Episode 2

Published on:

26th Jul 2023

S3 E2: Sustainability in Event Management with Danielle Dickinson

In the world of event planning, sustainability has become an increasingly important consideration. The concept of sustainability goes beyond simply recycling or using eco-friendly materials. It encompasses a broader framework known as "the triple bottom line," which focuses on the impact of events on the planet, people, and profit.

In this thought-provoking discussion with Danielle Dickinson, an expert in event-based strategies, we explore the evolving role of sustainability in event management and the implications for businesses and attendees.

Danielle emphasizes the need for clear communication with stakeholders and the importance of creating an inclusive and culturally positive event experience. She also notes that sustainability practices can lead to cost savings in the long run.

Key Takeaways

  • The triple bottom line approach in event planning focuses on environmental impact, social responsibility, and financial performance.
  • Sustainability initiatives in events include responsible sourcing, waste reduction, diversity and inclusion, and community give-back.
  • Selecting vendors and partners who align with sustainability goals is crucial for successful event planning.
  • Sustainability practices can lead to cost savings in the long run by reducing waste and improving resource efficiency.
  • Attendees are seeking inclusive and culturally positive events that prioritize their well-being.

About the Guest

Danielle Dickinson is Senior Vice President, Events at The Castle Group, a public relations and events management agency headquartered in Boston, MA. She has 18 years of experience creating event-based strategies, managing teams, and executing innovative programs for corporate and nonprofit clients across the globe. Danielle specializes in strategic planning, budgeting, contract negotiation, event design, project management, event logistics, and customer relationships. Danielle is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) and holds a certificate in Sustainable Event Planning (SEPC) through the Event Industry Council.

About the Host

Abbie Fink is vice president/general manager of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, crisis communications, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations.

PRGN Presents is brought to you by Public Relations Global Network, the world’s local public relations agency. Our executive producer is Adrian McIntyre.

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Adrian McIntyre:

From the Public Relations Global Network, this is PRGN Presents. I'm Adrian McIntyre.

Abbie Fink:

And I'm Abbie Fink, vice president/general manager of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. With public relations leaders embedded into the fabric of the communities we serve, clients hire our agencies for the local knowledge, expertise, and connections in markets spanning six continents across the world.

Adrian McIntyre:

Our guests on this biweekly podcast series are all members of the Public Relations Global Network. They discuss such topics as the importance of sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance programs, crisis communications, content marketing, reputation management, and outside of the box thinking for growing your business.

Abbie Fink:

For more information about PRGN and our members, please visit prgn.com. And now, let's meet our guest for this episode.

Danielle Dickinson:

Hi, I’m Danielle Dickinson. I’m with the Castle Group, a PR events management and communications agency based in Boston. I focus on event-based strategies and bringing events to life.

Abbie Fink:

We’ve been talking about ESG on this podcast now for well over a year, and it has never come up before in the context of special events or event management. And I am interested in this concept and something that you’re referring to as the triple bottom line. Tell me a little bit more about that.

Danielle Dickinson:

Sure, absolutely. As it relates to ESG, the triple bottom line is another framework for measurement. They’re not identical. I think the triple bottom line is more of a broad concept about how you’re doing in sustainability, whereas ESG is more focused on specific reporting, financials, definitely important on both aspects. But I think in events, we have a tendency to focus more on goals building that are based on the triple bottom line.

Abbie Fink:

The idea of sustainability as it relates to events, in my experience, has been, are we recycling? Are we using, you know, what does our silverware look like? We’ve introduced the idea of being a little bit more environmentally sensitive when we’re talking about it. But there’s a much bigger discussion here when it comes to events, event management and that impact that we’re having. Can you share a little bit based on your experience and what you’re seeing and how that’s evolved over the years.

Danielle Dickinson:

Yeah, absolutely. It’s nothing new. We’ve all been trying to green our events and do better for a long time. In more recent years, the pandemic had a really big effect. There was a huge shift the during pandemic time with everybody focusing on crazy world events, climate, social, all sorts of different aspects of what’s going on in the world. At this time, I think people really reprioritized and came back into the in-person event space, really wanting to make a point about who they are, what they support, and how events are going to look moving forward. So, while it’s always kind of been woven into events, it’s become a huge piece of the puzzle. And I think the importance has really grown and we’re seeing much higher adoption rates of different initiatives that can be done in sustainability for events.

Abbie Fink:

Now, let’s level-set for just a second. We are speaking about the idea of being physically present now in an event space, a trade show or a big meeting, whatever. So, we’re talking about that. And are events being focused in the sustainability environment or the events themselves are business as usual, trade shows, networking, conferences, and yet sustainability is now a line item on the to-do list that we need to make sure we address?

Danielle Dickinson:

Yeah, that’s a great question. I think it is the latter. It’s business as usual, but with new perspectives and new priorities. And it’s how do we do that business in a more responsible way, which is what pulls in that triple bottom line of not just how can we do better for the planet, but also how can we do better for the people and our attendees, our stakeholders, the community that we’re in, and also how we can do better for the traditional bottom line in all of these different ways.

Abbie Fink:

Well, and that’s a lot of players involved that have to agree that we’re going to make sustainability part of our process. The event production side is one thing, but it’s everything around it, right? The vendors you use, all the services that end up going into an event. So as the organizer, as the person asked to manage all of these things, what are some of the things you’re looking at? What’s the to-do list that you have to check off and say, we are doing this, and this is going to be a successful way of approaching sustainability and events?

Danielle Dickinson:

We take the triple bottom line approach in coaching our clients through setting their own sustainability goals. We do this generally by starting with a plan. We create a plan that helps to determine the priorities, outline how we’re going to meet those objectives, define the performance indicators, and discuss what kind of metrics they need or want for that given event. Through the life cycle of the planning, it’s all about recommending different initiatives and how to engage those stakeholders and vendors, because it’s a really is a shared responsibility with our partners. But at the end of the day, we use initiatives such as responsible sourcing, waste reduction, diversion, food rescue, diversity, inclusion, community give-back, and really leveraging technologies over physical materials to just try to do better.

Abbie Fink:

Now, are you finding in the conversations …. I plan events, but I would not say I’m an event planner. But early days of the impact of COVID, I learned very, very quickly how important it is to read the small print in the contracts I was signing because I never needed to worry about things like force majeure ever. There must be some things that have changed now in terms of at least the way you’re addressing it and wanting your clients to address in the contractual obligations that you’re seeing and where so many places along the way have to agree to these processes. So what types of things do you … you’ve locked in the client’s understanding of what they want, but then what are you doing with those vendor partners and others to ensure that they are following those same guidelines that you’ve promised to your client you will abide by and are conscious of?

Danielle Dickinson:

That’s a super important part of the life cycle. I think it really all does need to start at the sourcing level. And so for us, that means at the RFP stage, we’re including verbiage and language about what type of requirements we have, what type of metrics we are going to need, and what labor practices and different viewpoints so that we have all of the information we need when we are selecting partners to make a choice that aligns with our clients and our goals. So that it really starts at the onset and there’s no surprises down the road that we know who we’re working with and that everyone is going to follow through on what they said.

Abbie Fink:

Does it cost more? Do budgets need to change when we take a very active role in wanting to be a sustainable event?

Danielle Dickinson:

They can, if you can. But honestly, it’s not necessary. I think what additional funds give you is different opportunities to do some bigger things like purchasing carbon offsets for your audience, making larger donations to community foundations, also using the latest technologies and things, but it’s really not necessary. You know, sustainability practices have a tendency to lead to cost savings in the long run. Responsible sourcing and efficient use of resources and leveraging a lot of these new technologies are all ways that we can help actually reduce cost and eliminate unnecessary waste. So yeah, you do not need to increase your budget, but it certainly never hurts.

Adrian McIntyre:

One of the things about sustainability that I think is really interesting in this context is it’s an intangible that we all at some level agree, or at least pay lip service to. We think it’s important, and then it gets more concrete when it’s in budgets and contracts. That’s where the physical concreteness of sustainability shows up in practice. But I wonder about the other side of it in terms of the experience. Is the experience of an event that’s been organized around sustainability principles different? And in what ways?

Danielle Dickinson:

I think it is. And I think that really goes back to that, you know, that third P there about people. Sustainability is so much more than just saving the water bottles. It’s really about how to make that experience inclusive and culturally positive and authentic. And the value has increased in all of that, and that’s really what people want. So we are recommending and seeing a lot of clients that are putting much more effort into this, and we’re doing that right at the beginning in the agenda-building strategies, making sure we have adequate breaks, and maybe have health and wellness programs, time for exercise, time for emails, giving people the space they need to live their life well and still learn and be a part of these things and to network. It comes all the way back to the partners and the venues you’re selecting, places with lots of natural light, greenery, fresh air, all the way down through what’s in the agenda, getting a chance to maybe do a fun run which may benefit a local community organization, or having something as simple as a room for nursing mothers so they can feel comfortable to do what they need to do. Relief areas for service dogs. I mean, it’s small things that seem like they’re just ways of life, but they are also things that haven’t been necessary in events before, so I think that they are happy surprises.

Abbie Fink:

Well, and I was going to have that same similar conversation around the experience, because in the, if we agree that the idea of sustainability and awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and other of these things that are in this ether of the ESG conversation, some of that has to come from the attendee as well. And the decision I make to participate in a live event that I have to drive to, get on a plane, take a train, whatever that might be, if I’m aware, and an organization who’s principles are based in that, then my attendance at certain things needs to align with that messaging as well. And I’ve done a lot of work in the disability community, and so questions always come up around interpreters, ramps, relief areas, those types of things. In that space, it’s a very common question to ask. It might not be in other places. So I think as attendees, we are going to be a bit more demanding or have a little bit higher expectation of the things that we see and likely will pay for those experiences differently. We talked about costs from the production side of things, but I may be willing to invest a little bit more in that attendance if I feel like the organization has made an effort to live out those principles. And if it means it costs a little bit more to attend, then so be it, because those things don’t come at no cost. You’ve been doing events for a long time and it’s your business practice. This evolution has, as you said, kind of got a kickstart thanks to COVID and what it forced us to do. But the conversations about this aren’t new. What are you telling your clients to be thinking about and getting ready to do this? And if they’re not ready, what are some alternatives or some other things that can happen to make them ready to put on this type of thing and be ready to go.

Danielle Dickinson:

Yeah, I think that we are right there right now in the time and place of adoption of sustainability initiatives. Historically, clearly it’s a very wasteful industry. And in events in general are always about impressions. So oftentimes that translated to what’s the biggest, newest, flashiest thing? And sometimes that also equates to a little bit more waste. So I think it is making that shift of what, while that was the most important thing historically, now what’s the most important thing is how can I be a good corporate citizen? And it’s all about the communication to stakeholders at a super high level. So when we start that sustainability planning in a discovery phase with a new client or a new event, part of that is let’s talk about your stakeholders and how we can drive that home at all the different levels. How we can engage your executives so they’re on board, your vendors, your participants, how they can be on board early and get excited about this and help sell it as well? What are different things that we can include in the agenda that people, like you said, may pay a little bit more for? They may be interested in spending a little bit more money in a sponsorship that they know is going to completely offset their carbon footprint for participating in this event. People may be more apt to spend money and attend if they know all of their needs will be met. If they have the opportunity to give back to the community they will be participating in, and all of those different pieces. So it’s all about communication, really at the end of the day. How we do that at a very early stage and throughout the planning cycle, and of course at the end, in how we share the metrics and the results of the efforts that everyone put in.

Adrian McIntyre:

Thanks for listening to this episode of PRGN Presents, brought to you by the Public Relations Global Network.

Abbie Fink:

We publish new episodes every other week, so follow PRGN Presents in your favorite podcast app. Episodes are also available on our website—along with more information about PRGN and our members—at prgn.com.

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About the Podcast

PRGN Presents: News & Views from the Public Relations Global Network
Leading a business effectively in today's fast-paced and interconnected world requires expert guidance and a strong communications strategy. The Public Relations Global Network is here to help.
PRGN Presents is the essential podcast for international business leaders, non-profit executives, and those who hire public relations, marketing, and communications firms. It provides an exclusive look into the ever-evolving world of PR and communications, featuring experts from the Public Relations Global Network, “the world’s local public relations agency.”

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In each episode, you’ll hear PR professionals and industry experts share valuable insights and perspectives on the latest trends in public relations, Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG), media relations, crisis management, investor relations, stakeholder engagement, executive thought leadership, and strategic communications.

About your host

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Abbie S. Fink

Abbie S. Fink is president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of the Public Relations Global Network. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations. Abbie is often invited to present to a wide variety of business and civic organizations on such topics as media relations, social media and digital communications strategies, crisis communications, and special events management.