Estimated reading time 6 min

Tips on how to organise sustainable events – from skiing competitions to meetings

What happens when a world championships organiser wants to promote sustainable solutions at a sports event? In the following, I share some experiences and lessons learned along the way.


Nani Pajunen

Senior Lead, Sustainability solutions


Two and half years ago we received an interesting contact request from Lahti. Would Sitra be interested in becoming one of the event partners for the World Ski Championships 2017 to be held in Lahti? The co-operation was aimed at promoting sustainable solutions at the sports event. What a great offer! We seldom get a chance to meet such a variety of people anywhere to inform them about the limits of the earth’s ecological carrying capacity and the circular economy. It was an easy decision to make, since sport is followed by approximately 80 per cent of people, whereas science gets a following of perhaps some 5 per cent (the percentages are off the cuff, but perhaps not that far from the truth).

So, we decided to join the ride – or should we say the slide – and skied into the competition site in Lahti.

Since we had to aim high, our starting point was that Sitra would challenge the World Ski Championships organisers and event partners to implement the world’s most sustainable sports event in 2017 in Lahti. We promised to provide support in the build-up to the games. This journey gave us a lot of new experiences and we all learned many lessons.

Along the way, we decided we wanted to set our aims even a little higher. During the championship games, we challenged the International Ski Federation (FIS) to implement all their future games in an even more sustainable manner than was done in Lahti. In fact, the work done in Lahti has had a snowball effect. FIS has taken the Lahti Ski Championships as its flagship, and the Lahti model has been showcased, for example, to the 100 largest sports associations at an international seminar in Lausanne.

In August 2017, the lessons learned from Lahti were tested at the European basketball championships in Finland, and now Sitra is collaborating with the Finnish Olympic Committee with the aim of streamlining circular economy solutions within the field of sport – applying them to anything from pitchside cafés providing all kinds of delicacies to the operations of major sports organisations.

In the same way as the life cycle of a product begins from one point and ends at another, so starts the implementation of an event: beginning with the planning and proceeding through all the different stages until the actual climax – the event itself – and followed by cleaning up after the event and reviewing the lessons learned. The size of an event should not have an effect on how sustainably it is organised. Of course, a large event irresponsibly arranged causes a lot more damage than does the spread of a picnic party’s waste in a nearby park. It also sends a strong message as to what kind of activity is OK.

We wanted to make the work of event organisers easier. Whether you are arranging a child’s birthday party or a world football championship, the checklist below will help you succeed in arranging a sustainable event!

The person in charge of environmental affairs at the annual Slush event put it well:
“When you want to organise an event in a sustainable manner, you cannot make compromises on this decision at any point. It just won’t work if the biggest sponsor is allowed to bring unsustainably manufactured spin-off products to the event when no one else is allowed to do the same. The policy is strict and treats everyone equally.”

I totally agree with this. The goals and operating methods are defined at the very beginning, and they should be followed. Altogether.

So, have a cheerful and sustainable event!

This is how you arrange a sustainable event

Before the event

  1. Engage the key partners in promoting sustainable solutions and the circular economy. Agree on common goals with the partners.
  2. Plan in collaboration with the event partners and other organisers how the event can be organised in a sustainable manner. Consider together how each organisation can participate in this work in their own role. Think what should be done differently to make it all work.
  3. Commit all event partners to operating in a sustainable manner. The best possible way to achieve this is to do it at the tendering stage, so that the commitment is written down in the contract. And don’t forget about sustainable procurement!
  4. Increase environmental awareness. People always need more information. If you don’t have it yourself, ask someone else to explain why, how, when, who and in which manner to operate to ensure sustainability.

During the event

  1. Organise the event in an energy-efficient way by using renewable energy. If possible, buy green electricity only. Remember that with any products that go to waste you lose the materials and the energy and water associated with these products and materials.
  2. Encourage people to use sustainable products and to take advantage of material flows. Remember that anything extra is indeed extra. Do not hand out extra stuff at your event. We can influence this also when attending events organised by others. Politely say no to an advertiser t-shirt at a running event or a cap handed out at a fair. This way we can contribute to reducing the manufacturing of unnecessary by-products.
  3. Reduce the environmental effects of food in advance. Source the food locally. Favour vegetarian food. If possible, ask the participants whether they intend to eat at the event. Think where you will take the surplus food.
  4. Support sustainable transport. If possible, plan the scheduling and the location of the event in such a way that it can be reached using public transport, by foot or by bike.
  5. Discuss with your partners about how sustainable circular economy solutions could be turned into the standard way of operation in future events as well. Your first sustainable event is a good start. For following events, you can always improve on your previous performance. Remember to also apply the good practices learned in your other everyday activities.
  6. Ask an external operator to assess the ecological standard of the event. If you want to measure your rate of success, agree with an external operator to have an assessment made.

After the event

  1. Learn your lessons. Review the life cycle of the event with your partners: Where did you succeed? Where is there still room for improvement? Consider how these lessons could be disseminated to the organisers of the following event or applied to your future events.

Click here to download the infographic (PDF) on these tips.

For additional tips on how to organise a sustainable sports event, see the Sustainable Sport and Events Toolkit (2014). The same instructions apply to arranging other types of events as well.

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