How the world’s peak heritage sites symposium embraced a monumental approach to event sustainability

Event: ICOMOS 21st General Assembly and Scientific Symposium 2023 (GA2023)

Dates: 31 August – 9 September 2023

Venue: International Convention Centre (ICC) Sydney, and other iconic Sydney locations

More than most, the members of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) understand that preserving our planet’s most cherished assets is critical.

GA2023, hosted by Australia ICOMOS, assembled more than 1800 participants from the cultural and heritage sector globally. The 10-day symposium featured more than 150 sessions woven together by the pivotal theme ‘Heritage Changes: Resilience – Responsibility – Rights – Relationships’. Discussions not only addressed climate change impacts on cultural heritage but also championed sustainable futures.

The Challenge

The climate change implications for cultural heritage sites are significant. Embracing the theme and the challenges on their doorstep, the GA2023 Organisers committed to hosting an environmentally sustainable and carbon-neutral event. This comprehensive initiative spanned policy formulation, procurement, venue and product selection, menu design, communication strategies, and carbon offsetting.

The Solutions

EarthCheck’s Responsible Events experts put together a science-backed sustainable event framework for ICOMOS, integrating the theme of the symposium with the sustainability requirements to ensure the event was carbon neutral.

Carbon control and offset

In partnership with EarthCheck and leveraging a tree planting initiative by Reforest, GA2023 aimed for carbon neutrality. Key efforts included selecting carbon-neutral venues, engaging sustainable suppliers and planting 1200 trees in Widgewah Conservation Sanctuary in Victoria, Australia, to offset residual emissions.

Sustainability guide

This guide served as a blueprint for GA2023, including how to minimise carbon footprints, procure responsibly and advocate for sustainable practices within the GA2023 framework.

Aboriginal procurement policy

This policy, developed by the GA2023 Indigenous Advisory Panel,  underscored the significance of cultural heritage by engaging 12 local Aboriginal-owned businesses as suppliers, thereby reducing carbon miles and enhancing cultural connections.

Venue and supplier selection

The EarthCheck Certified ICC Sydney was a cornerstone venue, contributing only five per cent of emissions to the overall carbon footprint. Sustainable suppliers were preferred, including Arinex, Australia’s first carbon-neutral event management company.


GA2023 promoted sustainable travel among attendees, including a partnership with Qantas for carbon offsets, with the airline matching contributions dollar for dollar. Additionally, through Reforest, delegates were provided with access to a travel calculator, enabling them to estimate and offset their travel-related carbon emissions, directly through Reforest. Many GA2023 planning meetings went the hybrid route, significantly reducing the carbon footprint for both local and interstate travel.

Sustainability elements during the event

Delegates could take part in specific sustainability activities during the event with special sessions, food, themes, materials and more. The event integrated sustainable practices across various aspects including:

  • A dedicated Heritage as Sustainability program in the Scientific Symposium
  • A Heritage Hub which hosted sustainability discussions and presentations
  • A Sustainability Day with vegetarian options
  • Edible centrepieces at the Gala Dinner, later turned into meals for homeless people
  • Recycled and reusable materials for on-site displays and consumables
  • Promotion of on-site sustainability through initiatives such as reusable water bottles, wooden pencils, compostable notepads, bamboo lanyards, and plastic-free name badges.

The GA2023 certification was made possible through the support of EarthCheck and Reforest, and partnerships with Arinex and ICC, Sydney, all of whom embraced our vision for a sustainable event.

The Outcome

GA2023 was certified as carbon-neutral, setting a precedent for future global ICOMOS events. Australia ICOMOS communicated a strong message about the nexus between heritage and what is passed on to future generations. It also demonstrated that event size does not constrain the attainment of carbon neutrality. 

GA2023 Convenor Prof Richard Mackay AM said: “The success of the ICOMOS 21st General Assembly and Scientific Symposium was underscored by dedication to sustainable strategies. Our commitment to carbon neutrality responds to the urgent need to address the impacts of climate change, not only on cultural heritage, but also on the communities to whom it is important and on the environment. The GA2023 certification was made possible through the support of EarthCheck and Reforest, and partnerships with Arinex and ICC, Sydney, all of whom embraced our vision for a sustainable event. ICOMOS recognises that present actions can set the trajectory for a sustainable future.”

Your next meeting, conference or event can be Good for Business and Good for the Planet. Talk to our team today about EarthCheck’s Responsible Meetings and Events products and services.

Science-backed sustainability solutions for tourism,
delivered by the experts.

EarthCheck Logo

of Country

There are more than 476 million Indigenous Peoples, found in all regions of the world, from the Arctic to the tropical forests. They make up more than 6 per cent of our global population.


In the spirit of reconciliation, EarthCheck acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout the world and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Indigenous Peoples today.


EarthCheck acknowledges that Indigenous Peoples are guardians of the forests and biodiversity hotspots we all depend on. Research shows that lands managed by Indigenous Peoples, with secure rights, experience lower deforestation rates, store more carbon, hold more biodiversity, and benefit more people than other lands — including protected areas.


We recognise and support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration is a positive document that maps out a path for Indigenous Peoples to be free from discrimination and secure in their identities and life choices.

EarthCheck Logo

EarthCheck Certified: Aligned globally

EarthCheck science and products were developed by the Australian Government Sustainable Tourism Co-operative Research Centre (STCRC) over ten years. Our science is reviewed annually to ensure that it meets international standards relative to greenhouse gas protocols, responsible tourism, and certification.

EarthCheck products and services are built on the Agenda 21 principles for Sustainable Development endorsed by 182 Heads of State at the United Nations Rio De Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992 and aligned to the SDGs.

EarthCheck Certified provides a framework for organisations to achieve the desired outcomes for sustainable development as set out in the final report of the World Summit for Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg in 2002.

EarthCheck Certified complies with the Mohonk Agreement (2000), which outlines the guidelines and principles for an international sustainable tourism certification program. It is also a Recognised program of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC).

EarthCheck Certified is a verification standard accepted by CDP. It is also an approved program of the Certification and Accreditation Administration of the People’s Republic of China (CNCA), London & Partners, the Mexican Secretary of Tourism (SECTUR) and the City of Sydney.

EarthCheck Certified is an approved program for meeting the EU Energy Directive for the Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control (Bundesamt für Wirtschaft und Ausfuhrkontrolle – BAFA) in Germany and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy) in the Netherlands.

EarthCheck partners with international research organisations to maintain the currency of EarthCheck science and our benchmarking systems.

The EarthCheck brand signifies scientific excellence, better environmental, economic, and social performance, improved community interactions, and savings through more efficient use of resources. It provides recognition and promotional support to a global consumer market.