The world's eyes were on Scotland as it hosted its largest event to date, COP26. The UN Climate Change Conference, which took place at the SEC in Glasgow, welcomed more than 30,000 delegates and world leaders for over 12 days.

Kathleen Warden, Director of Conference Sales at SEC discussed the importance of the event and talked us through the venue's sustainability credentials and what other venues can learn from the SEC to reduce their impact on the environment.

Kathleen Warden SEC landscape

Kathleen Warden, Director of Conference Sales at SEC.

It was incredible privilege for SEC to have been chosen to stage an event of both the scale and importance of COP26. The whole way through the selection process and discussions with the UK Government, we were acutely aware of the importance of this event for the UK, and for the world.  What we didn't know was that we would be facing a global pandemic that would cause such devastation, and at the same time, magnify the impact of climate change.  The consequence of this is that COP26 took place at the most critical time in the history of our planet.

What the COP meetings showed was the importance of bringing people together, to discuss, debate and make decisions, that ultimately affect everyone on the planet. When the conference took place in Paris (for COP21) every country agreed to limit global warming to well below two degrees, and to aim for 1.5 degrees. Paris set the destination and Glasgow made it a reality. It is widely recognised in the conference and convention industry that the legacy of conferences and the impact that they have on positive change is what makes them so important - for example, conferences in the field of oncology are ultimately aiming to improve the survival rates of people living with cancer. The same goes for COP - its purpose is to ensure a better outcome for our planet and all that inhabit it.

And the conference industry has its part to play in reducing its impact on the environment. We're finding a clear shift in decision making around what clients expect of venues, suppliers and destinations in relation to making events more sustainable.

Events can have a substantial impact on the natural and built environment and at SEC, we are in the advanced stages of developing an ambitious sustainability and energy strategy, which focuses on clear goals, innovative technologies, and best practice, together with a clear plan for implementation.

COP increased our focus but it's a journey we've been on for some time. The electricity we use comes from 100% renewable sources, we are reducing energy and water wastage, employing energy efficiency technologies and increasing recycling rates. We constantly maintain and upgrade our plant and machinery to make sure it's as energy efficient as possible and employ a dedicated environment and waste manager.

In 2021, we launched our new food strategy which ensures that sustainable, responsible, and healthier choices sit at the heart of our venue's events, further underlining SEC's reputation as a world class venue.

We worked on it for over two years and it includes a pledge to source at least 80% of our food from Scotland, with all produce sourced from high-welfare producers with sustainable agriculture processes.

For COP26, we set an example for other large-scale international events, in terms of food sourcing, by taking a number of measures to ensure a sustainable approach. For example, we replicated ingredients across the conference's menus to ensure produce could be repurposed for other meals, where necessary, to avoid food waste. Likewise, the cups used to serve drinks were reusable and it is estimated that this approach saved up to 250,000 single use cups.

In line with the international nature of COP26, we used Scottish produce to deliver an international inspired menu. We implemented a Scottish fusion to certain international dishes such as the 'Scotch beef ramen'.

COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma told us that the choice of food that we are serving the visiting delegations, staff and all our volunteers is very important, particularly with the many hours of negotiations and long days. Ahead of the conference he said: "It is exciting to see such innovation in the menus that will be on offer and to understand the thought and effort that has gone into making dishes both healthy, sustainable and suitable for different diets and requirements."

While we recognise that more can be done to improve the environment we all share, we are proud to have created a strong and ambitious strategy that helped to champion the very best of sustainably sourced Scottish produce on an international stage.

Ensuring events implement sustainable solutions to their planning process remains a priority for us. We understand the value of being able to meet in person, and so we continue to do what we can to minimise the carbon footprint whilst still benefiting from the social and economic progress that events drive forward.