BMF CEO John Newcomb outlines the actions taken by the federation to reduce the environmental impact of its bi-annual overseas event.

There was a degree of scepticism when we announced that we wanted to make this year’s BMF All Industry Conference in Istanbul the most sustainable overseas event we have ever held. 

Of course, we knew it would be impossible to hold a net zero event, but we were determined to consider its environmental impact at every stage of planning and execution. Working with our Conference event partner, First Event, this enabled us to actively reduce or mitigate CO2 emissions wherever possible.

We also commissioned independently verified pre-event and post-event reports from event:decision. The first provided a benchmark for the total emissions for the event as initially envisioned, the second provided a detailed breakdown of the actual event, taking into account the changes we had made during the process.  

This was an extremely useful exercise. The comparison showed the actual CO2 emissions were 34.1% lower than our original projections, due to operational decisions and mitigations made throughout. 

The post event report has given us a new benchmark, which we will use to measure our next All Industry Conference and make further improvements.

Starting out

The choice of accommodation is one of the critical decisions affecting sustainability, and one of the reasons we chose the Swissotel Istanbul was due to its own sustainability efforts. The hotel won the inaugural 2010 Swissotel Sustainable Hotel Award in recognition of its commitment in this area and has further developed its practices since then. 

For example, the hotel switched to 100% renewable electricity from its suppliers and uses in-house cogeneration equipment to maximise efficiency and minimise environmental impact. Furthermore, the hotel’s grey water project uses ionised wastewater from its swimming pools, kitchens, baths and showers to irrigate the gardens, including the hotel’s own vegetable garden, which produces the freshest ingredients while reducing carbon emissions. 

The hotel also avoids the use of single use plastics for packaging hotel amenities and toiletries in guest rooms and ensures garbage bags, coffee capsules, etc are biodegradable.

For the conference itself we also made a conscious effort to reduce single use items on site.

Recycle and reuse

The number of pull up banners and totems we would typically have on site for this event was halved, replaced by using digital signage. Furthermore, these items were produced for the conference by our local agent in Istanbul – not transported from the UK - and donated to them post-event to be reused at future events with updated graphics.

This year’s lanyards were made from recycled PET and not branded to a specific year. By making them generic and asking delegates to return them we can look to use them at the 2025 conference.

We also found a more sustainable way to produce badges. We eliminated the need for plastic wallets by printing on tear-proof 450-micron polypropylene, which is 100% waterproof and recyclable. The badges were printed using a CO2-neural printing press to further reduce the effect on the environment.

Wherever possible, items that were previously printed were created only in a digital format or made using recycled or recyclable materials. We also limited the amount of print. For example, by combining place cards and menus at the gala dinner we halved the number of printed items for each delegate. We also chose to use the venue’s generic table numbers, rather than printing an unnecessary branded item.

The Conference brochure was printed locally on recycled paper and, once again, we reduced the number of copies printed, to 320 – down from 440 in 2021 and 525 in 2019.

Delegate choices

While some elements were in our control, others were helped by choices offered to, and taken by, the delegates.

Group transfers to and from the airport were offered to those traveling on the main group dates (Thursday and Sunday) and taken up by almost a quarter (24%) of delegates. 

We also offered everyone a vegetarian menu option for the gala dinner, as a way of mitigating CO2 emissions from animal-based food production. Registrations show this was taken up by 17 people who, based on their dietary requirements would not have otherwise been served a vegetarian meal.

While this is not a large number, it was another contribution to the overall reduction in emissions and sows a seed in people’s minds when offered a choice in future. If all the meals provided for delegates had been vegetarian, our food and beverage footprint would have been reduced by a further 24%.

The CO2 elephant in the room for any overseas conference comes from flight emissions, but there are ways to reduce these depending on the chosen flight. A filter on the booking website, for example, enables users to choose flights with lower CO2 emissions, which many delegates did. This saved around 140 tonnes of CO2 compared to our original flight estimates.

One of the considerations for future mitigation would be to hold the Conference in the UK or a European location where delegates could travel by rail or reduce their flight time. In fact, our 2021 Conference was held in the UK, to avoid difficulties in travelling overseas during the Covid pandemic, but venue and location feedback this year was far more positive.

There are, therefore, several factors to consider before decisions are made, including delegates’ current preference for overseas locations. When asked how far they would want to travel in 2025, 17.3% selected up to 3 hours, the majority (54.5%) opted for 3-to-5 hours, with 10% prepared to travel 5-to-7 hours, and a few hardy souls (1.8%) even longer. 

Carbon offsetting

We also looked at other ways to ameliorate the impact of delegate travel. For this year’s conference the BMF partnered with Mannok to help offset carbon emissions resulting from delegate flights. 

Trees act as a “biological sink” by taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Together with Mannok we will be planting 450 trees this autumn – one for each conference delegate – at their Crievehill Quarry in Northern Ireland.

Mannok’s tree planting programme, the first phase of which won the Best Sustainability Initiative Award at UK Construction Week in 2021, will see the company plant tens of thousands of native species trees over the coming decade.

Looking forward to our 2025 Conference, we will be looking at ways in which we can further reduce our CO2 footprint and improve sustainability, while still providing delegates with a stimulating, enjoyable, informative event that continues to offer real value.