IMAGE: Thomas Lambert

The Regenerative Revolution

A paradigm shift will regenerate the events industry

January 6, 2021

Melissa Baird summarises the groundbreaking research paper undertaken by IMEX, Marriot International and the GDS-Movement that offers a new paradigm of event management and success and inspires a future based on the success of natural design.



Reimagining sustainability


For 25 years, sustainable development has been revered as the solution to the world's problems. However, the global pandemic has called on the world to stop and re-evaluate the systems in place and in power. This threat to economic and social stability is just one of many facing our world today. There is rampant pollution, the decline and extinction of species and the impacts of extreme weather that continue to ravage communities. As poverty increases so do the inequalities in the distribution of wealth and natural resources. This extraordinary context means it is no longer good enough to talk about sustaining a broken system, instead a focus on regenerating the social, economic and ecosystems upon which we depend is now critical.


The trillion-dollar events and meetings sector has been one of the many sectors to suffer tremendous losses during the pandemic. A groundbreaking report - the first in a series of #Natureworks research papers sponsored by IMEX and Marriot International - explores and asserts that for the global meetings and events industry to recover, flourish and thrive in a future world, the temptation of adopting COVID-19 recovery strategies based on a wish to return to the ‘normal’ of the past must be eschewed.


Instead, we must use the pandemic as a ´great reset´ to rethink, reimagine and redesign a new restorative, resilient, inclusive and zero-carbon growth model to restore and rejuvenate the planet, its people and create a healthier economy.


The report highlights that 2019 was a tipping point for sustainability in the events industry. There was a surge of demand and actions in the sector, with 79% of organisations increasing their focus to make their events more sustainable, and a staggering 97% of organisations implementing some form of event sustainability initiative. This recognition of the need to change mindsets and operating practices has not changed post-COVID yet despite the positive intentions, the research revealed that the current commitments and skill levels of the industry are inadequate (only 3.4% of suppliers and organisers surveyed, had implemented a circular strategy for their business events) for the scale of the challenges ahead.


Paradoxically the greatest challenges offer the greatest opportunities and as the events sector looks to rejuvenate its functions; the opportunity is to redesign itself into a sector that functions as a living ecosystem. This requires a paradigm shift from linear, extractive and wasteful models to those that are inclusive and circular and that can contribute to the rejuvenation and restoration of the environment and society.



The Waste Pandemic


Every year more than 100 billion metric tonnes of raw materials are extracted and converted into products. Less than 8.6% of these materials are recycled back into the economy. While millions go hungry, 30% of the food produced is wasted equating to 6% of global emissions, more than double those produced from flying.




By 2050, plastic production and incineration at its current rate could triple to 2.8 gigatonnes of CO2 per year, releasing emissions equivalent to 615 five-hundred-megawatt coal plants.






IMAGE: Jacek Dylag

Why is nature being destroyed?



Ecological capital has long been left off balance sheets and the impacts of business on the natural world have been ignored in favour of profit at any cost. This has to change in order to understand the true impact of business on the ecosystems that support it.


Is it not time to reconnect with nature and learn from the 3.6 billion years of expertise in designing systems that collaborate and thrive interdependently?


In nature there is no such thing as greed or waste and the infinitely complex system self regulates to ensure balance and conditions conducive to life. If we continue to operate outside of these natural laws then it is a downward slope to a world bereft of living systems that enhance and enable life to flourish.



In the critical times we are facing, we need to be inspired by natural, functioning systems, and work in collaboration with innovators to improve our planetary and social impact. More often we need to start by asking nature how to create a business (and event) strategy that will create conditions conducive to society, the environment and economy’s thrive-ability.



The GDS-Movement and regenerative business strategies





In a circular and regenerative economy, economic activity builds and rebuilds overall system health. It is restorative and regenerative by design. The concept recognises the importance of the economy needing to work effectively at all scales – for big and small businesses, for organisations and individuals, globally and locally.


The Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines principles for circularity and regenerative design:


Design out waste and pollution

Keep products and materials in use

Regenerate natural systems






HANNUWA - a framework for regenerative events


To enable the events and meetings sector to achieve a new paradigm of event success the GDS-Movement has developed a framework and set of tools that support event suppliers, organisers and educators on their journey of transformation. Their approach is summed up in the word: Hannuwa, an ancient San word from South Africa that means the gathering of good fortune through living in harmony with our natural environment.


It comprises of four key principles and an eight-step methodology which serves to educate and guide event organisers towards more regenerative event management that includes considerations of designing for inclusivity and diversity.


This is just one piece of the puzzle however and future research will include destinations, hotels, venues, and other key stakeholders.



Regenerative Event Management: “An economic approach wherein event planning, resourcing, procurement and production are designed and managed to optimise ecosystem functioning and human well-being. It is inspired by nature, restorative, and regenerative by intention and design.” #Natureworks



Case Studies


Drawing from the event industry, these remarkable case studies are examples of implementing circularity principles that have enabled events to achieve less impact and beneficial social contribution.


Case Study: DGTL – Regenerating people and nature through food


 Food has an enormous impact on the environment with reports stating that 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions are emitted by the food and agriculture sector. As millions go hungry a third of the food produced annually is thrown ’away’. This reality prompted DGTL to do something about food waste at their festivals by reinventing the food experience.


As a first step DGTL in 2018 removed meat from the menu, thereby drastically reducing CO2-emissions and saving large amounts of freshwater and land. In its place, local caterers served delicious vegetarian and vegan meals to festival visitors. After finishing their meals, the visitors took their biodegradable plates and food leftovers to the resource collection point where a composting machine converted disposables and leftovers into compost within 24 hours. The compost was then distributed amongst participating urban farmers who used it to grow vegetables for the next event. This initiative enabled DGTL to close organic material flow, eradicate food-waste.

IMAGE: Stedman Photography

Case Study: Croke Park Stadium revitalising the community


Developing value in an organisation may represent itself as the need to nurture staff, clients, supply chain partners, and other stakeholders. By taking a regenerative approach to community management, the development of social capital can be stimulated and enhanced.


Croke Park Stadium in Dublin espouses this approach. The stadium, which is a business member of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, implements an urban biodiversity programme that includes the installation on stadium grounds of bird boxes for native bird populations and of insect habitats such as bee bricks and bug hotels as well as a planting programme of native trees and pollinator-friendly ground cover. Outside the stadium walls, Croke Park’s sustainability and community teams have partnered with local authorities and residents on initiatives for the rehabilitation of neglected spaces in the local area.


The Croke Park approach to sustainability and community ensures that the stadium generates not only employment and business opportunities in the area but also engenders huge pride of place in the local community. This investment in people and place contributes to the sense of belonging and well-being that is shared by residents and stadium employees alike. It has enabled Croke Park to act as the heart of the complex and vibrant community of Dublin’s North Inner City.


Redesign your brand experience


Events use considerable amounts of materials to decorate and dress their spaces to create immersive but temporary environments. If organisers began the event planning cycle by working proactively with designers and suppliers then waste and pollution can be removed from the brand experience. By using more regenerative bio-based materials, reducing the number of different plastics and designing for simpler construction and deconstruction to facilitate reuse, and recycling so much can be achieved. Further steps can be taken to eliminate unnecessary and ineffective merchandising, print, signage, and branding. By collaborating with the supply chain to convert waste into a resource a brand could create new products and services from these resources.



IMAGE: Ecobooth

Case Study: Ecobooth – A circular brand experience



Ecobooth launched in September 2018 with the ‘Circular Booth’, the world’s first exhibition booth made entirely from re-purposed plastic waste for its client, PA Consulting. It was created using recycled drinks bottles, retired street cones and yoghurt pots. The stand was used at multiple events around the world in 2019 before being re-engineered into a new stand for 2020. In 2021 the same process will happen again, each time creating zero waste and using zero virgin materials.


Recent innovations include designing stands featuring 3D printed lampshades using recycled PET filament, 3D printed hanging-pots made from recycled high-impact polystyrene (found in old fridges), fabric cushions produced using recycled PET fabric and carpet tiles created from recycled fishing nets.


As a B Corporation, Ecobooth are committed to balancing purpose with profit, and the company’s 400% growth in its first two years is a shining example of a successfully circular economy start up amongst a mostly linear industry.





IMAGE: Kirsten van Santen

Considering the Whole Value Chain



Aim to unite your key suppliers, sponsors, and partners into a “regeneration team” to think big and collaborate to reimagine and experiment how your event(s) can achieve business targets while making a measurable difference to host communities and nature.







The time is now for the event sector to reinvent itself due to the restrictions on large gatherings and way reduced travel demands. Online events are going to be the norm with select smaller more concentrated in-person events.


To activate regenerative event strategies will require engagement, collaboration, and empowerment across the entire stakeholder base. Every link in the chain has a social, environmental and economic impact and as such each are responsible for co-creating solutions that will transform not only the sector but everything that is affected and dependent on it. Collaboration is key and all stakeholders from local government, academia, businesses, NGOs, and social enterprises can contribute to create nature-based solutions that regenerate local ecosystems and improve people’s livelihoods in the face of climate threats and social change.







Download the full report The Regenerative Revolution:





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