Plant-based events – stepping up to the plate for sustainability, or biting off more than we can chew?

By Kieran Harding, Managing Director, Business in the Community

It’s been nearly three weeks since the 2022 Responsible Business Awards gala event. Always a big night, but the return to an in-person event after two years of digital celebrations added another level of anticipation and excitement for our 550+ guests, particularly those achieving CORE – The Standard for Responsible Business and all of the finalist organisations.

Shortly before the event began, we received news of the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Despite the news, we were able to remember the Queen at our gala event, while also hearing from some of the most inspirational and impactful responsible businesses from across Northern Ireland/the region – 10 of which went home with the top spot in each of the categories up for grabs that night.

However, a big talking point of the evening – and following it – has been our decision to opt for a plant-based menu. The first locally-organised gala or conference event to do so at the ICC Belfast. This decision was considered seriously, and we knew it was brave to go all-in with this choice.

The intention was to provide a meal demonstrating that plant-based food options can be flavoursome and beautiful and to challenge guests to think about how choices around food can have an impact on the environment – plant-based or not. We are always keen to break boundaries at our Responsible Business Awards, and the plant-based menu certainly did that. If we had opted for a split decision on the menu, it would not have been as powerful.

We were supported by the hospitality team at the Awards venue ICC Belfast, who provided the food on the night and who works with local suppliers, farmers and growers to fulfil its objectives of offering local, sustainable food.

Our menu choice for 2022 has achieved the goal of encouraging discussion around food sourcing. In our feedback, we have had a full scope of responses – from those who loved the food to those who were surprised at how good the options were, to those who didn’t approve. I’d like to thank those members that are food producers who have been upfront in challenging our decision and who are keen to work with us as we develop our menu for 2023. It is heartening to see the responsible approach many of these members are taking in their own businesses. They are demonstrating leadership and great innovation as they champion the climate-action agenda. So for those who are keen to know, we have not committed to a plant-based menu for all future events, but we will insist that all produce – fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and fish – is sourced sustainably and responsibly.

We know there is no silver bullet for solving climate change, but we must walk the talk, not just challenging our members and others to think about the climate but being willing to stand up and be counted ourselves.

Climate action is good for our people, the planet and the places in which we operate, and it makes good business sense. Addressing climate breakdown and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint is integral to ensuring a liveable future for everyone and for creating new business opportunities that generate greater prosperity and wellbeing for all.

How can Business in the Community support your organisation? Get in touch with our environment team, join us at our upcoming Environment Symposium or CEO Breakfast, or have a look at the suite of climate and environment campaigns and initiatives on offer to both members and non-members of BITC.

To change everything, we need everyone.