Case Study: British Society for Rheumatology’s Award-Winning Sustainable Conference


The British Society for Rheumatology (BSR) continues to set the benchmark in organising conferences, which was recognised at the Association of British Professional Conference Organisers’ (ABPCO) Excellence Awards 2023, where it won The Sustainability Award. This success underlines BSR’s commitment to integrating sustainability into their events, addressing the need for environmental responsibility in the conference sector.

Background: BSR has been a pioneer in tracking CO2 emissions for its conferences, utilising data from events held in 2019, 2022, and 2023 to refine and enhance its sustainability efforts. Unlike many of its counterparts, BSR remained steadfast in offering a fully hybrid event format, aligning with its organisational value of sustainability despite financial and staffing pressures pushing others back to traditional formats.

Strategic Implementation: The anticipation of an increased in-person attendance in 2023 prompted BSR to implement innovative solutions aimed at hosting a greener and financially sustainable event. Measures included reducing waste and leveraging their purchasing power to positively influence suppliers.

Key strategies and outcomes included:

  • Maintaining the per-person emissions at 0.25 tCO2e, despite a 24% increase in in-person attendance.
  • Transitioning to digital formats for signage, programs, and exhibitor materials, leading to a 5 tCO2e reduction in waste-related emissions.
  • Introducing sustainability regulations for exhibitors, resulting in a 32% decrease in show infrastructure and crew emissions.
  • Partnering with suppliers and contractors committed to sustainability, such as Manchester Central and Full Circle, aligning with BSR’s environmental goals.

Innovations and Achievements: BSR’s efforts led to substantial reductions in emissions across various aspects of the conference. For example, the enforcement of sustainability regulations for exhibition stands marked a significant step towards minimising the event’s environmental footprint. Additionally, working with Manchester Central and other eco-conscious suppliers further reinforced BSR’s dedication to sustainability.

Learning and Future Planning: The success of BSR’s sustainable conference underscored the importance of collaborative efforts with suppliers and stakeholders. Key learnings include:

  • The significant impact of menu choices on emissions, highlighted by a one-third reduction in catering-related emissions through eliminating red meat.
  • The benefits of engaging with local authorities and venues early in the planning stages to leverage their knowledge and resources for a greener event.

The importance of clear communication with delegates about sustainability goals and changes to enhance understanding and support.

In conclusion, the British Society for Rheumatology’s approach to hosting a sustainable conference not only earned it well-deserved recognition at the ABPCO awards but also set a high standard for others in the industry to follow. By demonstrating that environmental responsibility can go hand in hand with delivering a successful conference, BSR has paved the way for a more sustainable future in event planning. As the organisation looks ahead, its focus on continuous improvement and data-driven strategies promises even greater achievements in reducing the environmental impact of its conferences.

Adam Parry
Author: Adam Parry

Adam is the co-founder and editor of Adam, a technology evangelist also organises Event Tech Live, Europe’s only show dedicated to event technology and the Event Technology Awards. Both events take place in November, London.

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