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Balancing Act

Balancing Act

by Natalie Lowe

The global pandemic. The environmental crisis. Social justice. All these issues are vying for
our attention right now. But one is not more important than the other. In fact, they are directly linked and affect one another like the legs of a three-legged stool, with the world balanced on top. When these legs are not equal, there is instability and if they are out of balance enough, the world comes crashing down.

How does our singular focus on one issue create more issues? Let’s take the health pandemic and the increased use of disposables over reusables. Without any assurance that disposables provide more protection from the virus, we see them widely adopted. Why? Because that plastic- wrapped syringe at the hospital is sterile, we equate plastic wrapped with clean, but the plastic bottle at your event is not safer for you than a properly sanitized glass. In fact, the plastic bottle will breakdown into microplastics that we know cause harm to any living thing that ingests it.

But how does a healthy planet help equality? Let’s stay with plastic: plastic contaminants are processed, shipped, and stored in the poorest areas. The link between plastic production and health issues is clear and direct and the link between air pollution and severity of Corona virus symptoms is well documented. Dirty industries don’t set up shop on millionaires’ row and plastic waste isn’t stored in rich countries. When we don’t pay attention to our supply chain, disadvantaged populations are further exploited. Business academics call this the law of unintended consequences. When we aren’t thoughtful about our purchasing and processes, bad things happen, and they usually happen to the least powerful of us.

Universal principles can provide guidelines on how we can work on all the legs of the stool at once. The intertwined nature of social issues is illustrated by the wide ranging focus of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals—or even the research by drawdown.org. These resources found one of the best things you can do for the environment is educate women and girls. Can you imagine what that will also do for justice, equality and health?

For the people in the back asking about the economy—I’m glad you asked! Maybe it’s time we decide the economy is a system of exchanging goods and services that works for the people, not the other way around. From Patagonia to ecoRides, companies are using ideas like conscious capitalism, becoming B Corporations (bcorporation.net) and embracing the Sustainable Development Goals and the 3 P’s (people, planet, profit) to align work to a greater purpose and connect more deeply to their communities.

This is great in theory, but we are doers in this industry and our next question is how. How do we execute on this? I don’t have all the answers, but I have a few ideas and a list of relevant questions:

1. Does our reopening plan include disposables and can they be replaced with a better process or with safe reusables?

2. We need to educate our clients on planet- friendly, equitable options and their benefits. i.e. how our fair-trade and eco-friendly practices improve attendee experience and health and safety.

3. Internally, how can we keep the dialogue focused on striving toward better, not defending what we’ve already done? Progress depends on us doing more!

4. What do we truly value? How can we strive to live those values? Recently I did an event for a grocery company and one manager was passionate about commuting to work on his bike. He is on a mission to have bike racks at all their stores so people can bike to get their groceries. It’s an inexpensive way to travel, it’s environmentally friendly and encourages health through exercise.

Please check out some of the ideas listed above on how you or your company can align your purpose with social good and sustainable growth and development. Event professionals have always struck me as an incredibly caring, engaged group. And we can ALL use our influence at every event— live or virtual—to create a world that is more healthy, green and fair. Let’s do this.

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