Slow Design – a path towards sustainable incentive events

Thank you to Olga Walker from GoodCause Travel & Events for this guest entry! Olga also serves as SITE Scotland's Sustainability Ambassador.

Many event industry voices saw the Covid-19 pandemic industry crisis as a catalyst for change — moving sustainability toward the top of the agenda for event professionals.

However, the focus of the agenda is still on how to make individual events more sustainable: by embracing hybrid forms, offsetting carbon footprints, or including well-being and meditation breaks, for example.

With respect towards these actions, which assist with decarbonising individual events, this ‘bolt-on’ sustainability approach — adopting singular measures while keeping an otherwise jam-packed agenda — is not enough, and is a possible route to greenwashing.

Emerging recent academic research in events and sustainability highlights that event professionals need to move away from the question of how to make an individual event more sustainable and instead, question how events can contribute to all three pillars of the global sustainability agenda: environmental, social and economic.

Events, put differently, “have the potential to be model examples of harmonious balance between human activity, resource use and environmental impact, rather than hedonistic, resource gulping and garbage producing” (Jones 2014).


Slow movement, also referred to as slow philosophy, appeared as an antidote to the modern culture of overproduction and overconsumption, as well as the ‘cult of speed’ — all of which have negative effects on the environment, create ethical and social issues, and negatively impact well-being and happiness.

Slow gastronomy (celebrating land-to-food connections) and slow tourism (promoting immersive connections with a destination) have become well-known terms. Both focus on quality over quantity, as well as meaningful connection.


The six principles of slow design for any product or service have been developed by Fuad Luke and Strauss (2008). We will focus on one of them in this article, as a very relevant principle for incentive events professionals.


Spotlighting ‘hidden gems’ in incentive travel programmes is a great example of slow design and the triple bottom line approach to sustainability (environmental, socio-cultural and economic sustainability).

Bringing your incentive programme to a ‘hidden gem’ location and staying there for the duration of the incentive programme:

  • Offers an in-depth cultural understanding of the event location and its local community (the authentic experience)
  • Promotes cultural heritage
  • Contributes to the local pride and identity of the community
  • Supports the attractiveness and economic prosperity of the location in the long run
  • Cultivates and purposefully generates quality (vs. a jam-packed agenda focused on quantity)
  • Reduces the trip’s carbon footprint
  • Enhances participant engagement (through in-depth exploration)
  • Promotes participant well-being (by slowing down and reflecting)

The above will offer a more meaningful approach to a sustainable incentive event rather than a one-off corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity.


Slow event design looks beyond the needs and the context of the present into the bigger picture of the future. A holistic ‘Design for the World’ paradigm replaces a pragmatic ‘Design for the Need’ one.

The role of slow event designers is to activate societal behavioural change and to develop shared sustainability-focused values through design so the events industry becomes an important platform for social activism and long-term stakeholder engagement.

This role challenges event designers not to ‘hone their skills in service to a culture of consumption, but instead to view themselves as vital contributors to a planet in transition’ (Pais and Strauss 2014).


FUAD LUKE, Alastair and Carolyn STRAUSS. 2008. 'The Slow Design Principles: a New Interrogative and Reflective Tool for Design and Practice'. In Changing The Change: Design Visions, Proposals and Tools, Torino, July 2008

JONES, Meegan. 2014. Sustainable Event Management: A Practical Guide. 2nd edn. Florence: Routledge

MAIR, Judith and Andrew SMITH. 2021. 'Events and sustainability: why making events

more sustainable is not enough'. In Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 29:11-12, 1739-1755

OREFICE, Chiara. 2018. Designing for events – a new perspective on event design. In International Journal of Event and Festival Management. Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 20-33

PAIS, Ana Paula and Carolyn STRAUSS. 2014. In Pursuit od Well-Being, Take it Slow. In CRISP issue #4 Well, Well, Well. October 2014

Written by

Olga Walker

Olga Walker

Managing Director


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