Top 5 tips for running sustainability events during COVID-19 (and beyond)

By Elizabeth Shirt, Managing Director – GLOBE Series


When I joined GLOBE Series as Managing Director in early 2020, I was super excited. I knew GLOBE had been producing sustainability and climate events for over three decades, and I wanted to be part of the next chapter. After all, we have no time to lose on the road to creating a net-zero, equitable future. I knew that GLOBE events would be where critical conversations and collaboration took root.  

What I couldn’t have predicted was a global pandemic that shook the event industry – among many others – to its core. We quickly pivoted to offering virtual events, and were pleasantly surprised to find that many partners and clients were keen to engage us on everything from programming to technical platforms. Our event services are now a permanent part of what we offer.

After two years of virtual events, I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised by what came next: a huge pent-up demand for getting together in person. GLOBE Forum, which has happened every two years for the past 30, sold out for the first time in its history. We had thousands of people register for in-person and virtual programming. With all that behind us and a huge amount of work to do in the next decade, I’d like to offer our top learnings that you can apply to your own sustainability and climate events.


#1: In-person events aren’t dead

After two years of Zoom meetings from our home offices, I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised at the tremendous interest in getting together in person at GLOBE Forum. People REALLY wanted to see each other after all that time, and the importance of human connection really came through in both our ticket sales and the vibe at the event itself.

How do you make the most of this desire to connect, which in turn fuels more collaboration and innovation? When you’re creating your program, don’t just think about who’s on the stage, think about who is in the room. Consider how you can help your attendees connect with each other – not only in your official programming, but outside of it.

For example, at GLOBE Forum we offered recharge lounges, meeting pods, and multiple networking events. These are where the magic happens…where else can a Chief Sustainability Officer of a multinational company get the opportunity to talk policy with a federal or provincial policymaker? Or a small company with big ambitions become part of the climate conversation? There were so many instances just like this at Forum.

For the first time ever, we also hosted an in-demand “Meet the experts” session with our colleagues from The Delphi Group. This was another way that we leveraged our own connections to help other companies make connections that will help them do what they do even better.

#2: If you’re not thinking about equity and access, start now

You can’t get away with all-white manels anymore. We will and should be held accountable for the people on stage, virtual or otherwise. Plus, if we’re going to build a better future, we need to have all the voices at the table – taking into account age, racial and gender identity, and differently abled perspectives.

At GLOBE Forum, we set and met speaker diversity targets. We considered what it really means to acknowledge the land we are gathering on. We also made sure to create space for First Nations leaders — who represent peoples who called Vancouver home well before any of us lived, worked or played here — to open the event, welcome us to their traditional territories, and talk about why sustainability is fundamental to their communities (and has been for centuries).

Could we do better? Absolutely, and we will keep the pressure on ourselves to ensure all our events are as inclusive as possible. If you’re considering an event, we encourage you to do the same.

In terms of event accessibility, providing virtual and hybrid options was definitely a huge step forward for us at Forum. Fortunately, we were able to leverage the expertise we’d gleaned during two years of the pandemic. We also ensured our event was accessible to a broad and diverse audience by providing targeted discounts for students, not-for-profits and under-represented groups.


#3: It’s not easy being green….but do it anyway

Ensuring your in-person event is sustainable is more and more important to your stakeholders – and is even more important if your audience lives and breathes sustainability, as ours does. There are a bunch of things you can do to work towards net zero, such as:

  • Select a green venue. For example, GLOBE Forum takes place in the Vancouver Convention Centre, which is the world’s first double LEED Platinum certified convention centre.
  • Ensure your badges are recyclable.
  • Offer catering linked to sustainable food sources and local suppliers.
  • Consider going paper-free by offering your program online only.
  • Consider a fully virtual event OR partner with a credible offsets provider to mitigate the emissions associated with in-person events. We partnered with Ostrom Climate at GLOBE Forum to mitigate our event-related emissions.

Our mission is to provide events that are as green and sustainable as possible. We still have some work to do, but asking the right questions from the start is key to making progress.

#4: Go beyond a chatfest…link your event to outcomes and action

The learnings and best practices that people can glean from speakers and fellow attendees at events have a lot of value. However, with less than a decade to make urgent progress towards a net-zero future, we need to go beyond talk to action and impact. This is also what will make your event that much more compelling than another Zoom webinar.

At GLOBE Forum, we not only offered GLOBE Advances – deep-dive workshops on our key themes – but very intentionally built our program around the 10×10 Action Plan: the 10 actions in 10 years we need to take to get to net zero. The 10×10 will be developed out of the discussions that took place at GLOBE Forum and will specify WHAT needs to happen and WHO needs to do it on the road to net zero. These actions will be unpacked at future GLOBE events with the goal of ensuring accountability and impact. Read more about the 10×10 here.

#5: Take 5 after your event is over

There is nothing quite like putting on an event. It’s a high-intensity and high-stress undertaking. It’s really important to acknowledge that and to build it into your calendar in a way that won’t over-tax your team – such as ensuring they can take a breather when the event is over. Think about what’s going to be your best quarter for planning, your best quarter for implementation, and your best quarter for recovery.

It’s also important to define rules of engagement when things get stressful and so that you can stay true to your culture and values. This can really sustain you when the team is going a million miles an hour in a high-intensity environment.


Are you thinking about offering an in-person, hybrid or virtual event, workshop or presentation? We can help!

For more information about how we can partner with you to deliver your next sustainability event, reach out to our Senior Manager, Event Partnerships, Caroline Vanesse, directly at


GLOBE Series updates straight to your inbox.

How Social Purpose Will Help Us Build Back Better

By Mike Rowlands, President and CEO, Junxion Strategy

The global pandemic continues to unfold around the world, showing us the fragility of economies, social systems, and even ourselves. As we think about how we might ‘emerge stronger’ and ‘build back better,’ many of us are calling for recovery planning to carry us into a purpose-led, 21st century economy.

We know now, beyond doubt, that businesses that put social purpose at the centre of their strategies perform better: B Corp businesses—businesses that meet the highest standards of uniting profit and purpose—are growing 28 times faster than the average company. And early in the pandemic, JUST Capital reported that the 20% of companies ranked highest on stakeholder leadership have outperformed the bottom 20% by 4.7% through the current bear market and the first signs of recovery.

A just, sustainable recovery will be achieved by businesses working together with government, NGOs, and other stakeholders to design a purpose-led economy.

This is a story with a long history…

It’s been nearly 40 years since a raucous group of misfits first got together to talk about a new approach to business, ultimately forming Social Venture Circle (SVC). They were responding in part to American economist Milton Friedman’s statement that the “one and only… social responsibility of business [is to] increase its profits.”

Impatient with an economic model that valued growth above all else, they sought to understand how their ventures might support communities, regenerate landscapes, and create equitable prosperity for all—rather than concentrating wealth in the hands of a privileged few. Instead of seeing communities as groups of “individuals pursuing their separate interests,” SVC’s founders saw communities as groups with shared interests committed to mutual benefit and collective wellbeing.

The early luminaries that founded SVC—folks like Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s fame, Anita Roderick of The Body Shop, and Joel Solomon, Chair of Renewal Funds, Canada’s biggest social venture capital firm—built enterprises that showed how social purpose and financial success reinforce each other. They worked across sectors in business, government, academia, and charities to create a powerful network that continues to grow today.

Over the decades, SVC members founded many organizations equally committed to environmental stewardship and social progress: the American Sustainable Business Council; Business for Social Responsibility, which influenced the founders of CBSR; Net Impact, which engages graduate business students; B Lab, the nonprofit behind the B Corp Certification; and many more.

This is of course just a tiny sample of the purpose-led organizations emerging on every continent. In the past 20 years, their mandates have embraced environmental sustainability in the face of climate change, evolved to influence social entrepreneurship, and coalesced in the work of many to push businesses—and entire economies—toward a scope of social purpose much wider than Friedman’s.

Social purpose is already driving business success

Each January, the international public relations firm Edelman releases its annual ‘Trust Barometer,’ a global study of public trust in institutions of media, government and business. In 2020’s issue, the schism between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ was starker than ever before. The central takeaway is this: societal discontent is now at a level that business cannot ignore.

As governments around the world are increasingly seen as part of the problem, rather than as providers of solutions, business has stepped into the void. The Business Roundtable’s commitment to social purpose is one result. Nearly 200 multinational corporations’ commitments to the UN Global Compact’s Business Ambition for 1.5ºC is another. But perhaps most significant is the extraordinarily rapid rise in stakeholders’ expectations of the corporate sector: “A stunning 92 percent of employees surveyed in the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer say that they expect their employer’s CEO to speak up on one or more issues ranging from income inequality to diversity and training for jobs of the future.”

The world expects more of business leaders. Making a clear commitment to a social purpose is the new imperative for brand trust—and brand trust continues to be a litmus test for business health, driving employee engagement, stakeholder loyalty, and yes, quarterly returns. Centering business strategy in social purpose is a hallmark of 21st century leadership.

The importance of social purpose to business success is likely to become even more pronounced in the next decade with the rise of the millennial generation, the current demographic wave. A ten-year study by the Case Foundation found that millennials:

  • Are everyday changemakers. They think about social change and progress all the time—in their work, but also at play, with their purchase decisions, and more.
  • Believe in activism. They actively engage on the issues they care about—including through their elected representatives.
  • Care about social issues. Millennials are a significantly empathetic generation; they support organizations and movements that improve the lives of others.
  • Are passionate about issues, not institutions. More than 90% of surveyed millennials said they’d stop giving if they lost trust in a charity or nonprofit. They’re also happy to change their jobs, if their employer loses their trust.
  • Value collective action and networks. Movements like #BlackLivesMatter, the climate action movement, and Extinction Rebellion have proven the value of collective action to lift issues to the top of governments’ and businesses’ priorities.

In short, any business (or organization) that wants to engage and retain millennials must pay attention to social purpose and align their actions with their values, and their employees’ sense of what’s right.

What’s next for Canada?

For nearly 40 years, efforts have been made through grassroots organizations on every continent to advance social purpose and environmental responsibility among businesses. These local efforts are coalescing in a broad, inclusive, and global shift in thinking about the role of business in society.

Were we writing this article 20 years ago, we would have been focused on sustainability, and strategies to reduce businesses’ negative impacts on the planet. Were we writing it 10 years ago, we may have been looking at social entrepreneurship as a means to inclusive employment. Today, these movements have fused with others to put the social purpose of business at the forefront of what it means to be a leader.

As we navigate through COVID-19’s devastating effects on health, our economies, and on society as a whole, business has a fundamental and essential role to play. If we’re to emerge stronger, or ‘build back better,’ we must also think about a social purpose economy.

As emergency responses give way to economic recovery, we encourage leaders to think about economic renewal, as well. Let’s rebuild with well-being at the centre of our economic thinking. Let’s create the incentives for businesses and citizens alike to make choices that are better for people and the planet.

We encourage you to join us in our support for a purpose-led recovery as we call on the Government of Canada to put well-being first, and rebuild with a social purpose economy.

A strong, healthy, purpose-led recovery is my business. It’s your business. It’s our business.

Please plan on joining us next April at GLOBE Capital 2021 to continue this timely discussion. The theme is “Delivering Returns for People and the Planet,” and among other critical topics we will be unpacking how and why “purpose pays” – for our economy, for our environment, and for society. If you are interested in partnering with us for this first-of-its-kind hybrid virtual and in-person event, please contact Claire Melanson.

We also invite you to join Junxion Strategy, GLOBE Series and many other Canadian leaders in adding your name to this statement of support for a purpose-led recovery.

GLOBE Advance 2020: Accelerating and Scaling Social Purpose Business in Canada: How you Can Help and Why

At GLOBE 2020, the Social Purpose Institute (SPI) and GLOBE Series brought together leaders from diverse sectors for an outcome-oriented discussion at GLOBE Advance: Turning Social Purpose Dialogue and Vision into Action. The session was facilitated by social purpose experts Coro Strandberg, President of Strandberg Consulting, and Mike Rowlands, President and CEO of Junxion Strategy.

To learn more about Canada’s opportunity to place purpose at the centre of our economic recovery, read the SPI’s at-a-glance summary of the GLOBE Advance session: Accelerating and Scaling Social Purpose Business in Canada: How You Can Help and Why.

For a deeper dive into the Advance session and its outcomes, read the full Advance session report: A 2020 to 2022 Social Purpose Action Agenda for Canada.

SUMMARY (pdf)       FULL REPORT (pdf)