These days, sustainable events are on the minds of many event planners, as well as attendees. The goal is for planners and participants to both take concrete action to help preserve and protect the environment, promote health and inclusivity, and support local economies. But how do planners move away from unsustainable practices and toward new ways of working that limit waste and energy consumption? How can they expand access for people with disabilities while still offering a stellar experience?
Fortunately, there are many resources in Canada’s capital to help you host more sustainable events while maintaining the high standards your attendees are accustomed to. Here are four great tips to get you started.
Choose the right partners
When selecting a venue, check out their sustainability practices and choose to work with those who are leading the way. The Shaw Centre in downtown Ottawa is a LEED Gold certified building that uses advanced waste management and recycling techniques to reduce its environmental footprint: “We had new occupancy sensors installed and a full optimization done on our Building Automation System,” says Blake Rainville, the Shaw Centre’s Senior Manager of Facilities. “This allows us to maximize the efficiency of our systems and in turn reduces our hydro and gas consumption… our gas savings have been reduced by approximately 80% percent during the same time last year.”
The Shaw Centre was also designed to conform to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), but Rainville adds, “Although not required to do so in Canada, we voluntarily designed to meet ADA and ADAAG requirements, since the American convention market is important to us.”
And the Canadian War Museum, which offers unique meeting and event spaces, draws water from the Ottawa River to heat and cool the building, and recycles it for flushing toilets. The museum also has a self-sustaining green roof that helps to clean the air around it and reduce the heat island effect.
Ottawa hotels are doing their part as well: Both the Westin Ottawa and the Brookstreet purchase emissions-free electricity from Bullfrog Power to power parts of their buildings, including lobbies and meeting rooms. The Westin uses a regenerative energy system for its elevators (much like those used in electric cars) and has installed LED lighting in all its guest rooms. The Brookstreet now filters and bottles its own still and sparkling drinking water to reduce its dependence on delivered water.
Shop and source local
Sourcing gift items locally can make a big difference, since transportation is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Many local Ottawa businesses, including coffee roasters, specialty food producers, soap and candle makers, regularly give back to their communities, so you can feel good about tucking a locally-made spice mix or candle into swag bags (and sourcing those bags from an eco-friendly local retailer like Terra20). You can also buy locally for sustainable construction materials (like FSC-certified lumber and low VOC paints and adhesives) to build stages and booths. Plan to reuse or recycle design elements once the event is over.
Watch your waste
Seek out ways to reduce and divert waste, whether it’s food or swag items like notebooks, pens, bags, and water bottles. The Shaw Centre will arrange for leftover food to be donated to local shelters and charities. “Food that has been partially eaten is put into our ORCA machine, which breaks it down and turns it into grey water. This reduced the amount of leftover that leaves our building in garbage trucks and in turn reduces our carbon footprint,” says Rainville. They can also help you find recipients for any leftover conference materials through their Leave a Legacy program.
Get attendees on board
Ottawa has a walkable downtown core, as well as extensive and accessible public transit. So consider selecting one of the many venues that are easy to access by bus or light rail, and invite your attendees to avoid using cars or ridesharing services in favour of walking to dinner or activities. You can also encourage guests to arrive by train at one of Ottawa’s two VIA Rail stations, instead of flying, or purchase carbon offsets if taking a flight is unavoidable.