How should the organiser of a large meeting, seminar, congress, banquet or large-scale exhibition begin the planning of a responsible event?

Meetings and congresses, as well as related trade and scientific exhibitions and festivities, are events related to a specific topic or theme, where the organising body usually makes almost all major choices related to services on behalf of the participants in advance. The same is true for green values and responsibility: the official owner of the event may be a domestic or international organisation, and the local organiser is committed to following the instructions given by the event owner in matters of responsibility as well. Sometimes it may be that the owner of the event only gives the right to hold the next meeting and mainly gives general guidelines regarding the arrangements. If this is the case, the local organiser is quite free to implement their own views while also setting their own goals for the content of the meeting and the services to be purchased. Finns, who are known to be sensible, are usually very ambitious in these issues as well: it is of great pride in any field if you can tell about responsible choices and implementation methods that have not only saved natural resources but also made economical solutions on behalf of the participants. It is quite common that after meetings held by Finns, the larger umbrella organisation is awakened, as it were, to a new, modern method of implementation: if a brave pioneer and efficient organiser in Finland shows what is possible, it is easy for others to adopt new good practices in other countries as well.

How should the organiser of a large meeting, seminar, congress, banquet or large-scale exhibition begin the planning of a responsible event? First, you have to choose a city that is committed to responsibility, i.e. a destination that tells about its responsibility work in a concrete way. The City of Turku has great strategic goals for a carbon-neutral future, but the planning of meetings is usually more practical, so the recycling theme of delegate bags sewn by unemployed people at the City’s Työpiste sparks more discussion. This is understandable: the strategy steers the whole city in the right direction, but the meeting organiser needs practical tools and products to make their choices easier. It is precisely the role of the destination and the companies to solve this in advance by productising, pricing and selling the responsible products that the organiser can choose. Productisation and ideation cannot be the responsibility of the customer, nor can knowledge of best practices. A skilled and up-to-date meeting and congress city knows the responsible and diverse services in its area and describes them in a transparent way to its big and small, domestic and international customers. The choices are always made by the customer themselves, according to their own needs and budget.

The biggest responsible choices are the meeting venue, banquet hall and accommodation, as well as the meals that are an essential part of all of these and that sometimes cause some heated discussion. The large hotel chains in Finland are very informed in matters of sustainability and responsibility, which means that it is easy to find out about the certifications and practical solutions with which their services work by visiting their websites or talking with their sales managers on a tour of their premises. The responsible services of meeting venues and banquet halls, on the other hand, are usually very practical and related to the purchase of ingredients and food, i.e. the implementation of events, although most are starting to have certifications as well these days. The sales staff tell about these solutions with great inspiration, and the customer gets to hear the details about the tasty local food served in that particular venue all the way to the primary producer. Today, the Turku region and archipelago have reached a level where the banquet menus change according to the four seasons, with the best selection of fresh ingredients changing with them.

Communication also plays a key role in planning a responsible meeting. Well-planned, solid communication is the only way to tell the guests coming to the event what kind of green and responsible choices have been made on their behalf even before the event. The food has been selected according to the themes of local food and with an emphasis on vegetarian food, no gifts have been purchased – the money set aside for gifts may have been donated to a local charity close to the theme of the event – and the quality of Finnish tap water is the best in the world, so there is no need for bottled water. And even if bottled water is available, the nationwide bottle deposit system will ensure that we are not committing environmental crimes! It may also be that some of the lecturers have donated their lecture fees to charity if there has been the will and time to ask about it in advance. Meeting venues, banquet halls and accommodation premises have been selected within walking distance from one another so that no joint transport is required at all. Here in Turku, even our local public transport, FÖLI, is ahead of its time in this area: In Turku, you can obtain QR codes to distribute to the guests in advance, with which they can get on the bus, and the cost will only be determined by how many times the buses were used. Very responsible and cost-effective: there will be no cost at all if the weather is nice and most guests want to walk.

In the world of meetings and festivities, responsibility is about bold choices made in advance, tenacious planning and open communications. At best, responsible choices are also local, sensible and reasonably priced. However, all responsible choices have one clear idea in common: they make the seller, buyer and meeting participant really happy.

Text: Sari Ruusumo