as Event Managers. If not carefully thought through, an event can create a tremendous amount of waste, contribute to the world’s carbon emissions, and put unnecessary pressure on the environment (not to mention working against the UK Government’s goal of reaching Net Zero by 2050). This has had me thinking about what we can do to reduce our impact on the environment and still run fabulous events, get people together, and deliver the same important messages.

Here’s a recent case study from an event we managed with sustainability in mind.

Sustainability at Seismic 2023

Seismic is a technical conference that Mearns & Gill organise on behalf of our client SPE Aberdeen. The 2023 event, which took place on 19th & 20th April, focused on how seismic sustainably supports the UK’s energy security of supply and Net Zero obligations. This got me thinking about how the conference, which would be discussing carbon reduction in the Energy industry, could make a positive step towards reducing emissions and reaching Net Zero targets within our industry.

Sustainable Venue Choice

P&J Live in Aberdeen is the most sustainable venue of its type in the UK. They have their own innovative energy centre which uses food and garden waste from around Aberdeen. It is digested in an Anaerobic plant and the resulting hydrogen gas is harvested and used to power the energy centre which supplies heating, cooling, and power to P&J Live and the onsite hotels. We are so lucky to have such a great venue, with sustainability at the forefront of what they do, right on our doorstep!

If you want to read more about sustainability at P&J Live, visit

Going Paperless

Abstract books, conference programmes, exhibition floor plans and delegate lists are all traditionally printed materials that are handed out to delegates. We wanted to move all these event assets to a digital format this year. First, delegates were sent the abstract book via email in advance so they could download a copy. Next, we uploaded all event information, including the abstract book, floor plan and delegate list online. Finally, we provided a QR code for delegates to scan and view all event information on their devices while at the event. The venue has digital screens available to use so we made full use of these to display the essential event information.

Sustainable Catering

To minimise the impact of events on the environment, the catering team at the P&J Live use local suppliers wherever possible to minimise food miles. In addition, any waste created is recycled for use in the energy centre and will be re-used to power the venue.

Reuse and recycle

Unfortunately, we can’t avoid producing some of the traditional conference items we are all used to. For example, delegate badges are an essential part of the security of a conference, so these must remain. We don’t use plastic wallets for our badges, instead they are produced to clip directly on to the lanyard to avoid these. Badges are then recycled post event, and the lanyards were collected to be returned to the sponsor and reused at a future event.

Consider your carbon footprint

Events are all about bringing people together. This means that people will generally need to travel to get there. We encouraged our delegates to think about their transport options before travelling. Could they use public transport instead of taking the car? If they were travelling from further afield in the UK, could they take a train instead of flying?

Attendees were notified in advance of the paperless nature of the event and encouraged to do their bit by not printing anything off. Session chairs were encouraged to have their notes on a device instead of printing them out.

Of course, there are many other ways to reduce the impact of events on the environment, and the above is a small cross-section of options available. Others may include:

  • Hybrid or online events
  • Plant-based menus
  • Encourage exhibitors to go plastic free – only eco giveaway options
  • Carbon offsetting

I am proud of the steps that we took to make Seismic 2023 as sustainable as possible and was pleased to hear that it was appreciated by attendees and by the conference technical committee. I am now even more motivated to look for new and innovative ways to reduce the impact of all future events organised by the team at Mearns & Gill.

What next?

Of course, being a full-service agency, events are just one of the services that Mearns & Gill offer our clients. While running events is likely one of the highest emission-producing activities, we wanted to ensure that the whole organisation was making a commitment to reducing our impact on the environment. We recently contracted the help of a local company, Carbon-Zero, to help us calculate and review our carbon emissions for the financial year 2022/23. Carbon-Zero are experts in carbon accounting for businesses, products, services, and projects, and help businesses on their journey to Net Zero.

After a thorough evaluation of all business activities within the specified period, we were issued with a report detailing our carbon emissions for the year. Along with this report, we were offered suggestions on how we might look to reduce our emissions moving forward and were given the option to purchase carbon credits to offset our emissions for the year. We were presented with a selection of projects to support with our credits, including Safe water Borehole Community Handpumps and Improved Cookstoves, and to ensure everyone in the company felt involved, we put this decision to a company-wide vote. This year we have chosen to support the Mozambique Community Handpump Project.

The wheels are now in motion with Carbon-Zero to get those carbon credits purchased, and once that is all confirmed, we will be able to proudly announce that we were carbon neutral in 2022/23. The intention is to continue to monitor our emissions each year, implement ways to try and reduce emissions, and continue to offset where we cannot cut emissions entirely. This is a permanent commitment moving forward.

I’m proud to be part of this initiative within Mearns & Gill and I hope to start encouraging more and more of our event clients to consider their impact on the environment during their planning. The aim is to start offering a ‘carbon neutral event’ service where clients can choose to have their event emissions calculated and then be given the opportunity to purchase carbon credits to offset their emissions. This will enable our clients to run carbon neutral events and to do their bit towards a greener future. Watch out for this in 2024!