Three Topics Driving Sustainability in the Hospitality and Event Sectors

<< Case Studies & White Papers | December 16, 2021

Best practice ideas from Paul Salinger

The hospitality and event sectors have been talking about sustainability for over 20 years, and clearly, we’re not closer to solving some of the main issues. Are there missteps in the past that we should look to avoid?

We’ve often taken the easy way out and not taken the urgent and ambitious approach that is needed. Such as:

  • Pushing non-transformative solutions: Sustainable event and hospitality education has encouraged best practices that are helpful, like recycling, eliminating bottled water, not having linens changed daily. Although these are good things to do, it’s possible to get stuck in just doing the basics. More ambition is needed.
  • Redirecting responsibility elsewhere: Sustainable event plans can often get stuck when there is concern sponsors, suppliers, and participants won’t take action. For example, it might be risky to take a hard line to establish minimum sustainability guidelines for exhibitors or shift to plant-based menus. Sometimes a line gets drawn in terms of what we’re willing to do, and how hard we’re prepared to push.
  • Emphasizing the downsides: This can take a variety of forms. We’ve all heard (or said) “it costs too much”. This can be true in the short term but ignores the even higher cost of delaying action. The expectation of perfection can also be a deterrent. Being willing to test and experiment with better methods or materials is sometimes the only thing that gets us to the best ones. We can’t wait: we have to start somewhere.

From our point of view with years of experience working on sustainability issues in the hospitality and event sectors we see three main areas of concern that continually need to be addressed and solved if these sectors are to survive and thrive.  Those three topics are carbon, consumption, and supply chain diversity.

We see the emission of carbon and other greenhouse gases as the overriding issue in the hospitality and events sectors.  We just emit too much carbon, in our travel options, in our accommodation choices, in our destination choices, in our approach to food and in the way we consume goods and transport them.  We don’t measure enough of the impact of carbon emissions on our events, our attendees, our destinations, or the communities in event destinations that are subjected to pollution and climate change impacts on an unequal basis to have the kind of data that could spur real change.

For the past 200 years, the hallmark of global consumption and resource use can be aptly described as a linear economy (‘take-make-waste’). The hospitality and events sectors are significant culprits. It’s time to rethink and redesign a more circular event economy. Can we change the consumption patterns of our events, attendees, partners, and stakeholders in a way that gets us to the elusive goal of zero waste? We believe that we need to rethink and examine every aspect of the event supply chain, rethinking what we consume, how we consume it, and how we can extend the life of every material we produce.

Is our current approach and systems to procuring and nurturing suppliers really working?  Is it as diverse and equitable as we would want it to be?  A transition to circular thinking calls for creative innovation in systems design, rigorous collaboration, and value development across supply chains and stakeholders’ ecosystems. It’s time to rethink our approach to supply chains and suppliers to “build back better” post COVID.  We want to challenge all of us to look across the event landscape to help local economies build and nurture more equitable partnerships, strengthen destinations and local economies, and become sustainable for big and small suppliers.

Given these three key areas of concern then, what are some of the questions we should be asking and what are some potential paths forward for those in the hospitality and event sectors to work on and potentially partner on?  Here are some thoughts:


Climate change is a complex issue. How do you frame the challenge of low-carbon events in a clear and easy to understand way that event professionals can relate to?

  • Our personal carbon footprints can be wide-ranging: from a little more than two metric tons per person per year in Brazil to seven metric tons in the EU and China and 16 metric tons in North America.
  • If we’re successful in achieving targets that have been set out under the Paris Agreement, the target lifestyle carbon footprint for 1.5 °C should be 2.5 tCO2e by 2030.
  • To put that aspiration in context, the carbon cost to attend a large, international conference or tradeshow can currently reach three tons per person. That is 40% of the carbon impact of someone currently living in the EU today, and 20% higher than the aspirational footprint.
  • So,
  •  the near-term challenge for today is: how does my approach to an event–as a planner, supplier or participant–enable us to help our event participants transition toward, and eventually stay within, a lifestyle carbon budget of 2.5 t by 2030?


Measuring event emissions is a prerequisite step to reducing and mitigating. What are some of the tools that are available to measure?

  • UNFCCC Tool (pending)
  • Digital Event Carbon Calculator 
  • Carbon offset calculators (myClimate)
  • ICAO flight calculator
  • EcoTransIT Tool (freight)
  • EcoPassenger Tool (flights/rail)
  • Least-emitting flight search tools (Google, Kayak, Light Flights, Sky Scanner)
  • All of the above are free tools. There are others, but they are fee-for-service: MeetGreen, ISLA.


Just generally, what do we all see as the big problems when it comes to waste and consumption patterns and behavior in the event sector?

  • It’s clear that the take-make-waste model of our current hospitality and event economy is leading us down a dangerous path. To realize a flourishing future for the event and hospitality industries we must step beyond current sustainable systems that maintain the status quo.
  • We need to build regenerative business and event models that restore, renew, and heal, leaving the communities where we hold events, our attendees, nature and society better off and more resilient than we found them. 
  • The hospitality and event sectors have spent the last (at least) twenty years talking about green meetings and then sustainability.  Perhaps the reason we have not made more progress is that we really need to rethink our whole approach and might even need a new system to take us forward.
  • We think that system is circularity.
  • What we want to focus on is reducing and rethinking consumption from design to sourcing to production to use to reuse.  What it is really about is getting all aspects of events and the event supply chain, which includes hotels, to a decarbonized and zero waste model and out of the take-make-waste model of our current state.
  1. Think circular design and production
  2. Reduce consumption and eliminate waste
  3. Rethink disposal, think reuse, repair, upcycle


Beyond doing basic stuff what actions can hospitality and event professionals start to take to solve for over consumption and wasteful disposal?

  • Design and produce with reuse and sustainable materials in mind
  • Eliminate materials that only go to landfill
  • Reduce or eliminate consumable items that go to landfill
  • Reduce non-sustainable packaging
  • Source products locally and reduce transportation emissions
  • Invest in local markets for recycling of materials


What kinds of new or different partnerships do we need to think about as we work to diversify our supply chains?

  • Not just about DEI
  • Working with stakeholders in a different way
  • Investing in training and vetting of smaller and different suppliers
  • Going rogue when necessary

“We applaud and share the ambitious goals that the Marina Bay Sands is exhibiting by making sustainability the underpinning of their business operations.  We need more hotels, resorts, venues and destinations to step up to this kind of thinking and action if we are going to have an industry that survives and thrives into the future and makes the world a better place for all,” says Paul Salinger, Sustainability Evangelist for The Society for Sustainable Events.

Paul Salinger is a sustainability consultant and evangelist for sustainable events. From 2007 to 2020 Paul led the events team at Oracle in their efforts to make all of Oracle’s events sustainable globally. Oracle’s flagship conference, Oracle OpenWorld, was recognized as a leader in sustainable events, setting the standard for many other corporate conferences. Now retired from Oracle he continues to work in the industry on educating and spurring action to make sustainability a core value and key component of event design, event strategy and event operations.


CASE STUDY: Reimagining Hospitality with Sustainability at Marina Bay Sands

Sustainability has been at the core of Marina Bay Sands since its opening in 2010. Guided by its global sustainability strategy, Sands ECO360, the integrated resort (IR) incorporates best practices, technologies and methodologies to reduce its overall environmental impact. 

Over the years, the IR has invested heavily in smart building technology to reduce its environmental impact. Its S$50 million Intelligent Building Management System helps to monitor the IR’s lighting, heating, air-conditioning and water supplies, electricity and air quality very closely. With over 250,000 data points, this system has saved over 7.4 million kWh of energy annually since 2012, alongside other efficiency measures.

Sitting atop the Sands SkyPark are some 536 solar panels that can generate enough electricity to power all the lights in the park. Installed in April 2017, these solar panels help to reduce the annual carbon emissions by 70 tonnes. 

Green Meetings at Marina Bay Sands

Over the years, Marina Bay Sands’ approach has grown beyond focusing on infrastructure. The IR has been actively engaging stakeholders such as suppliers, vendors and its Team Members in its sustainability journey, encouraging them to make decisions that reduce environmental impact wherever possible.

In 2020, Marina Bay Sands became Singapore’s first carbon neutral MICE venue, a result of its energy efficiency measures coupled with its investment in local Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) and carbon offsets. Clients can conduct meetings and conferences that are 100 per cent carbon neutral at no additional cost. 

Already a LEED-Platinum and ISO20121-certified venue, Sands Expo’s carbon neutral status is a step in the right direction towards Singapore’s transition to a low-carbon economy.


Sustainable food sourcing

With the effects of climate change increasingly disrupting global supply chains, Marina Bay Sands is mindful of the need to source food sustainably. Since 2017, Marina Bay Sands has been working on improving responsible seafood sourcing in Asia Pacific. In 2020, 49.3 per cent of its seafood was responsibly sourced. Apart from seafood, the IR has been working with an increasing number of local and regional farmers, aiming to source 3/4 of its fruits and vegetables from the region by 2022.


Reducing single-use items and eliminating food waste

Marina Bay Sands has established partnerships with local food charities to donate unserved food, thus reducing overall food waste. To ensure that the food donated is fresh and safe for consumption, the IR invested in industrial-grade blast chillers. In 2020, about 19,000kg of unserved food was donated to their beneficiaries, of which 15,000kg of perishables was donated prior to the integrated resort’s temporary closure in April due to Covid-19 control measures. 

Some of the kitchens on property use technology to help chefs track and manage food waste. There are also five anaerobic digesters that break down remaining food waste into non-potable water, thus reducing waste to landfill. A disposables scorecard is used for selected business units to help manage and reduce single-use disposables.  


Future of sustainability at Marina Bay Sands

Sustainability continues to underpin the IR’s business operations. It remains committed to decouple carbon footprint from business growth by harnessing cutting-edge technology, innovative solutions, Team Member and stakeholder engagements to deliver a sustainable hospitality experience. By working together with a wide range of stakeholders, Marina Bay Sands aims to create a collaborative environment that paves the way towards greater sustainability.