Let’s be honest. An event has the potential to generate a lot of waste and to use huge amounts of energy. On one hand, all of this is a sign that an event is well attended. On the other, someone has to clean that mess. More importantly, the waste generated has an impact on the environment, and people notice that.
¾ of people surveyed by pew research stated that they were concerned about the environment. Nearly ⅓ also noted that it bothers them to see items are thrown away that could be recycled. Environmental concerns go even deeper among Millennials and members of Gen Z. Chances are if your event isn’t environmentally friendly, you’re likely to get some negative feedback.
If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to consider sustainability when you plan your events. To help you do that, we’ve assembled this list of helpful tips.
Choose an Event Location that is as Sustainable as Possible
Most event planners begin scouting locations very early in the process. Highly desirable places fill up quickly. If you wait too long to book, you could spend a lot of money. Worse, you may not get the space you need. If you’re going to prioritize sustainability, you’ll be adding some new challenges to your planning. First, you’ll need to determine what characteristics will make a location sustainable, and how you are willing to structure your event to promote sustainability.
Here are some things to consider in your planning:
- An outdoor event that is held during the day won’t need as much energy as an indoor event and may cost less.
- A centrally located hotel or convention center will be within walking distance of restaurants and hotels.
- Consider locations that are near public transportation and bike trails, and offer shuttle services.
- Prioritize venues that already prioritize sustainability. Promote sustainability by giving your business to venues that do as well.
Designate a Sustainability Liaison or Team
If you leave your sustainability efforts up to anyone and everyone involved in planning and running your event, your efforts will be scattered at best. There needs to be planning, coordination, and know-how. Find someone to designate as the sustainability head, or for large events assemble a team from all involved business areas.
The point of this is to ensure that nothing gets missed, or that one effort doesn’t negate another. For example, it doesn’t do much good for your marketing team to sell your event as being environmentally friendly if your sales team shows up with giveaway items that are made of nothing but cheap, non-biodegradable plastic.
Take a Hard-Nosed Approach with Vendors
If you are holding an event, chances are you are hiring vendors for a variety of purposes. Your list might include:
- Setup And Teardown Crews
- Food Service
- Speakers And Other Presenters
- Tech Support
- Cleaning And Janitorial Workers
Whoever you hire, you are paying them for their presence, and their expertise. You are also compensating them to execute your vision. If sustainability is a part of that vision, then you must be willing to communicate to your vendors what you want and to be a bit hard-nosed when it comes to demanding that they meet your standards when it comes to sustainability. Nobody is going to appreciate your efforts if your vendors are using wasteful practices.
Go Paperless and Make Attendees do the Same
As you plan your event, make a note of every area that requires paper. This includes printing flyers. Stocking up sales staff with business cards. Generating paper sign up sheets, even providing attendees with those little name badge stickers. You name it! Each of these things takes an environmental hit to produce and could end up in the landfill.
Next, come up with strategies that allow you to avoid paper whenever you can. You can:
- Have attendees sign up using a tablet or their phone.
- Share contact information via a dedicated website instead of business cards.
- Create a dedicated mobile app for your event.
- Send out event handouts digitally.
- Ask for event feedback online instead of passing out evaluation sheets.
Buy Sustainable Supplies
As you make your lists of items to purchase or rent, consider sustainability every step of the way. Here are some examples:
- Use cloth tablecloths instead of paper.
- Substitute glassware or compostable plates for paper or styrofoam cups.
- Use reusable coffee cups as giveaways, and ditch throwaway cups.
- Serve drinks via recyclable aluminum cans, not single-use plastic.
- Make and serve coffee in urns, avoid K Cups and other single-serve options.
- Buy recycled if you must have disposable items?
- Do you need a generator? Source one that’s solar-powered.
- Use local vendors and suppliers whenever possible.
- If you plan on giving out prizes and rewards, focus on giving away truly useful items that won’t get broken or tossed in the trash.
- Related: Give away experience-based gifts like theater tickets instead of swag.
- Connect with a local organization to donate extra food, prize items, even office supplies.
Talk to your suppliers. There’s a good chance that they have worked with event planners who also prioritize ‘going green’. They may be able to steer you towards the best options available to you.
Serve Sustainable Foods
Yes, even the food you serve is important for your sustainability efforts. Think about it. You can make the effort to serve food on sustainable plates, but how much good have you done if the food itself is highly processed and travels hundreds of miles to arrive at your event. Here are some great tips for ensuring that the food and beverages you offer are as healthy and sustainable as possible:
- Offer a vegetarian option. It’s healthier and more sustainable.
- Use local restaurants and caterers whenever possible.
- Accommodate guests with Kosher and Halal options. It’s culturally appropriate, and the food is often prepared in more environmentally friendly ways.
- Serve food in bulk using steam trays and buffet service, and avoid prepackaged individual servings.
- Offer drinks in pitchers or dispensers.
- Feature foods that are in season.
- If you serve alcohol, look to local brewers and distillers.
- Recommend restaurants that are locally owned, and are.
Make it Easy to Recycle
The truth is, nobody is going to carry their trash across your event space to compost or recycle it. You’ll have to make it easy for them. Work with the venue to ensure that there are adequate recycling and composting bins and that they are distributed across space.
Share news and events in the days and weeks preceding your event, and be sure to mention your sustainability efforts. Remind attendees that they can recycle nearly everything they will receive, and let them know how and where.
For many people, recycling and composting are new efforts. It can be overwhelming to figure out which items can be recycled, and which items go in which bin. A few instructional signs can do wonders, so can a bit of helpful information posted on your website.
Connect With a Local Organization that Promotes Sustainability
The truth is, your event is likely to have at least some, negative environmental impact. You’ve already taken some important steps to mitigate this. You’re recycling, avoiding disposable materials, sourcing items locally, and bringing vendors and attendees onboard. That’s great!
Why not take things a step further, and do something to help sustainability efforts in the community that is hosting your event. You could:
- Give a local, environmental charity floor space at your event to collect donations, and promote their efforts.
- Hold a volunteer event as part of your overall event.
- Place donation canisters.
- Donate a portion of the event proceeds towards an environmentally friendly charity.
- Work with the charity as part of your planning. They can help you to plan a sustainable event and tell you the best way to bring attention to their efforts.
Final Thoughts: Collect Feedback on Your Sustainability Efforts
If you want to hold sustainable events, you have to know what worked, and what didn’t. You’re already collecting feedback from your event, it’s important to ask attendees about your green efforts. Here are some questions to ask:
- Was it easy to recycle items instead of throwing them in the trash?
- Did you notice waste that could have been avoided?
- Have we made any mistakes or missteps regarding our sustainable efforts?
- Do you have any suggestions for our next event?
Once you collect this feedback, you can use that information to improve your efforts for your next event.