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by Sarah J.F. Braley | September 17, 2015

Fiona Pelham of Sustainable EventsAs meeting planners become more aware of the many ways they can make meetings more environmentally friendly, the terms "sustainability" and "green" often have been used interchangeably. But they really are separate concepts.

"There is a massive difference," says Fiona Pelham, right, managing director of Sustainable Events Ltd. in the U.K., among several other like-minded positions, and chair-elect of Meeting Professionals International's global board of directors, taking her seat in January. "Here's the academic translation. Sustainability is a combination of three things: economic, environmental and social impact. Green only refers to the environmental piece. Why is that important? If you focus only on the environment, you're missing the balance, which is about having good business sense and thinking about the future of our industry."

Take F&B, for example. "When planners say being green is more expensive, they're thinking about having to provide organic food," says Pelham, who traces her love of the environment back to her days as a Girl Scout. "When you think from a sustainability perspective, you will be balancing things, buying the best food for the environment, for the budget and for the community you are serving. That community includes the people attending the event, and where the event is taking place. You might end up with organic food, or you might end up with seasonal food that is good for the community.” Seasonal food generally is bought locally, helping to support those businesses.

Pelham finds that people can relate more to green initiatives, because the results are very tangible; you can see waste being diverted and tally the impact more directly; it’s harder to see the community impact. "The biggest message I put across is, sustainability isn't an exciting word, but it's about the future of our industry,” she says.

Pelham started Sustainable Events about 11 years ago, and subsequently founded Positive Impact, a nonprofit educational arm for the events industry. "It just seemed to be obvious to me that every event should consider its environmental and social impact," she says. "I love the innovation and creativity around this area. I'm very positive about people and think we can find solutions to these problems. I wake up every morning thinking about how to change how we do events. It's fun and inspiring."

Read her post in our Guest Stars blog, "Capturing and Communicating the Business Value of Sustainability," here.