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February 5, 2018

Sub-Saharan Africa: Greenwashing Is Not an Option

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Greenwashing is one of the marketing messages that businesses and consumers need to watch out for. With some venues, organisations and major events showing the way, it has become easier and more cost-effective for event planners to deliver on their promises to people and planet.

Event Greening Forum tackles naysayers

The Event Greening Forum started the year with a comprehensive article on their website busting several greening myths doing the rounds. Triple bottom line reporting – business, community and environment – is increasingly becoming the norm. The aim is to host events that are audited and certified green. A summary of the key findings:

1. Honest: A “green event” is one which through its sustainability practices has achieved carbon neutral status. The forum is clear: “To claim your event is green prematurely is essentially greenwashing – a term used to describe any misleading communication or PR spin about greening and green benefits.” Greening is an ongoing journey for the industry.

2. Integrated: Greening of an event should be integrated into the event planning process from the outset and not considered an optional extra or add-on with a separate price tag. Factors that inform green decisions include choice of venue, décor, catering, communications and waste management. Normalisation, compliance and best practice in greening is a mindset.

3. Cost-effective: Many greening actions do not cost anything or lead to cost savings, for example doing away with conference bags. Some initiatives may cost more initially but save money in the long term, such as introducing a grey water system at a venue or choosing LED lighting in the exhibition shell scheme, which will reduce water and energy bills of the event as a whole.

4. Savvy: Staying abreast of greening practices is the responsibility of parties involved in planning, hosting and servicing the events industry. The Forum’s Minimum Standards for Sustainable Events and workshops are excellent resources. Many environmentally responsible practices require small adjustments to implement and are not complicated.

5. Realistic: By incorporating greening into the initial planning stage, processes will not become onerous or time-consuming. It starts with choosing green suppliers, ensuring sustainability is built into the equation. Green supplier databases are a useful place to start to find service providers that have greening built into their offering.

Grace Stead, a sustainability strategist for Steadfast Greening and a board member of the Event Greening Forum, says, “Event greening should be able to be a cost saving because it focusses on efficiency. You also need to consider price versus cost. What is the rand value price that you pay, versus what is the cost to your health and our environment?”

Greg McManus, founder of Heritage Environmental Management and Certification and the chairman of the Event Greening Forum, adds, “Establishing whether an event is green can only take place after the work has been done, or once the extent of the impacts of the event have happened and been measured.”

Meetings Africa leads with green

Meetings Africa 2018 organisers provided a clear directive to exhibitors and visitors to the event on how to conduct business and themselves effectively yet sustainably. A summary of suggestions to offset your carbon footprint, as exhibitors as well as hosted buyers and visitors during the event:

Top 15 Green Tips


1. Reduce energy usage by choosing energy-efficient technology on the stand, such as LED lighting or plasma screens, and switch off power to the stand at night.

2. Buy “mini” renewable energy certificates (REC) for 9m² for R30 excl. VAT. In 2017, 12 REC’s were purchased from National Zoological Gardens of South Africa in Gauteng to power the show.

3. Enter the Green Stand Awards if you think your stand is a good example of an eco-friendly display. Details in the exhibitor manual.

4. Rolled carpeting on stands can be donated to a charity after the show. In 2017, the carpets were donated to Loveness Creche and Tabernacle Christian Academy in Ivory Park.

5. Avoid having printed hand-outs on the stand. Rather share information electronically with visitors.

6. Procure locally-produced items as visitor gifts to support the local economy. A comprehensive database of local suppliers is available.

7. Green the stand with eco-friendly designs and accessories on shell scheme stands or fabric graphics that can be re-used at future events if on executive packages.

8. Select indigenous and locally-grown plants for the stand. A range of indigenous plants is available including: Yellowwood, Natal Mahogany, Mother-in-law’s Tongue and Chlorophytum.

Exhibitors and visitors:

9. Purchase a tree for R130 excl. VAT to be planted in a local community in partnership with Food & Trees for Africa as part of the Meetings Africa 2018 CSI initiative. In 2017, 203 trees were purchased by exhibitors and suppliers and planted at schools in Gauteng.

10. Car pool to reduce carbon footprint, alleviate parking congestion and save money.

11. Make use of the Gautrain and shuttle services if from out of town.

12. Plan meetings around the show: with so many key players in one location at the same time, the show provides an ideal opportunity to meet and thereby decrease the need for future travel.

13. Drink the filtered tap water that is freely available on the exhibition floor rather than bottled water. Do not serve bottled water on the stand to reduce waste generated at the event.

14. There will be a R10 surcharge on bottled water, as in the past, with money donated to the event’s carbon-offset programme. In 2017, 111 bottles of water were sold, down from the 225 in 2016, which contributed to the planting of eight trees.

15. Use the clearly labelled, three-system recycling bins.

Food waste management

Food waste generated during Meetings Africa will be managed in an environmentally responsible manner by Earth Probiotic. “We have been recycling the food waste generated at Meetings Africa

since 2015,” says Karen Heron, co-founder of Earth Probiotic. "As a result, we have successfully composted more than 2,5 tons of food waste and compostable food packaging, thus saving more than 850kg of carbon emissions.”

Earth Probiotic’s onsite composting solutions take control of all food waste and eliminate risk, ensuring that no third party issues impact on waste problems. Food waste can represent up to 60% of general waste volume. Composting this on-site eliminates this cost and high waste inflation risks.

“Sustainability or green practices are no longer a nice to have, a little feel good activity. They are essential practices in a world that is increasingly at risk and where climate change is a reality,” notes Karen.

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