21 Jul 2021

7 ideas for more sustainable events

Events are back – here’s how to make them cleaner and greener


As we transition from virtual-only to live and hybrid events, we have found some tried and true ways to make your events more sustainable and help achieve your corporate sustainability goals.

The global pandemic forced most events to go virtual over the past year and a half.  While a curveball for most event organizers and attendees, there were some great upsides. Virtual events gave our planet a much-needed breather and created opportunities for events to become larger, more inclusive, and diverse.  Our environment benefited from reduced pollution caused by air travel, food waste and packaging waste, as well as large venue energy consumption. In fact, one event even measured their carbon footprint for meeting virtually vs in person and found they saved emissions equal to taking a car off the road for nearly 600,000 miles!

Even with live events starting back up, there are still many opportunities for organizers to continue the sustainability trend and actively make events cleaner and greener. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind as you put your event plans together:

Offer hybrid and virtual events

By sticking with virtual events or offering hybrid options for people to attend either in person or virtually, you could reduce costs by renting a smaller venue and cut down on energy consumption, food and packaging waste, and greenhouse gases caused by air and car travel. Not only would environmental benefits be realized, but you’d be reaching a larger and more inclusive audience at the same time. Check out our tips for hosting a successful virtual event.

Choose clean energy venues with mass transit access

The location of your event matters, so choose a city that is closest to where most of your attendees are based and select a venue that strives to be environmentally friendly. There are LEED certified buildings designed to use less energy that are powered by clean energy sources such as solar and wind. Make sure your venue is near accessible public transportation and offers both recycling and food waste composting services. The CDP, formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project, is a non-profit that runs a global disclosure system for cities and states to help them manage their environmental impacts. Detailed information is available on their website to help determine which venue is right for your event.

Just say no to single-use plastics

The harmful effects of single-use plastics polluting our oceans and filling up landfills across the world has become a major concern as only 9% of plastics are recycled. The European Union (EU) will ban single-use plastic in 2021 and a growing number of US cities have sworn off it as well. California cities such as Berkeley, Sausalito, and San Francisco have already implemented bans on single-use plastics that includes plastic bottles, utensils, straws, and other foodwares. This requires event organizers to offer only reusable or truly compostable alternatives. Attendees are now encouraged to bring their own water bottles and event venues offer filtered water refilling stations.

Reduce food waste

A major detriment to the environment that people are often unaware of is food waste. Landfills are a major source of methane emissions in the world contributing to global warming.  According to the UN, food loss and waste generates eight percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with around 1.5 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent every year. There is a global push to prevent food waste by planning better planning and to find ways to donate or compost any leftovers.

Ways to avoid wasting food include:

  • Better menu planning to match the number of estimated attendees
  • Using smart buffet services that both increase attendee satisfaction while limiting waste
  • Requesting the event venue offer a composting option for any food waste
  • Working with local food vendors known for sustainable practices to help reduce waste
  •  Partnering with food donation programs

Serve less meat and more plant-based options

The demand for plant-based foods has increased as more people learn about the negative impact on the environment of a meat-based diet. Offering plant-based products at events not only helps cater to attendees who may be vegetarian or vegan, it also promotes sustainability by reducing the emissions, water consumption and land use required to make meat products. There is now a conference dedicated to educating food service professionals about plant-based options.

Go digital – forget paper

Another way to reduce your carbon footprint is to move away from printed programs, posters, handouts, and booth backdrops. Printed vinyl banners and backdrops require a lot of resources to produce and are often used once, then landfilled, as the materials are not recyclable. Using 3D mapping, projection, and LED lighting can create a more interesting and sustainable experience – especially if your venue uses renewable energy sources to power it all. Offer a digital app to share program information and cut back on the paper, printing, and shipping.

Rethink your swag

Many events hand out backpacks or tote bags filled with paper programs, pens, notecards, and other items at the registration desk. These may prove valuable to some, but often it’s another bag to carry with items that will never be used or opened – heading straight to the landfill. Since many attendees come prepared with their own bags, tablets, and refillable water bottles – these items are often unnecessary and underappreciated. By not providing swag it saves money and reduces waste. If booth giveaways are important, make sure they are useful items like notebooks or phone chargers made of recycled materials or reusable tools such as bamboo cutlery kits, refillable water bottles, mugs, and tumblers.

Event organizers and producers are in a position to be environmental stewards by introducing sustainable practices into their event planning. C-suite executives want their brand to be known as environmentally aware and attendees will appreciate events designed to help fight climate change. So come back strong when you plan your next event and make it clean and green!

Categories: Events
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