Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword these days: Eco-friendly events and sustainable events practices are becoming the norm. Event attendees expect their hosts to do everything in their power to limit the environmental impact of their meetings, workshops and conferences. Sustainable events reassure guests that your organization holds the greater good in mind — but what is a sustainable event, and how can you plan one with ease and authenticity?

What is a Sustainable Event? 

A sustainable event is any event planned and executed considering a particular concern for environmental, economic and social issues. Sustainable events, a.k.a. “green events” or “event greening” has been in the public eye since the 1992 Winter Olympics, but the planning practice has only grown in popularity and impact in the subsequent decades.

A sustainable, green or eco-friendly event incorporates sustainable values such as recycling, plastic use reduction, plant-based or ethically sourced meals and a mindful reduction of the event’s carbon footprint.

While sustainable events do require more planning and consideration than a standard event, the benefits of doing so are myriad. Beside the obvious benefits to the planet as a whole, sustainable events show clients or guests that your business or organization is not just aware of these serious issues, but is enthusiastic about sustainable event management and actually making change. Furthermore, guests at a sustainable event often feel good about attending an event that openly aligns with their own values, adding to their overall experience.

When planning your sustainable event, you might consider the following eco-friendly ideas:

Tip 1: Reduce Water Use

Corporate Meetings Network describes water conservation as the “little black dress of the 21st century”: Anybody who’s anybody is conserving water! And for good reason: According to the EPA, 40 out of 50 states expect water shortages within some portion of their state by or before 2024. Sure, one event is small potatoes compared to an entire state, but reducing water use for your corporate event can still seem intimidating. Here are some great places to start:

  • Choose a water-efficient venue, i.e., a venue that uses water-efficient fixtures and appliances. Ditto your hotel choices.
  • No more pre-poured water at dinner. Ask waitstaff at your event to leave water pitchers on the table without pre-filling each individual glass. Pre-poured glasses often go untouched; this way, guests who want water can have it without the additional waste.
  • Bid farewell to post-dinner coffee. Likewise, ask your venue or caterer to omit the post-dinner round of coffee in favor of a beverage station with tea bags and high-quality instant coffee options. This way, the hot water can serve double duty — no need for multiple, wasteful carafes of coffee, which require thousands of litres of water to produce when farming, transportation and production are factored in.
  • Oh, and beware the flavored water stations for the same reason. Uneaten cucumbers, fruit and mint + unused water = major waste.
  • Make it personal. Encourage guests of a multiple-night event to reuse their towels and linens during their hotel stay. Give away four-minute shower timers (branded with your company’s logo, naturally,) or encourage attendees to Instagram themselves brushing their teeth without the tap running and post it to a themed hashtag like #ConservationCandids.

Tip 2: Go Plastic-Free

Plastic: It’s clogging up our landfills and our oceans as we speak, and its creation carries a massive carbon footprint. To go plastic-free at your event consider:

  • Using non-disposable plates and cutlery. This one is easy: Your caterer or venue will be glad to provide sturdy, washable dinnerware that creates no plastic waste.
  • Eliminate the use of plastic cups for water or other beverages, and encourage guests to bring their own reusable water bottles or use glass cups.
  • Using plastic name-badge holders? Collect them after the event for reuse.
  • If your event includes vendors, ask them to use non-plastic packaging for their products and marketing materials.
  • Go strawless or use steel or glass straws. (They make great event swag!)
  • Disallowing helium balloons as event decor.

Tip 3: Eliminate Paper Products

Conferences, workshops and meetings can create a lot of paper waste, and unfortunately, not all of it gets recycled properly. 26 million tons of paper are added to landfills each year in the U.S. alone. But it’s surprisingly simple to make a difference by cutting back on your event’s paper waste. Try:

  • Eliminating paper hand-outs, sign-in sheets, etc. and opt instead for putting necessary information and presentations on USB drives.
  • Give out reusable totes instead of paper-based gift bags. The tote is part of the swag!
  • Replace paper signage with digital alternatives, and make the most of custom mobile apps, online ticketing sites and digital marketing.

Tip 4: Go For Greener Food & Beverages

Your event’s menu is a wonderful place to make effective, eco-friendly changes. The meat and dairy industries are particularly fraught when it comes to their impact on the planet (and, of course, on animals,) so leaning toward plant-based dishes is a great start. Other ideas include:

  • Use locally-sourced ingredients. Supporting your local farmers and producers isn’t just a good business practice — it lessens your carbon’s footprint by cutting down on transportation.
  • Go organic. Organic produce has been grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides and organic meat has been raised in living conditions suitable for their natural behaviors (like open field grazing,) fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not administered antibiotics or hormones. Good for the animals = good for your plate!
  • Choose seasonal ingredients. By planning a menu that features in-season ingredients for your area, you are eliminating the need to ship in produce from other parts of the world — a process that leaves behind a massive carbon footprint. Besides, local, seasonal food just tastes better!
  • Think plant-based or pescatarian. Vegetable farming is less harmful to the environment than livestock farming, and vegetarian or vegan diets have a softer impact on Mother Earth and her inhabitants. If you’d like an animal-based protein on the menu, fish is the best option; while some varieties are dangerously overfished, like bluefin tuna and cod, an ethically-sourced fish like organic, farmed salmon can be a safe option.

Tip 5: Choose An Eco-Friendly Venue

Yes, even your venue selection can (and should!) be eco-friendly. During your green event planning, look for venues that…

  • Proudly recycle and/or compost
  • Use water-efficient appliances and fixtures
  • Can accommodate a plant-based menu (Bonus points for organic, local ingredient sourcing!)
  • Use environmentally-friendly materials
  • Use solar power or solar heating

…among other green practices and services.

Tip 6: Consider Your Transportation Options

Planes, trains, automobiles — they all produce emissions that harm our planet. Luckily, there are ways to minimize your event’s carbon footprint re: transportation. Consider:

  • Encouraging carpooling, including via rideshare programs like UberPool, Lyft Shared, and others. You may even establish a car-share option for attendees during smaller, multi-day events.
  • Ensure access to public transportation by choosing a venue close to bus and train lines.

Tip 7: Opt For LED Lighting

Did you know LED lighting is significantly better for the environment than traditional fluorescent lighting? It’s true: LED bulbs consume less power per unit of light emitted. This reduces greenhouse emissions from power plants and results in lower carbon dioxide emissions. Roughly, one LED bulb will minimize greenhouse gas emissions by almost half a ton. Switch out traditional bulbs for LED lighting and bask in the warm glow of sustainability!

Tip 8: Host Your Event Outdoors

If possible, consider hosting your event outdoors during the day. This uses significantly less energy than an indoor event (think lighting, heating and air conditioning, etc.) and may even be cheaper for you in the long run! Plus, a sustainable event that actually takes place in the great outdoors really drives home your commitment to green event design.

Tip 9: Reduce Waste

This one might seem obvious, but are you aware of all the different means by which your event can reduce waste production? It’s not just about eliminating single-use plastics and non-recyclable products. Take advantage of ways to:

  • Reuse, like opting for reusable signs, wristbands, nametags, etc., not to mention reusable water bottles (no plastic, please!) and plates/cutlery.
  • Recycle, and not just via the recycling bin. Nearly every physical component of your event can be replaced with a recycled-materials version, from napkins to swag bags and beyond.
  • Compost, starting with choosing a venue that has a composting program or can accommodate compost bins.

Tip 10: Choose Fair Trade

Fair Trade Certified goods are produced in compliance with rigorous fair trade standards, which drive income sustainability, community and individual well-being, empowerment, and environmental stewardship in order to protect workers and the planet. Some items that can be sourced Fair Trade for your event include:

  • Coffee & tea
  • Chocolate
  • Flowers
  • Produce
  • Seafood
  • Nuts and seeds, including some snack bars
  • Some decor, like candles

The Impact of Earth-Friendly Event Management

Reducing the negative repercussions of your workshop, meeting, conference or event will soon become a priority across the business and social landscapes worldwide. By taking small, conscientious steps, your event can be good for the planet and good for your event and its guests.

At Earle Brown, we’d love to work with you to utilize these sustainable practices in crafting your perfect — and perfectly green — event. Contact us today to connect with an event planner and share your extraordinary eco-friendly vision!