The Cycle of Sustainability: being a sustainable small business in today’s special event industry

Today’s post comes from one of me Ethical Wedding besties, Miranda Meisenbach, a West Coast event planner who has studied sustainability in running her event planning business. Get your notebooks ready boys & girls to get schooled on the holistic approach to sustainability and learn practical ways how we can apply this knowledge as small business owners. 

Sustainability has become a bit of a buzz word over the last few years in the special events industry. The trickle-down effect of the push for corporate social responsibility (CSR, which gained momentum in the late 1980s and with the advent of internet and ultimately social media became a large influencer in consumer trends by the millennium) has reached its natural path to the hospitality sector, which in turn brings us special event folks into the mix. In short, consumers are becoming more and more aware of their purchases: where and how products are made, what companies compensate their employees, what charitable contributions a company has made over recent years, what environmentally friendly practices are in place during day to day operations, and more. This is a lot of pressure for a small business and especially for one that does business in an industry where sustainability is not the name of the game.

ethically dressed woman sits on bed

Special event professionals are faced with the inherent issue of “first worldly-ness” when it comes to our craft. Weddings, parties, galas, etc. are all one-day affairs. Our industry is literally about creating moments of beauty and elation before dismantling them forever. How can an industry like this ever become truly sustainable? To start, it is imperative that change-makers understand the difference between sustainability and sustainable development. Like civil engineers, it is important to see that building a sustainable foundation today will slowly, surely, and sustainably guide us to a truly sustainable future. Sustainability is the goal, sustainable development (or growth, planning, etc.) is the way to achieve that goal.

A key concept to embrace is the cycle of sustainability. Many people think “sustainability” is synonymous with “going green” or being “environmentally conscious”. While environmentalism certainly has its (very large) part in sustainable development, it is only one part of a three-part cycle that makes up true sustainability.

True sustainability is comprised of 3 pillars: social, environmental, and economic. Like the three branches of government, sustainable development cannot function correctly without the support and acknowledgment of each of these fields. The key to running a sustainable small business is balancing small changes in each of these categories as our market grows and changes to include more opportunities to be more and more sustainable.

As mentioned earlier, many hospitality and special event business owners don’t see much opportunity to fully embrace sustainable development. A recent conversation with a sales manager from a special event transportation company had us discussing this exact issue. Her initial response to the question of the company’s commitment to sustainability was along the lines of, “Well, we run a business that requires fuel and leaves a heavy carbon footprint. How am I supposed to be sustainable if there are no viable alternative fuels available in our market?” This statement is totally understandable. It is not reasonable for an established transportation company to completely upend their operations and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on new clean energy vehicles to contribute to sustainability. How could this company make sustainable changes? While keeping an eye on the progress, development, and availability of clean energy buses, limos, and town cars, this company could hire drivers right from their local community, or through an outreach program that connects marginalized groups of people with work opportunities. They could support and endorse initiatives and legislation that gives grants to companies who research, produce, or employ clean energy alternative fuels. They could engage in activities such as tree planting to “offset” their carbon footprints. They could implement changes to make their offices waste-free by keeping digital records, using recycled paper for printed materials, using energy efficient appliances etc. The point is, there are many, MANY ways to employ principles of sustainability even if your particular product or service is not “sustainable”.

Easy Ways to Be a Part of the Cycle of Sustainability TODAY:

detail shot of ethical accessories

ENVIRONMENTAL:

  • Keep digital files whenever possible
  • Turn off computers, printers, desk lamps, Keurig’s, or any other office electronics when not in use.
  • Read product labels and know what ingredients are used, where they come from, and what their environmental impacts are
  • Donate time or other resources to “carbon neutralizing” organizations that perform earth-positive acts in effort to offset our current carbon footprint and environmental impacts
  • Organize carpools for you and your team whenever possible
  • Research your company’s carbon footprint and begin making plans to lessen it in the future
Overhead shot of ethically sourced coffee and Dandelion chocolate

ECONOMIC:

  • Shop local, be a conscious consumer
  • Hire local
  • Pay employees the highest wage you can afford
  • Create a business plan that allows your employees to experience growth over time
  • Maintain price integrity and educate potential customers on why your products or services are priced the way they are throughout the industry.

SOCIAL:

  • Partner with local charities, schools, and churches
  • Support and promote other local small businesses
  • Become engaged in your local community and government
  • Offer work-study or internships for high school students, ideally from lesser funded schools in your area

Perhaps the most important way a small business can perpetuate true sustainable growth is by having conversations. Share this article. Discuss with peers. Put your intentions out to your client base. Educate. Stay educated. Inform. Stay informed. Don’t let pretty labels or trending hashtags greenwash you. The movement towards a sustainable special events industry will be a long, slow process. By understanding the core principles of sustainability, and what a small business can do today, tomorrow, and down the road to employ them, you are already one step closer to our goal of a sustainable future.

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about the author: Miranda Meisenbach is the owner and Creative Director for MIRAwed, LLC., a special event and creative consulting company serving California and Arizona destinations. She has a degree in Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences with a focus on Sustainable Tourism Management from Arizona State University and has been active in the special event industry for over 10 years. In her (rare) spare time, she enjoys outdoor adventures with her two children and dogs and will never turn down a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

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Photographer/Creative Director: Praise Santos | http://www.comeplum.com

Planning: Liza Bourkard | http://www.studiodbi.com

Models: Desmond Nun | http://www.instagram.com/dezdance20
Chanel Fu | http://www.instagram.com/tionelle

Hair & Makeup: Farrah Taher | http://www.spiritmakeup.com

Floral Design: Claire Xue | http://www.clairexue.style

Styling: Chanel Fu | http://www.instagram.com/fumanity 

Apparel: Kali Made Garments | http://www.kalimade.com/Celia Grace Wedding Dresses | https://www.celia-grace.com/ Brevity Brand | http://www.brevitybrand.comErmis Nava | https://www.ermisnava.com/

Venue: Hotel G | http://www.hotelgsanfrancisco.com

Props: Chairs + Cups | http://www.chairsandcups.com/

Accessories: Parker Clay | https://www.parkerclay.com/
Soko | https://shopsoko.com/

Catering: HomeGrown | http://www.eathomegrown.com

Beverage & Dessert: Sutherland Distilling | http://sutherlanddistilling.com/Proyecto Diaz | https://www.proyectodiazcoffee.com/

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