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Inspiring conferences to be sustainable

The Brighton Centre team is collaborating with conference organisers, businesses and residents to create a sustainable conference culture that leaves a positive impact on the local environment and communities.

The challenge:

Brighton & Hove was built on the back of tourism; thousands of jobs and business depend on it. The Brighton Centre was the first purpose-built conference centre in the UK and for over 40 years has been instrumental in projecting the city as an internationally-recognised conference destination.

The multiplier impacts of Brighton Centre events include positive financial benefits for the visitor economy and qualitative benefits such as innovation, research, prestige, and regeneration.

Alongside the positive impacts, business events can have a significant carbon footprint and leave a lot of waste.

Brighton Centre Night Time Exterior photograph
Brighton Centre at night

The challenge for the Brighton Centre conference team is to create sustainable events and positive environmental impact with limited council resources and against the backdrop of an economy recovering from the effects of the pandemic, and a cost-of-living crisis.

The council is not the direct organiser of these events, so while providing the physical space and resources to host conferences and exhibitions, the challenge is how to use our influence and example for maximum impact.

The solution:

In Dec 2021 we attended the ABPCO (Association of British Professional Conference Organisers) Festival of Learning. We took part in a sustainability session led by the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) on creating the framework to host COP26.

From that we started to develop our own framework from the UN Sustainable Development Goals and their focus on creating long-term impact within communities.

In the events industry we have long used the buzzword ‘legacy’ to encourage association conferences to leave a long-term positive impact. When considering our framework, it became evident that sustainability and legacy should work hand in hand.

As a local authority, we realised that our strengths were already in our objective to serve and create long-term sustainability for our local communities and that our sustainable practice should come from that point.

We developed our CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives by focusing on the five UN Sustainable goals where we felt we could have the most impact. We used them as our framework for sustainable good practice on our conference and exhibition sales. The five goals are:

  • Zero hunger
  • good health and wellbeing
  • sustainable cities and communities
  • responsible consumption and production
  • life below water.

While we cannot directly impact the sustainable practices of our conference organisers, the framework enables us to signpost ways that they can collaborate with local stakeholders to plan sustainable events that leave a positive legacy in the city.

Some examples of the work include:

We also take responsibility ourselves by choosing to use only local products in our marketing and sales hospitality and organising staff beach cleans.

The case study that demonstrates how we implemented our framework is the PraxisAuril (PrA) Conference 2022.

PrA’s board wanted to find a destination and venue that would meet their sustainable objectives. It was the first conference that fully engaged from day one with both the city and the venue to reduce the carbon footprint of their conference.

Together we focused on four of the UN Sustainable goals to deliver the conference:  Zero hunger, good heath & wellbeing, sustainable cities & communities and responsible consumption and production.

They were applied as follows:

Sustainable cities and communities

The choice of location for the PraxisAuril conference was strongly influenced by how they could collaborate with the destination to ensure that all decision-making put the local community first.

They chose Brighton & Hove because we put sustainable business tourism at the heart of our policy making. Brighton & Hove City Council declared a climate and biodiversity emergency in 2018 and the city is working to become carbon neutral by 2030.

PraxisAuril collaborated with VisitBrighton Convention Bureau, drawing on  local expertise to understand issues important to the local community and making sustainable decisions that worked alongside them.

Zero hunger

The Brighton Centre introduced PraxisAuril to The Brighton and Hove Food Partnership. As a result, PraxisAuril decided to ditch their regular gift bags and donate on behalf of each delegate to the Partnership. This raised £500 which has gone towards the Stanmer Wellbeing Gardens.

The organisers worked to ensure every delegate was aware of the conference’s sustainable objectives and felt empowered by the sustainable legacy that they could personally leave in the city.

Health and wellbeing and life below water

As an international conference PraxisAuril specifically looked for destinations that gave their delegates a sense of place within their physical environment. Brighton & Hove is a coastal destination and part of a unique UNESCO Biosphere.

They also wanted a venue that took a proactive approach to their natural environment.  Through twice-yearly staff beach cleans, the Brighton Centre encourages stakeholders to take personal responsibility for the impact created by events in the city.

Responsible consumption and production.

PraxisAuril measured waste throughout conference and worked closely with in-house caterers Be Seasoned to create a zero-food waste event. All food & drinks were carefully measured with 0 lunch bags left over.

Delegates were encouraged to return lanyards so they could be re-used and 70% were given back after conference. Name badges were compostable and 95% of delegates took their badges home to compost.

PrAConf22 was a three-day conference with 467 attendees from all over the world and this was their largest ever event.

The impact (including cost savings/income generated if applicable):

The good practice applied in this conference has been used as an example within the industry.

In 2022, the Brighton Centre’s collaboration with PraxisAuril was shortlisted for Sustainable Conference of the Year in the ABPCO Excellence Awards. The shortlist of three included COP26 which went on to win the award.

The nomination underlined how a shift to a sustainable cultural mindset can result in powerful change and long-term positive impact on local communities.

Brighton & Hove’s framework of using the UN Sustainable Development Goals in a collaborative way will increase the environmental value that conference events have and help to decrease and off-set carbon footprints.

How is the new approach being sustained?:

Lessons learned:

Our top three lessons were:

  • 1. Collaboration is key

    To create a truly sustainable event PraxisAuril had to consider all the stakeholders involved in the conference. Tourism, including sustainable business tourism, can be the biggest economic driver in a destination.

    Events in Brighton & Hove can create huge positive multiplier impacts on a community. Equally the negative impacts such as environmental damage can be just as impactful. We helped PraxisAuril focus their carbon off-setting on the local community and work with local experts to create a sustainable event.

  • 2. empower delegations

    It was important to PraxisAuril that ticking the sustainability box did not become tokenism. Sustainability had to be part of the delegation culture. They gave their delegates personal responsibility to consider the impact of their carbon footprint through travel arrangements, impact on the local environment and how they could reduce waste.

  • 3. sustainability & legacy go hand in hand

    In the past we have discussed legacy and sustainability in different contexts. The knowledge that we take from using the 17 UN Sustainable goals as a model is that they can be viewed as one and the same.

    In 1987 the United Nations defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” We took this as a guiding principle when considering how to off-set carbon to create a sustainable conference with PraxisAuril. They sought to make a long-term sustainable impact from their conference by working with the local community. They also wanted to set a foundation for subsequent events to build on.

    This collaboration set an example to pass on to future delegations and conference organisers to ditch the gift bags, and, in their words ‘leave love not detritus’.


Contact: Emma Thurlow, Business & Sales Manager, The Brighton Centre, [email protected] or [email protected]

Links to relevant documents:

Sustainability at the Brighton Centre

Our nomination video