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Responsible event gifting with the Meetings Africa’s Sustainability Village

Gifting for events is a challenge, largely because it generally leads to a bulk order of the same gifts which aren’t personal or to everyone’s taste. Additionally, large gift orders tend to depend on sourcing imported goods which can be obtained in large quantities, quickly, easily and at a low retail cost (but often a high environmental and social cost).

It doesn’t have to be this way. Thoughtful and responsible gifting is possible.

The Event Greening Forum (EGF) is a non-profit organisation promoting sustainability in the business events industry. It has worked closely with the South Africa National Convention Bureau (SANCB) to ensure their leading business tourism show, Meetings Africa, continues to be a sustainable event – an achievement which has been acknowledged with five Green Show Awards to date.

In 2017, SANCB launched an innovative green gifting system at Meetings Africa, called the Sustainability Village. The concept was such a success that the recent 2018 event saw it return, bigger and better.

The Meetings Africa Sustainability Village is a curated space for selected black-owned businesses to showcase their products, all of which are made in South Africa. Many of their products are also inspired by South African culture and heritage, and are beautifully handcrafted. Instead of giving gifts, the Meetings Africa team gave gift vouchers to the Sustainability Village, so that the recipients could each individually select their own present – a fun and failsafe way to ensure that all attendees receive a gift that they truly want.

Why it’s sustainable

Not only does this approach ensure all gifts will be treasured and used, but it upholds all three key principles of sustainability:

People: The upliftment of people from the local community is promoted, by giving small local businesses a marketing platform where they can meet and interact with people from around the globe.

In addition, many of the vendors have a social upliftment angle embedded into their business. For example, the Skills Village 2030 was established to help youth develop technical and entrepreneurial skills, while African Mama Crafts works with women from rural areas and agricultural co-operatives.

Planet: All vendors operate within a 50 km radius of Gauteng, ensuring that minimal travel was required for each business to attend the event. Additionally, many of the vendors use locally sourced or eco-friendly materials. Eco Smart’s creations, for example, are made out of recycled, recyclable, up-cycled materials and fabrics, while Rain uses natural ingredients from indigenous plants.

The show organisers, Synergy Business Events, are members of the EGF and also based in Johannesburg. They took special care to ensure all aspects of the Sustainability Village had an environmentally friendly design.

For example, the wooden structure is re-usable. Six of the vendors’ stalls were re-used from last years’ show, while another six had to be created to accommodate additional vendors at this year’s show. The wood was untreated, to avoid the use of unnecessary chemicals and to make it easier to re-use again. No carpets were laid on the concrete floor, and indigenous potted plants and LED lighting were used on the stands, all of which complemented the exposed wood and created an eco-chic look and feel.

Fabric prints completed the space, which were also designed with re-usability in mind. If down the line it is decided the prints won’t be re-used, Soweto Sewing, another small black-owned business that Meetings Africa often works with, will be able to transform them into shopping bags. The fabric branding with each vendor’s logo on was donated to them, as a useful piece of marketing collateral that they can use to help grow their brand.

Additionally, the vouchers used were made from recycled plastic and the vendors did not need any special equipment to transact with them, but could simply use their cellphones.

Prosperity: By procuring all gifts locally, the economic benefit of gifting was passed directly on to South African businesses. This and the marketing opportunity of the event should contribute to the growth and development of these SMEs.

Meetings Africa gave vouchers to the international hosted buyers, African associations, local corporate hosted buyers, international speakers, hosted media, stakeholder dinner guests, and the Future Leaders Forum. Other delegates were also able to shop at the Sustainability Village if they wished to.

The Meetings Africa 2018 vendors were:

  • Pone Creatives
  • Skills Village 2030
  • uBuntu Crafts
  • African Mama Crafts
  • Nyathi Arts Creations
  • Tshinga Trading Enterprise
  • Marabou Essentials
  • Tokyo Ntombela
  • Henry & Viv
  • Galago
  • Eco Smart
  • Rain

How you do your own green gifting

The SANCB is encouraging all international conference organisers hosting business events in the country to do away with traditional gifting and to use the sustainability village concept as a sustainable alternative. 

Not only does it enable responsible gifting, but it creates an exciting feature area that your international attendees will enjoy visiting. It’s also an affordable option, as you can select vendors whose stock falls within a price range that suits your budget.

All you need to do is:

  1. Establish what kind of vendors you would like to showcase at your event. This is an opportunity to embrace vendors that speak to your core values or the event’s theme, or even a particular CSI angle you might have.
  2. Next, source your vendors. The EGF’s Supplier Database will be a useful resource for this, so remember to visit our website (eventgreening.co.za) during this process.
  3. Design an eco-friendly showcase for your vendors. Again you will be able to find stand builders with green credentials on the EGF Supplier Database.
  4. Work out your voucher system. Local companies are able to offer easy-to-use tech-driven solutions for this.
  5. Activate your Sustainability Village (or whatever you decide to name this space), and encourage all of your event attendees to visit it, not only those who receive a gift voucher.


Source: Lynn Mcleod, Event Greening Forum: 082 891 5883, lynn@eventgreening.co.za