Painting your event’s façade green doesn’t cut it anymore

Hand with a reusable bottle being filled with water


Within the meetings industry, we will presumably remember 2022 for the number of greenwashing cases. Most greenwashing campaigns occur unknowingly and unintentionally. Experts say the Pareto principle applies to greenwashing; 20% of planned greenwashing triggers 80% of the greenwashing ripple effects in our industry. Therefore, it seems fitting to publicly expose calculated greenwashing cases, given that others happen unintentionally. Luckily, we have stumbled upon only a handful of greenwashing cases this year. Still, we did encounter many sophisticated greenwashing tricks, including presenting information selectively. Often, event organisers attempt to sustainably transform their events by addressing one challenge, usually in cooperation with NGOs and by joining projects such as Zero Waste, Frau Blau, Fair Trade, etc. Although such initiatives are commendable in and of themselves, they usually only partially address the problem. A holistic and sustainable event transformation takes much more effort.


Event organisers do not go the extra mile to make a sustainable transformation and refrain from publishing information they believe will shine a bad light on their project. They most commonly omit information concerning the carbon footprint generated by transportation and venues. Ultimately, the attendees, often clients themselves, decide what greenwashing is. Participants always demand clear explanations and proof. Whether event organisers have the data and present it is another story.

A kid pouring water in a cup in the park
A kid pouring water in a cup in the park


Type of greenwashing: Presenting information selectively

Eco-designer water bottles are one of the most popular methods event organisers use to advocate their sustainable initiatives. To illustrate, here is a message I received from a fellow event organiser: “This is our chance to showcase how eco our event is. Use reusable eco water bottles that encourage a healthy lifestyle and contribute to reducing our emissions on the planet. By using an ecological water bottle, you support a green future and reduce the use of plastic.”

Admittedly, this is a noble initiative, especially when event organisers encourage attendees to opt for tap water. In addition, wherever drinking sanitary tap water can become a daily practice, this helps a great cause.

greenwashing water 3 681x454

A drop in the ocean

Nonetheless, pure mathematical calculations when measuring an event’s carbon footprint show such initiatives are but a drop in the ocean. Let’s first discern what generates the most carbon footprint at the Conventa trade show in Ljubljana. An overwhelming 95% of the carbon footprint comprises the transportation of attendees and employees, hotel accommodation, event venues and catering. Almost 80% of that amount comes from transport only. The remaining 5% is thus negligible. The structure of carbon footprint, of course, varies from the event type and size. Local events have a much lower carbon footprint generated by transport. Still, we estimate that it amounts to 60%, even at local events. It is only rational that event organisers focus on reducing carbon footprint where it is most problematic. If we rely on the criteria for calculating an event’s sustainability ranking (Green Meetings Star), we can rank areas of sustainable event transformation as follows (pertaining to carbon footprint):

Very important (60 – 80% of carbon footprint)

  • Mobility (transporting attendees)
  • Event venue
  • Food and beverages (catering)
  • Hotel accommodation
  • Multimedia equipment and production

Important (15 – 30% of carbon footprint)

  • Project management
  • Exhibitor equipment
  • Purchasing and ordering
  • Energy (direct use)
  • Waste
  • Water

Less important (5 – 10% of carbon footprint)

  • Communication
  • Marketing
  • Social responsibility
  • Natural environment

The facts are brutally ruthless. We can only make a leap forward and improve in segments where our events generate the most CO2. Taking small steps will not lead to change. That is why I believe event organisers should first measure the carbon footprint of their event and validate their sustainable activities by acquiring a sustainability ranking. Only after this can they adapt their measures to reduce the carbon footprint.

People drinking water from a drinking tap on a square


Although alluding to one of the goals of sustainable development as defined by the United Nations sounds praiseworthy, we must keep in mind that there are 17 goals that event organisers must address holistically. If event organisers consider all 17 goals, their event can have positive regenerative effects.

If you have decided to go all-in and make lasting changes in terms of water use, we advise that you measure the water footprint of your event. Water footprint pertains to water use and includes direct and indirect water consumption during the event. It is defined as the entire amount of drinking water used for the execution of the event. Measuring water consumption enables the planning of measures for the future. At the same time, water footprint spreads awareness about virtual water – the water we cannot see but is integral for making products. For instance, we need 140 litres of water for one cup of coffee.

Saving water is correlated with reducing single-use plastic and instead using reusable plastic. Plastic waste is the chief source of ocean pollution. Microplastic, in particular, presents a huge problem. The amount of microplastic in oceans, seas, drinking water and food is rising. Microplastic is consumed by animals in the environment, causing them to die in many cases. The harmful microplastic contains additives, such as stabilisers and other possibly toxic chemical substances that harm our health. In line with the EU Plastics Strategy, we advise implementing far-reaching measures related to plastic use.

Often, greenwashing is blanketed by powerful and pretentious messages that do not contribute to solving any environmental or societal problem. Therefore, we recommend you do not shy away from communicating the adverse effects of your event and trust science instead. In addition, you should define the regenerative impact of your event clearly. Most importantly, all event organisers should stop using convoluted phrases to hide cold hard facts.

Painting your event’s façade green doesn’t cut it anymore. The climate crisis is reaching catastrophic proportions, and our time to act is running out. That also applies to all event organisers. Evidently, we are terribly late in making a green transition.

greenwashing kongres magazine green sustainable earth 5

Environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term “greenwashing” in 1986. While on an expedition to Samoa, he was greatly upset by the hotel sign concerning the reuse of towels. He concluded that its purpose was solely a strategy to lower expenses instead of the hotel’s sustainable and responsible aspirations.

Westerveld was the first to use the term greenwashing in his expert article, and the rest is history. The term has survived till today and encompasses all areas of sustainability, including gender equality, poverty, hunger, health, education, paid work etc.

There are several typical examples of greenwashing. They have been around for some time, yet, we continue to be duped by them. We have summarised the most typical examples of greenwashing below:

1. Presenting information selectively

An example of greenwashing is emphasising environment-friendly information whilst withholding negative information. A typical example is ignoring the carbon footprint of event transfers which can amount to 75% of an event’s entire carbon footprint.

2. Lack of proof to back up claims

Let us suppose a company claims their event is green or eco-friendly but does not enclose any concrete proof. They should at least calculate their event’s carbon footprint and support it with a certificate issued by an official institution.

3. Ambiguity and vagueness of claims

Another way of misleading is using loose and undefined terms that are nearly impossible to understand in one way. A recurring example, for instance, is stating that an event is carbon-neutral without elaborating what that stands for.

4. Deceiving and irrelevant labels

Companies will often refer to certificates and labels that, in fact, do not exist or are misleading. Lately, there have been cases of green venue finders with no real foundation. This type of deception is embodied by companies that sell “products without CFC”, even though chlorofluorocarbons are forbidden by law.

5. Highlighting the lesser evil

Event organising is environmentally unfriendly. Hence, the claim that one event is greener than another is plainly false.

6. Selling lies

On occasions, companies choose to proclaim lies. Making false claims, certificates, and inventing facts will mislead customers.

7. Meaningless labels

Certificates, labels and awards can often have little or no meaning. In some cases, organisations even award themselves with certificates or endorsements not backed by any authority.

There are even cases when companies tell outright lies. Sooner or later, such practices are exposed, and information about them spreads like wildfire.

In Britain, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is reporting a boom in the number of complaints about environmental claims – up from 117 in 2006 to 561 last year. “What we are seeing is claims about being carbon-neutral, zero-carbon emissions and use of words such as sustainable and organic,” says Lord Smith, chairman of the ASA.

Written by: 
Gorazd Čad