Texas A&M University (TAMU) is the state’s first public institution of higher learning and one of the largest Tier One research institutions in North America. The College Station campus serves 68,461 undergraduate and graduate students. TAMU is a destination for student learning and professional development and a hub for numerous recreation activities, including sports, cultural, and community event destinations.
Kyle Field, home of the Texas A&M football team, seats 102,733 fans and generally hosts 6–7 home games annually. Reed Arena seats 12,989 and is home to men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball teams. Reed Arena also serves as an important special event center. It has become a leading destination for neighboring school districts within 60 miles to hold high school graduation.
TAMU brings the world to the doorstep of the Bryan-College Station community. The Bush School of Government & Public Service brings global leaders in areas of international affairs, political science, and national security and intelligence to campus every semester. The Memorial Student Center Opera and Performing Arts Society (MSC OPAS) presents professional productions of theater, music, and dance programs that enrich the lives of the local community. With over 1100 student-led organizations, all of which host multiple meetings and events annually, students are at the forefront of many event-based decisions in our campus community.
4.1. Case Study Approach
The case study described below follows a service-learning and experiential education approach. It is a collaborative, place-based approach to sustainability and resilience in the learning destination, where students and multiple other stakeholders jointly engage in decision making, learning and knowledge transfer, and organizational, social, and institutional change (see Refs. [46
]). As Chupp et al. (2010, p. 190) propose, “intentionally aiming for impact at three levels—on students, on the academic institution, and on the community—may be the key to making the most of any service-learning project [48
].” They, too, used a case-based service-learning research approach to show how students, faculty, and universities as a whole can benefit as they reach out to engage with community members and jointly facilitate meaningful change. The redistribution of decision-making power, more equitable and mutually beneficial relationships between students and community members, skill building, knowledge sharing, and learning are additional important benefits of service-learning and experiential education approaches [49
], as the case study below demonstrates.
In this case, the Office of Sustainability staff (including a student intern), the instructor, and students in a total of five event management classes in 2021 and 2022, as well as a range of community stakeholders, including event producers and venue managers as described below, were key stakeholders. The event management classes comprised a total of 86 students in Fall 2021, 67 in Spring 2022, and 24 in Fall 2022. Each worked with the sustainable event framework draft being developed by the OS. They were closely guided by their instructor, who kept observation notes, regularly summarized accomplishments, and took photos of students engaged in event planning and implementation. The sustainability element of production for this student project was not new, but was greatly expanded upon with the use of the TAMU Sustainable Event Certification Checklist, which served as not only a reflective tool but also an instructive one for students seeking to improve the sustainability of their events and needing direction in how to do so. Incentives of both academic assessment by the instructor and, in some cases, financial assistance (see further below) ensured that students’ efforts in sustainability were prioritized in their event plans.
As illustrated below, some important benefits and outcomes of the service-learning and experiential education approach are synergistic knowledge transfer and skill acquisition, building important competencies and literacies through engaged learning and multi-stakeholder collaboration, as well as concrete outcomes for destination resilience and sustainable event development, planning, and management (see also [50
] cited in [52
]). The benefits accrue not only to the students (and faculty) but also to the university and wider community (the event management community and overall learning destination resilience, as described and discussed below).
4.2. Efforts to Address Sustainability
The university is an essential focal point for education, recreation, and entertainment with a significant environmental impact. As such, TAMU looks for ways to minimize its impact on natural resources and lower greenhouse gas emissions. The campus Sustainability Master Plan (SMP) provides a blueprint to take measurable, attainable actions for the university. It focuses on 9 themes and defines 16 evergreen goals and 47 targets over a 20-year timeline. The plan is organized into four focus areas: physical environment, waste management, social sustainability, and institutional effort.
One of the key SMP evergreen goals is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. TAMU’s primary greenhouse gas reduction effort is to reduce the overall campus energy consumption. For the baseline year (FY04), the total campus energy consumption was 6.5 million mmBtu (1 Million British Thermal Units) for a campus size of 20.5 million gross square feet (GSF). In the measurement year (FY19), the total campus energy consumption was 5.5 million mmBtu for a campus size of over 29.6 million GSF. Even though the campus saw tremendous growth, the overall energy consumption was reduced by 15%. This reduction in energy consumption was accomplished with a new combined heat and power plant, a focus on energy-efficient chillers, and an aggressive building-level energy reduction program known as the Energy Performance Improvement (EPI) program.
Kyle Field was part of the EPI and was an example of how sports venues can influence GHG reductions. Operational changes to the facility generated over USD 547,000 in one-time savings during the pilot period. Some building adjustments made include (1) the optimization of outside air operation for air-handling units and humidity sequences during winter, (2) better control of nighttime temperatures and events through discharge air temperature/static reset for units, (3) installation of backdraft dampers to minimize the intake of excessive outside air, (4) repairs made to non-operational valves and failed sensors, and (5) reprogramming for better temperature control. Table 1
demonstrates the reduction in consumption and dollars saved through this initiative. A new baseline should be calibrated regularly to encourage good stewardship. Building systems require constant monitoring. Otherwise, the behaviors that led to increased (unnecessary) costs often resurface.
While lowering energy consumption and improving efficiency are vital and substantive contributors to GHG reductions, more can be done in event spaces to broaden the impact of these efforts. Communicating with the public about the need for and results of important GHG reduction work is vital in raising awareness. While TAMU has many growth opportunities to make events more sustainable, an initial step in raising attendee awareness about the sustainability of sports initiatives appeared on digital screen boards for the first time during the 2022 football season (Figure 2
). An accompanying announcement expanded on the program.
4.3. The TAMU Stars Report
TAMU contracts with Gordian Inc. to regularly perform a GHG inventory for Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3 emissions. Gordian Inc. uses SIMAP for emissions calculations. The most recent report generated in October 2022 highlights Scope 2 emissions, which, in TAMU’s case, are indirect GHG emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, as the largest contributor to GHG (Scope 1: 116,082 MTCO2e; Scope 2: 201,022 MTCO2e; Scope 3: 45,982 MTCO2e).
The air emissions inventory was completed using the following methodology. The total natural gas consumed on campus was 1,980,896 mmBTU. Of this, 1,689,318 mmBTU was burned in units that have a Continuous Emission Monitoring System that calculates NOx, SOx, CO, and PM. The remainder was calculated using the “Potential To Emit Calculator for Boilers and Emergency Engines” published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
STARS (The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System) in the United States is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance (see https://stars.aashe.org/about-stars/
, accessed on 30 November 2022). In its participant report, five categories (Academics, Engagement, Operations, Planning & Administration, and Innovation & Leadership) are evaluated for tracking a university’s sustainability (see the example at https://reports.aashe.org/institutions/middlebury-college-vt/report/2022-03-04
, accessed on 17 November 2022). Greening events is an important category here.
TAMU has participated in STARS since 2012 and has made annual submissions since 2015. It has served as the baseline by which the campus understands holistic sustainability. In fact, the SMP evergreen goals and targets were developed using a STARS gap analysis. For the first time in 10 years, the 2022 submission will include credit information for IN-18: Green Event Certification. This will reflect the Sustainable Event Certification program that was launched at the beginning of the year.
4.4. TAMU Sustainable Event Certification (SEC)
4.4.1. Initiating the Sustainable Event Certification Process
In April of 2021, it was decided that monthly newsletters would be sent out to everyone in the Aggie Sustainability Alliance (ASA), a campus-wide program that encourages students, faculty, and staff to participate in fostering a culture of sustainability. In these newsletters, the Office of Sustainability highlighted various environmental, economic, or socially sustainable events around campus. Looking at these sustainable events every month and noticing an increase in presentations at sustainability conferences about event planning, it was decided that Texas A&M should have its own version.
With the number of events happening all over campus, many environmental, economic, and social impacts could be minimized or mitigated with proper planning. Reviewing other schools across the nation, many had some form of sustainable event certification, and it confirmed that our university needed one, too. In the US, various academic institutions, such as Stanford University, Columbia College, Champlain College, and the University of Florida, have taken up the task of greening events as sustainable learning destinations. In addition to campus clubs and faculty departments being available to guide event organizers’ faculty departments, they also provide checklists and certifications to encourage sustainability in events (see, for instance, https://sustainable.stanford.edu/take-action/events/plan-green-event
, accessed on 15 February 2023).
4.4.2. Developing the Checklist
The first development phase was to look at a typical event planning process and determine areas of sustainable improvement. Most people think of the Waste Minimization checklist items when they consider sustainable choices. Reminders to have recycling bins available, use digital and social promotion instead of paper to advertise the event, and source reusable catering items, such as dining ware, utensils, and tablecloths, started the list. From there, purchasing from local vendors and vendors who prioritize healthy staffing and environmental practices were the following checklist items added. Since many events hosted on campus are conducted by student organizations with limited financial support, encouraging borrowing items, writing digital thank you notes, and using reusable décor both encouraged sustainable behavior and assisted with financial constraints. Considering that CO2 emissions from vehicle transportation account for a large negative impact on the environment, the checklist suggested hosting events on campus or virtually or carpooling.
Next, the creators of the checklist looked at The Campus Sustainability Hub through the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) to ascertain ideas and resources from other institutions. From this research, new checklist items were added, such as hotel accommodation guidance, excluding individually wrapped items such as sugar, salt, and coffee stirrers, and including an Indigenous peoples’ land acknowledgment at the start of the event. This process continued until eight theme areas emerged, each with a space at the end to describe items selected in each section. Those categories and corresponding descriptions can be found below:
The items listed in the planning section encompass actions in the initial phases of event creation, such as receiving RSVPs, asking for dietary restrictions, determining whether the event will be live or virtual and recorded, establishing the event’s purpose, and setting goals for the event.
Promotion includes any action taken to market the event. The planner can review whether the event will be promoted digitally and accessibly through social media, bulk emails, and campus TV signage. If paper handouts will be used, looking at how the impact of waste can be minimized, such as using recycled paper and/or printing multiple handouts on one sheet, are other checklist items. The checklist encourages using reusable promotion forms, such as sandwich boards, yard signs, flags, or bus ads, that do not have date-specific information and can be used for future events. All items are listed to reduce waste.
The selection and service of food and beverage for events have the potential for significant sustainability impacts, positive or negative. Offering vegetarian and vegan entree choices is environmentally friendly and includes dietary restrictions. Meat and animal products produce more negative environmental impacts, beef more so than chicken. Food service from a buffet minimizes the amount of packaging (usually plastic or Styrofoam) ending up in a landfill. It lets attendees choose what goes on their plates, which can minimize food waste. Though there is the additional cost of staffing a served buffet, often referred to as cafeteria-style service, such service limits portions and choices and can limit food waste even more than traditional buffet service. Texas A&M is currently the largest fair-trade University in the nation, and this checklist encourages purchasing fair-trade products. This movement changes the way that trade currently works. It aims to have better prices and better working conditions for employees and enables workers and farmers to have more control over their futures. Another way to incorporate sustainability into food at events is to introduce attendees to foods from other cultures, which is a great way to promote social sustainability and have people try new things. Due to limited transport and fertilizer usage, serving local and in-season produce has a much smaller environmental impact than imported or out-of-season produce.
The value of a distinct checklist category related to purchasing is two-fold. First, many events on our campus are hosted by student organizations with limited funding sources, so finding ways to save money is very economically sustainable. Second, supporting local and sustainable companies is a great way to exercise both environmental and social responsibility, limiting transportation emissions and providing income to local community members. When venues do not provide in-house custodial services, sometimes event managers need to purchase their own cleaning products. Investing in earth-friendly, biodegradable products helps the planet and also the individual event’s budget because the items are intended to last longer than disposable products.
Crafting tablescapes and centerpieces from natural items can be an inexpensive way to create a welcoming look at banquets. Additionally, instead of disposing of centerpieces after one use, creating ones that can be reused or provided as attendee gifts or amenities keeps those items out of landfills. Locally sourced and in-season florals and plants fund the local economy and limit transportation emissions and fertilizer use. Renting potted plants to create ambiance at events such as award ceremonies allows the plants to continue to be in use for other events in the community without the cost of permanent purchase. Table and chair rentals support local businesses and limit the cost of purchase and the need for storage space.
Many events on this campus have t-shirts or other promotional items as takeaway items for guests: utilizing sustainably made items and purchasing from Historically Underutilized Businesses, local businesses, or minority-owned businesses are great ways to invest dollars responsibly. After an event, it is customary to share appreciation with donors, volunteers, and other key stakeholders for the event’s success. Electronic thank you notes may provide all appreciation needed, yet sending a sustainable or consumable gift provides a way to not create waste.
4.4.7. Waste Reduction
Waste reduction is most commonly associated with sustainable choices. Ensuring that more than just landfill bins are provided at an event can drastically reduce the waste heading to a landfill, as many items are now made from recyclable materials. Proper signage is also important, so attendees know their waste options and what can go in different bins. Eliminating disposable items or finding reusable alternatives for production items, such as tablecloths, napkins, drink dispensers, dining ware, condiments, name badges, and coffee accessories, can significantly reduce waste. Workforce areas can also have additional separation for compostable materials, as training on proper disposal can be more readily provided to these populations.
4.4.8. Transportation and Location
Transportation emissions account for a large amount of GHGs worldwide, so minimizing them is a significant way to make an event more sustainable. This can be as easy as hosting it virtually or having a virtual option to decrease the number of people attending in person. In addition, holding events outside or on campus is an easy way to do this, as many event attendees are already on campus daily and do not have to make an additional trip to attend an event. Holding events outside or in sustainable buildings can help reduce energy costs for the building. If an event is held off campus, the checklist asks meeting planners to encourage guests to carpool or utilize alternative transportation, such as biking or using a city bus, to decrease the number of single-occupancy vehicles traveling to the same location. If an event is overnight and hotels are being used for attendees, choosing one that is in a central location to the rest of the event can limit travel, especially for attendees who did not drive themselves. Along with that, encouraging attendees to still implement sustainable behaviors in their hotel, such as unplugging electronics when not in use, adjusting the room temperature while gone, and bringing their own toiletries, can improve several areas of sustainability.
4.4.9. Social Sustainability
Social sustainability blends traditional social policy areas such as equity, diversity, and inclusion with social issues such as justice, economic opportunity, participation and influence, community and global needs, and well-being and quality of life. This is a critical element of sustainability that is often overlooked; therefore, in an effort to produce more visibility through the checklist, the creators felt it was important to designate it as a distinct section. Encouraging attendees to support local non-profits or community organizations through financial or item donations supports local sustainability. Land acknowledgments are a way to acknowledge the Indigenous people where an event is being hosted. This affirms continuous Indigenous presence and rights, acknowledges the ongoing effects of settler colonization, and supports Indigenous people’s political, legal, and cultural sovereignty. Ensuring that the event is accessible to people with disabilities, whether in person or virtual, provides all attendees with equal access to event content. In the USA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides guidance and standards for event and venue managers to use. Communications for the event should be available in languages commonly used by guests to provide a more inclusive environment. Partnering with campus or community organizations that champion social sustainability work, such as LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, racial justice, etc., can not only support their causes but also provide additional access to interested parties when they assist with event promotion.
4.4.10. Innovation and Bonus
This section was added because the office knows this list is not all-inclusive and there are many more ways to incorporate sustainability into event planning. Planners are encouraged to be creative and find other ways to earn double points if approved by the Office of Sustainability. With the basic framework of the checklist built, the next step was to determine what program would be used to create the certification. Options such as Microsoft Excel and Canva were considered, but it was determined that Adobe InDesign would be best due to the Interactive PDF feature. This allowed fillable text boxes, drop-down menus, and checkboxes to be incorporated. Creating the document took longer than expected, as using InDesign was a skill everyone in the office needed to improve. Several versions later, the checklist was ready for testing and feedback.
4.4.11. Tiers and Tie to ASA
From the beginning, it was known that a tiered system would be the method to score the events. Though the certification was separate from the current ASA checklists, the decision was made to tie the tiers back to the ASA. Events could certify at either the Supporter (30% of checklist items were met), Advocate (55% were met), or Champion (80% were met) tier. This was to provide consistency among the different certification programs offered by the Office of Sustainability and an incentive for event planners to make more sustainability impacts to reach a higher tier.
Though the Office of Sustainability wanted the SEC to be tied to the ASA in terms of tiers, it was the hope that this checklist would stand as its program with its icon. Because event planning happens across campus, the icon’s design needed to be TAMU-centered. It was decided to create a skyline of the major buildings across campus. Several versions were hand-drawn using a circle with a banner created on Canva, a graphic design website as illustrated in Figure 3
Option 2 (top right icon in Figure 3
) was selected, as it included a wider variety of campus landmarks but did not have one building at the center focal point. With that decided, it was time to create it digitally. As the original person who volunteered to create the icon was no longer available, the office had to wait until a new Graphic Designer started in January 2022 for it to be completed. The final icon for the SEC can be seen in Figure 4
In the ASA, each tier that someone certifies in is tied to a specific color. To maintain consistency, the icon was also created in each of the colors corresponding to Supporter, Advocate, and Champion shown in Figure 5
. When an event certifies, they have the option to use the maroon icon or the appropriate tier color on any of their promotional items to let others know that their event is a certified sustainable event.
To simplify the event certification process and encourage event planners, different resources were developed to aid their event planning.
Most events and many checklist items center around food. A list of all Bryan/College Station restaurants was generated. Well-known fast-food chains were immediately removed to shorten the amount of research needing to be completed. The history of each of the restaurants on the shortened list was researched. The office looked for anything that alluded to the restaurant being started in the area, being Aggie owned, being locally owned, etc. If it could not be determined whether the restaurant was local, it was removed. Some restaurants are not technically local but focus on sustainability in their core values, such as Snooze, an A.M. Eatery
, so they were kept in the resource. People are unlikely to look at a large spreadsheet or document of restaurants, so effort was dedicated to creating a branded document in Canva that was easy to navigate (see Appendix A
Once food options were secured, the following resources created were for rentals and florists. As there are fewer of these companies in the area, this resource was quick to complete. Like the restaurants, research was conducted into the history of each, and it was determined whether it was local/sustainable or not. Similar branded documents were created for each (see Appendix B
and Appendix C
One of the checklist items is for events to be hosted in sustainable buildings on campus, but that information is not easily accessible. It seemed obvious to look at Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings, but only a few are on campus. Multiple buildings on campus are built to LEED standards but are not certified. It was decided that these would still be considered sustainable buildings. Appendix D
has the official sustainable building resource.
One aspect that will constantly be evolving with this certification is the resources. The office aims to be as transparent as possible to those considering submitting their event. Providing resources is an easy way to minimize the amount of work someone has to do. The downside is that those restaurants close while others open, buildings could be updated or new ones built, and rental companies and florists could go out of business while others take their spot. These resources have already had to be updated once, and significant changes were made, as COVID-19 is still impacting businesses, while economic development is blooming in other parts of the community.
4.4.14. Branding/Event Signage
One crucial aspect of program development is brand and brand recognition. As mentioned previously, the tier colors were tied to ASA tier colors. The office wanted to tie in other brands around campus, specifically with event signage and Utilities and Energy Services (UES) Recycling Services. The recycling and composting event signage colors are pulled from the campus standard recycling branding and illustrated in Figure 6
. The event signage can be found in Appendix E
The following steps for the checklist were to decide on incentives and how to promote the proper certification promotion. Because of the following and social media interaction that OS has, it was determined that one of the significant incentives for certifying an event was that OS would be a major partner in marketing and promoting the sustainable event. The word would be spread to thousands of campus members through the ASA newsletters, promotion on the OS website, and on OS social media channels.
With the checklist in good shape, resources created, and incentives decided, OS was in a position to launch the program. As April was approaching and OS was hosting a month-long program for Earth Month, the Annual Sustainability Awards Breakfast was the perfect first event to be certified and to announce the official SEC Checklist (Appendix F
) launch, as it was the first ceremony back in person and was being live-streamed. This event could be nothing short of Champion Level, so an initial audit of the event was conducted to see where the event was percentage-wise without any additional efforts. Most of the event checklist items are already norms for OS, so the event was very close to Champion. Efforts such as including a land acknowledgment, making the centerpieces not only sustainable and a giveaway item but also completely edible, and utilizing a company that focuses on sustainable award production bumped the percentage to 81.9%, breaking the Champion threshold.
Toward the end of the event, it was announced that everyone in attendance and watching live was witnessing the first Texas A&M University Certified Sustainable Event. Post-event, OS began posting on social media and through the ASA to promote the new event. Unfortunately, this was near the end of the semester, and summer break decreased the number of events happening around campus. Therefore, there were few events left to keep any momentum going. Similar efforts and the addition of bulk emails were used for the Fall 2022 semester.
4.5. Implementation and Testing
Once the initial draft was created, the checklist was sent to the events classes for testing. The Office of Sustainability received the following three test events: The Hunt at Century Square, Tee Off for REACH Golf tournament, and The End of Year RPTS Recognition Banquet.
4.5.1. The Hunt at Century Square
This event was submitted at 35%, but several of the items listed in Innovation and Bonus really fell under existing checklist items, so they did not count. For example, the following is the feedback the event planner received:
“This event will be held using a virtual platform to eliminate any waste” was listed in the bonus section but would fall under the first point in Transportation and Location—“The event will be held completely virtually or have a virtual option.”
“Participants will be encouraged to ride the bus” was listed in the bonus section but would fall under “Carpooling and use of alternative transportation will be encouraged.”
“Participant gifts will include reusable mugs” was listed in the bonus section but would fall under Food and Purchasing’s “Any thank you gifts will be sustainable or consumable.”
“We will feature tasks that encourage sustainability” was listed in the bonus section but would fall under Social Sustainability’s “The event will be focused on environmental, multicultural, or equity-related topics.”
This submission showed immediately that there needed to be a description of the event on the first page, as there needed to be a way to know what the event was otherwise. The final total for this event was 32.2%.
4.5.2. Tee off for REACH Golf Tournament
This event was submitted at 66% with only one item of feedback:
“It was clicked that all promotion for the event would be done digitally or paperless but three of the paper promotion items were checked. The paper promotion items were unchecked making the new total for that Section 5
The final total for this event was 64.5%.
4.5.3. The RPTS Recognition Banquet
This event was submitted with 26 (41.9%) checklist items marked, but the planner listed that were 36 (58%). The following is the feedback that was given to the planner:
This submission showed that a way to auto-calculate check boxes would be very beneficial as the planner may not always do the correct math. Unfortunately, Adobe InDesign does not offer that feature in the Interactive PDF creation as of now. The event’s final total was 25/62 (40%).
Several different people and classes provided feedback for the initial version of the SEC. First was an Instructional Assistant Professor who taught event management and operations, examined the draft framework, and offered feedback:
“One of the things I did point out was the importance of balance. While I know you would like the events to do as many of these things as possible, some are mutually exclusive within a category and others, in combination with other choices, make for traditionally poor event outcomes. So, while I wholeheartedly agree with what you’re doing, I do want to caution you from setting the bar too high, or allowing the “points” to be cumulative, rather than only a certain number per group, so that evidence-based practices in event management aren’t violated in extreme efforts to reach sustainability goals.”
“Without actually seeing it applied to an event, my first thought is that your percentages are likely good, though 80% seems quite high, based on what I stated above, but I suppose it could be possible. Could we try those out with my Fall students’ events? Then we can see where those percentages fall and if it makes sense? I don’t want to make the process too complicated for you, but I think the percentages should somehow reflect multiple categories in the form.”
Other checklists and certifications created by OS have shown that people around campus are hesitant to take on additional tasks that are over-complicated, so the decision to keep the checklist as one percentage calculation versus percentage calculations for each section was made.
Next, teams of students in two event management classes in 2021 and 2022 examined and implemented the draft framework. Lastly, the OS Outreach and Education Intern student reviewed the checklist and provided feedback regarding the layout of the checklist having more spacing between the title and checkboxes and between each section, ensuring that points did not counter each other, that accessibility was considered, and that the tiers were clearly labeled. All of these changes were taken into consideration and adjusted appropriately for the final version, which launched in April 2022.
4.6. Implementing the SEC Draft in Event Management Courses
The examples below illustrate how event management students at the Research 1 institution in Texas, USA, have begun to assist local event organizers (their clients) in contemplating and implementing micro-level sustainability measures. Funds provided by a small, internal university grant incentivized the students to implement aspects of the new SEC at the onsite events they planned and implemented for the campus or community client. As noted above, the SEC addresses environmental and social criteria for sustainability, mindful of the interrelatedness of social and environmental inequity and inequality in events [53
]. Planning and policy items are also included, attentive to addressing social as well as environmental aspects. Ballet et al. (2020) emphasize the importance of including policy dimensions that address factors such as social cohesion, equity, and safety [54
Societal health and safety must be a more significant factor in future SECs. However, climate change and overall environmental sustainability are existential threats, and advancing student learning, skills, and leadership to address these in the event management field is a critical priority. As the earlier discussions in this paper show, sustainability and destination resilience are beginning to take greater priority with increasing awareness of the importance of disaster planning and adaptive management to handle extreme weather and threats such as pandemics (COVID-19 was a wake-up call in this regard). The examples below show that student efforts on campus and the local community collaboratively initiated small changes in practice, fostering continuity in sustainability actions, engaged learning, and critical thinking, as students often grappled with trade-offs in the sustainability desired versus organizers’ needs to enable the event to proceed.
We will discuss below a couple of examples of the students’ use of grant funding provided over a three-semester period in 2021–2022 to facilitate sustainability in local events with the help of the draft SEC that was being pilot-tested. The small financial incentives (USD 500 per team per event) led to creative thinking and alternative designs the student teams developed or purchased from the funds, while they grappled with the trade-offs that often needed to be made. Cooperative learning and collaborative knowledge sharing were fundamental principles as students engaged with event clients and the event instructor, as well as vendors and suppliers. The instructor also interacted with and provided feedback to the OS SEC planner for continuous learning and the adaptation of the SEC Checklist throughout the draft testing process.
4.6.1. An Outdoor Event Serving Texas Barbeque
In Fall 2021, students implementing previously planned events were asked to evaluate their events against the new SEC, but they were not required to change their plans or designs, as implementation technically began in the Spring 2022 follow-up course. However, one group, planning an outdoor fundraising banquet, requested permission from their client to change the plastic silverware to more sustainable biodegradable bamboo and proceeded to implement this. At first, the guests at the banquet thought the material to be quite odd, but they were quickly impressed by its sturdiness and were grateful to know they were a part of that sustainable event decision. Food was also locally sourced and staff members were also trained locally, contributing to social sustainability. Offering opportunities to donate funds in support of a non-profit was an additional decision supporting this event. Texas barbeque was requested by the client. Though our students were aware of this negative impact, they maintained the beef dinner in support of their client’s desire for Texas barbeque catering. As discussed during the initial draft creation of the SEC Checklist, an event team could inevitably be faced with making such trade-offs on sustainability in order to support their client’s needs or vision. This was one such case.
4.6.2. Tailgate Event at College Football Game
American football weekends can be filled with many ancillary events. One is a “tailgate”, or an outdoor casual picnic that can be catered and used as a way to gather with friends and fans of a sports team before the match. The event management students in the Fall of 2021 planned one such tailgate. Rather than purchasing new decorations, the students investigated several storage closets of the client, finding historical items and branding merchandise that could be reused for décor and takeaway items at the event. They purchased pre-cycled and biodegradable eating containers and takeaway boxes for food. Additionally, they served beverages in large serving containers to not add to waste. They selected in-season fruit to serve as a side dish. They chose a local food vendor and selected chicken on the menu to demonstrate their understanding and commitment to sustainability. However, due to a misunderstanding over the number of guests in attendance, there was a significant amount of leftover food. While many students and guests could take home some leftovers and the department ate well for several days after the event, this miscalculation resulted in large food waste. While some steps were taken with great care and intentionality to support sustainability, others were missteps. Students learned to take responsibility during these event implementation processes by being empowered to make decisions and to learn from them, both from the positive outcomes and the errors.
4.6.3. Building on 2021 Sustainability Practices
As the Spring of 2022 arrived, several student event groups used sustainable event funding to purchase higher-cost and higher-quality items that support the environment physically and socially. In the Fall of 2022, the organizers of a few recurring events that in the previous year had made some sustainable choices returned to those practices, and some new events explored new choices.
In Fall 2022, a Family Western Night with dinner and dancing for nursery school children, their parents, and teachers changed their centerpieces in support of sustainability. They had planned to arrange cut flowers and discard them after the event. However, when offered sustainable event funding, they found a local plant nursery, where they purchased in-season potted plants to serve as the focal point of their centerpieces. Their client saved large aluminum cans in their kitchen over several weeks. The students placed the pots inside and then wrapped them with swatches of fabric the client kept on hand for craft projects (Figure 7
). The result was a creative display that reused materials and provided a lasting gift, as they were then presented to the teachers at the end of the evening in appreciation for their service.
Another event that changed direction when supported by financial incentives was a local multi-use facility that hosted a community night for costumed children to receive candy in celebration of Halloween. One of the activities at the event was pumpkin painting. Rather than using traditional paints, the students purchased all-natural paint powder to mix with water at the event. The vendor selected was also woman-owned and used wind and solar power to create its products (Figure 8
). Since the paint functioned differently than they were accustomed to, it required some trial and error to find the perfect consistency to create the desired colors.
At the Fall 2022 tailgate, event students decided to craft high-quality reusable centerpiece flower boxes (Figure 9
). The boxes themselves were made of recycled cardboard, but the flower product was made of foam. Once again, although sustainable choices exist in the green event management plan, event management students selected other choices intentionally, not in support of sustainable event practices, in order to conduct a well-executed event that both met the event organizer’s goals and showed respect for sustainability.
Again, the outdoor banquet organizers used bamboo utensils for the event. However, they did not request funding for this iteration of their event, seemingly embodying a new practice in their event plan that they now saw as their own. Again, these are encouraging signs that event clients will come to see what more is possible, get in the habit of making those changes, and then embrace them as commonly accepted practices in their event plan, rather than being a one-off decision agreed to by the client just to receive additional funds.
4.7. Implementing the SEC at Other Campus Events
Annual Sustainability Awards Breakfast
The first event to officially be certified through the SEC was the annual Office of Sustainability Awards Breakfast. This is traditionally hosted in person to honor those who have supported the Office of Sustainability and announce the Sustainability Champions and STARS award winners. The Sustainability Champion Awards aims to recognize and reward individuals—students, faculty, staff, and team members—who have demonstrated exemplary effort, dedication, and leadership throughout the year in fostering a campus culture of sustainability. The completed checklist for this event can be found in Appendix G
The planning for this event started in January 2022 and was hosted on 22 April 2022. An invitation list was sent out to individuals whom OS wanted to attend in person in March so that RSVPs and a headcount for food could be determined. The Save the Dates were sent electronically to reduce paper waste. The event was live-streamed to include as many people in the celebration as possible. Bulk emails, social media, and TV ads in various buildings across campus were used to promote the live stream. The only paper present at the event were quarter-sheets of codewords for the month-long giveaway, which were printed on recycled paper.
The office coordinated with Aggie Dining to provide a buffet-style meal with fresh, seasonal fruit, Rosenthal sausage (made on campus), overnight oats with berries, local jams, eggs, French toast casserole, and a fair-trade coffee service.
For setting the tables, reusable tablecloths, napkins, tables, and chairs were all rented from the MSC. No individually wrapped or single-use items were provided by Aggie Dining. The office decided to partner with TAMU Urban Howdy Farm to create edible centerpieces. The office went to the farm the day before the event and harvested fresh lettuce, spinach, herbs, and edible flowers to create the centerpieces. At the event, one chair at each table had a sticker on it, and the person sitting in that seat was able to take the centerpiece home. The centerpieces being edible was awarded an Innovation and Bonus point. All other décor at the event was from previous award ceremonies and events.
The awards for the Sustainability Champions and STARS winners were purchased from EcoPromotions. This is a company that specializes in sustainability for promotional items, as the awards are made from bamboo and recycled glass. Purchasing from this company awarded the event an Innovation and Bonus point.
The event focused on celebrating the accomplishments of the award winners, but it also focused on environmental and equity-related topics impacting the campus. The event was opened with a land acknowledgment as a reminder of the Indigenous land that Texas A&M University sits on, so several items under the Social Sustainability section were points earned.
Most of the event checklist items are already norms for OS, so the event was very close to Champion to begin with, and very little additional effort was needed to cross that threshold into the next tier. With proper planning and the checklist in mind, this was the perfect event to launch the SEC, as it was a traditional event with sit-down food service. It was realized a few months later that the SEC was not as applicable to other types of events.
Most recently, the Office of Sustainability certified their annual Campus Sustainability Day through the SEC (see Appendix H
). This event was revealing for the certification, as it was not a traditional event with food being served. Because of that, a number of checklist items were not available, and others, while technically true, were a stretch. For example, fair-trade products were handed out from Aggie Dining, so that point was achievable, and because only snacks were handed out, meat options were technically minimized. That point was counted, but it was done so through a technicality.
Because this was a tabling event for sustainability education, dietary needs, centerpieces, and reusable dining items (pitchers, dining ware, etc.) were all not applicable, meaning several points were missed out on just because it was not a sit-down-to-eat event. This information is currently being used to update the SEC to be more inclusive of non-traditional events.