As the association for the conference industry, SAACI uses its annual congress as a platform to showcase and demonstrate many best practice standards in event management. From tweaking the programme to achieve the perfect balance of networking and content, to constantly adapting the set-up to maximise attendee engagement, each and every congress builds on the last one.
In terms of the congress’s event greening, this on-going refinement is also evident. Says Glenton de Kock, CEO of SAACI, “We took care to bring in a lot of sustainability elements throughout the event, to build on the ‘green’ foundations we have laid at past events. Consequently, lots of small steps were taken, and many delegates may not have even noticed them at first.”
Here is an overview of the best practice sustainability measures taken at the event:
Venue and Accommodation
The SAACI Congress was held at Addo Elephant Park. This decision was in part motivated by the Department of Tourism’s drive to host more business events in ‘Villages, Towns and Small Dorpies’, because of the economic benefits they can transfer to host destinations. It may surprise some that this is another aspect of event greening, in considering not only the environmental impacts of an event, but also the social and economic ones.
A consequence of this choice was that the venue did not have on-site accommodation for the guests. Instead, nearby options were sourced, and a shuttle service was implemented to help get guests to and from the congress and side events, quickly, conveniently, and with a lowered carbon footprint.
All delegates received a lanyard at registration, with a plastic-pouch-free (and therefore waste-free) badge that was locally innovated by EXBO Software Solutions – the same company who handled the registration process.
Key event information – such as the programme and transport pick up points – were accessible via QR codes on the back of each lanyard badge. This ensured they were conveniently accessible for everyone while eliminating the need for printouts.
A water station with mints, pens and paper was set up at the back of the room, rather than being laid out on every table in the venue. “we wanted to prevent delegates automatically using things ‘because they were there’, but instead consciously going to get said things if they were needed. Most people have a notebook and pen, and don’t really need more. Nor do most people want to eat a bowl of mints. But if mints are in front of you, it can easily happen. We’ve all done it!”
The water was served from jugs rather than plastic bottles, which also helped to reduce the event’s waste footprint.
Oranges, lemons and Spek boom (the plant famous for its superior ability to convert CO² into oxygen) were chosen for the table décor, all of which are zero waste options as they can be re-used or composted post-event.
At the gala dinner, a ‘recyclable tree’ made from recyclable plastic made an eye-catching focal point and was a reminder that most sustainability challenges are also opportunities – plastic waste can be recycled or re-used in innovative ways.
An effort was made to ensure that there was no over-catering. “We may have erred on the side of having a little too little food for the welcome dinner,” says Glenton, “Luckily, we were able to work with the venue in a responsive manner to ensure we got it right for the subsequent meals.”
Another novel idea was a ‘bring your own mug’ campaign, where guests could bring and use their own mug throughout the event. “We don’t think this worked very well, as coffee can quickly stain cups and it is hard to keep them clean for the delegates,” admits Genton. “Instead, next year we will trial re-usable water bottles instead, which shouldn’t have this challenge.”
The Strategic Plant Development Manager for Volkswagen South Africa, Michael Petrie, presented at the Congress, where he shared insights into several of the sustainability measures that have been implemented at their premises. These include water filtration and re-use systems, and using solar energy. The intention was to inspire delegates as to what is possible, shares Glenton.
EGF Treasurer Justin Hawes also presented on the Net Zero Carbon Events pledge and programme, to help raise awareness and gain support for this important global movement.
The event’s legacy
A local school choir performed at SAACI’s opening ceremony and gala dinner. SAACI is continuing to work with the school to create a valuable legacy project and intends to maintain the relationship with them into the future. “We don’t want to just come into their lives once and then disappear. We are laying a foundation to build a real relationship and yield real benefits for years to come,” Glenton says.
Money was also raised for a ‘save the rhino’ campaign, which feels fitting given the event’s location in a beautiful game reserve.
Justin’s feedback as a delegate and speaker was hugely positive. He says he was impressed by the various measures in place, adding, “It is always great to see greening in practice, and the many ways it can be practiced. I personally loved the table décor which featured oranges, which some delegates ate it at the end of the event!”