Between the 15th and 24th of September, the world has the opportunity to join an annual week of action, awareness, and accountability for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). These goals were created in 2015 to ‘provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future…. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.’
We must ask ourselves: what role do business events have in helping society achieve the UN SDGs, and are we genuinely invested? Over the last few years, much has been made about the business events industry being ‘part of the solution’ to the climate crisis and social challenges, but if we stare into a mirror and really look at ourselves, are we living up to that statement? If not, what must change?
Business events can be a catalyst to helping industries, organisations, local & national Governments, and communities strive towards achieving these 17 ambitious goals that encompass critical issues like poverty eradication, environmental sustainability, and social equality. Recently, there have been numerous articles on event ‘legacy’ and how we should ‘stop making it a thing’ that events matter under their own merit. I completely agree with the latter; I struggle with the ‘stop making it a thing’ mentality. Is it good enough for the world to continue as it always has done? That’s essentially what this statement suggests. Events should continue as they have merit in their own right – economically, collaboratively, and knowledge exchange(ly). But if they can do more, be better, adopt good corporate social responsibility policies, and be far more reaching than just the four walls of a conference room, surely that is a good thing indeed that is the right thing. Destinations aren’t selfish for pursuing ‘legacy agendas.’ They want your event to make a difference in their communities. If that means doing and thinking differently, so be it. My parents encouraged me, as many did to their own children, to be a good person and be the very best I could be. Why does that stop with the individual? Let’s apply that mentality and expectation across society. Let’s apply that to the events we run, the events we welcome, and the events we attend.
Everyone, every organisation, and every event now needs to live up to the harsh, bare, blunt reality we live in. Our world isn’t working. It hasn’t been for a long time. Business events need to change, and they need to do more.
And that’s where the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals come in.
These are just five areas where business events can drive the mission of the UN SDGs. Let’s begin.
Our events provide a unique platform for collaboration and knowledge-sharing. If we apply that format outside the conference room, cooperation and knowledge-sharing can be extended among a more diverse range of partners, including businesses, governments, non-profits, and academia. The UN SDGs are interconnected and require a collective effort to achieve. Events that align with these goals create an environment where participants can exchange ideas, best practices, and innovative solutions inside and outside the conference room. This collaboration fosters a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities associated with sustainable development.
The UN SDGs are not universally known in our industry or in society. Events can raise awareness about the UN SDGs, not only among suppliers, destinations, and attendees but also among the broader public through media coverage and engagement. When influential leaders and organisations endorse, discuss, and critically educate about these goals during events, they amplify their importance and encourage action. Increased awareness leads to greater responsibility and engagement within and outside the business events community.
Showcasing Sustainable Practices
Sustainability is a core component of the UN SDGs, and business events can showcase sustainable practices and technologies. Event organisers can set an example by implementing eco-friendly initiatives like reduced waste, carbon-neutral operations, and responsible sourcing. When attendees witness these practices in action, they are more likely to adopt them in their organisations and communities. We need to do more in this area; we have yet to be part of the solution to the climate crisis and have some way to go before we are and can confidently say we do not greenwash. Industry sessions on sustainability must move away from sessions that sell a product urgently and transition to giving actionable education. Outside help is needed, and the echo chamber of speaking to ourselves must be removed. We can be a pioneering industry in environmental sustainability if we wash away the sugar coating and grasp our reality. Then we can move forward.
Addressing Global Challenges
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are global challenges in its own right. And it’s a challenge the industry is far from solving. However, there are some great examples out there of positive steps forward to making our industry one built on inclusivity and belonging.
A single event has a powerful voice. Using that voice to demand change, engage in conversations, and bring audiences of differing opinions around a table to find a solution is something to be treasured. Global challenges, such as climate change, poverty alleviation, and gender equality, are integral to the UN SDGs. We have the opportunity to address these challenges head-on and use our events as a platform for action.
One of the strengths of the SDGs is their emphasis on measurable outcomes. There is no one solution to measurement, but business events can adopt UN SDG measurement practices to set clear goals and metrics to evaluate the impact on social transformation.
In a world facing complex and interrelated challenges, the alignment of business events with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is not just an opportunity but a necessity. These events catalyse social transformation by fostering collaboration, raising awareness, showcasing sustainable practices, addressing global challenges, driving investments, setting positive examples, and measuring impact. Through the power of networking and knowledge-sharing inside and outside the conference room, business events have the potential to shape a more sustainable and equitable future, one SDG at a time. As businesses and event organisers continue to recognise their role in advancing the global agenda, the impact of such events on social transformation could be extraordinary, leading us closer to a world where no one is left behind.
Founder, new intent