Over the last few years SCVO has made a commitment to go greener and started on our journey to net zero. So, when it came to planning the Gathering this year, it was obvious we were going to have to create a Greener Gathering. 

But what would that look like? Our Climate Crisis group, made up of staff from across different teams, got together with the events team to work that out 

One of the first things we did was talk to the SEC, where the Gathering has been held over recent years, and where international climate conference COP26 was hosted just last November. We were hopeful that the team there would be able to make it nice and easy for us. Ideally, we wanted an idea of the energy and waste we’d generated at previous Gatherings, so we could try to reduce that. 

The SEC has a green events guide with lots of useful information but we were a bit naïve to think it would be able to provide detailed information about our carbon output. It’s difficult to isolate energy usage and waste for individual events, and this is something it is still working on as a venue. 

It does however provide ample and clear recycling points, is easily accessible by public transport, and was able to provide good-quality vegetarian catering, and offset some of the energy used by planting trees through charity Trees for Life. 

The next step was to consider what else SCVO could do. This year’s Gathering didn’t include an exhibition, so while people were going to miss out on free pens, we knew that waste would be down. We decided to take measures to reduce our own wastage even further – so there would be no delegate badges or bags, delegates were encouraged to use electronic programmes and the printed programme was kept minimal, and we didn’t have any leaflets on the SCVO stand. 

The main things we did were: 

  • provide exclusively vegetarian catering options in our networking spaces  
  • offer discounts on hot drinks for delegates who brought their own reusable cups  
  • provide water fountains so people could refill water bottles
  • keep printed materials and merchandise to a minimum through greater use of digital screens 
  • recycle and re-use materials where possible (ensuring new branding didn’t include the year, for example) 
  • encourage active and greener travel  
  • encourage people to use the recycling points

What were the challenges? 

There were three main challenges, the first was understanding our scope and what was possible both this year and at future Gatherings, the second was sourcing sustainable materials, and the third was getting the message out. 

Initially, we had hoped to put a carbon footprint value on the Gathering at least for this year, so we could measure improvements in future years. In practise this isn’t possible yet. Measuring the carbon footprint of an event is really tricky – not only would we have to isolate energy and waste usage for our event as opposed to other activities going on in the SEC, but we’d also have to know how attendees travelled and what they consumed.  

Sourcing materials also proved to be tricky. A lot of staff time was spent trying to find ethical suppliers to greater and lesser success. It took some time to find a t-shirt supplier, for example, but in the end staff t-shirts were printed direct-to-garment to minimise waste, the ink was sustainable, materials and packaging were PETA approved vegan, and the company was Fair Waged certified. The t-shirts were 15% more expensive than previous years, but we considered that a fair premium to pay.  

Much of the new marketing materials were more expensive than previous years, as the marketing team did their utmost to source ethical products from suppliers with visible and comprehensive narratives. It became apparent though that the industry has a lot of catching up to do in relation to sustainable products, and we couldn’t find a company that specialised in sustainable office supplies. 

We bought reusable banners which didn’t include the year, reskinnable banner stands, and anything that was printed was on FSC approved recycled and recyclable paper.  

Every year we buy in new carpet for the networking space, and this year the plan was to recycle that through a local charity. Sadly, that fell through at the last moment and we didn’t have time to explore other options, so this is something for us to work on. 

The Greener Gathering messaging was our final challenge. We’d hadn’t run a Gathering in nearly three years and messaging was very tightly focused around the content of the event and the opportunities to network. This meant the Greener Gathering messaging wasn’t as prominent as it could have been, and something we’ll definitely look into more in future years.  

What were the achievements? 

Overall, SCVO is pretty happy with how our first Greener Gathering went.Over 70% of SCVO staff did things differently, and the remainder were already making environmentally friendly choices. More than half of staff who did something different ditched the taxi from Queen Street station and took public transport all the way to the venue. One staff member even cycled. 

Staff also chose to take reusable water bottles and/or hot drinks cups and over 80% opted for the veggie lunch. We also found the bins at the venue made us consciously recycle and the greener Gathering messaging helped us explain to attendees our reasons for reducing the number of freebies on offer.  

What about our delegates? Over 60% of delegates were aware of the messaging, which we’re pleased with. Also, 20% of people who completed a delegate evaluation form said they chose to do things differently because of our greener messaging. Over 65% of those respondents chose to take a reusable water bottle and/or hot drinks cup, around 50% chose to take public transport and a few people walked, and 50% chose a veggie lunch.  

We had some positive feedback from delegates including that they were “delighted and appreciated our efforts” to be greener this year:  

One said: “I walked to and from the Gathering both days, I would have done these things anyway but was delighted that this was actively encouraged”. 

Another added: “It didn’t impact my decision making (I do all these things anyway) but I wanted to take the opportunity to say that I noticed and appreciated the messaging (and have integrated some of that into the way we do things at my own organisation)”.  

Finally, we were delighted that the SEC donated eight trees to Trees for Life on behalf of the Gathering this year. 

What has been most useful for us? 

The Gathering is one of the biggest activities SCVO works on and it was a really good place to start embedding our greener messaging both to staff and the outside world. 

We learnt a lot from it that we can build on next year – we’re developing up a bank of sustainable suppliers and we’ll know what questions to ask venues. We don’t yet have an overall sustainable procurement policy, so this is something that our Climate Crisis group will be looking into to help all managers make sustainable choices.

We learnt that our members are open and enthusiastic about sustainable messages and activities. Despite some concerns, the vegetarian catering was largely successful, for example. And we discovered we can trust the SEC to provide a range of good-quality and tasty vegetarian hot and cold food. 

It was also great to see staff supporting the idea so enthusiastically. This gives our Climate Crisis group confidence to continue to look for more ways for SCVO staff and operations to make a positive contribution to the envrionment.