How to Organize a Green Event: Tips for Sustainable Planning

There’s no doubt that the events industry has had an impact on the environment over the years. From booking international travel to printing bundles of glossy schedules, sustainability is often not top of mind when organizing an event. An exciting shift is taking place though, and over the last couple of years, the events industry has begun to place an increased focus on sustainability. 

In this guide, we’ll look at why it’s so important to consider the environment when planning your next event and provide a few pointers on how to plan a green event!

Why go green?

You may have an effective event organizing process, trusted vendors, and favorite venues, and are thinking, why would I turn this upside down to go green? Well, there are numerous benefits to making your event more environmentally friendly – to the environment, to your business, and to your attendees. 

Improve your environmental impact 

Do you know your events’ footprint? If your answer is no, you’re not alone. For years, environmental impact was not a primary focus in the events industry. Today, however, industry leaders are realizing the importance of first understanding, and then improving the impact. 

In early 2019, representatives of global events and tourism bodies, together with sustainability experts, introduced a focus on sustainability within the industry. The Events Industry Council (EIC) developed 4 Principles for Sustainable Events designed to guide and motivate event organizers worldwide to embrace and implement green practices.  

The overarching four sustainability principles presented by the EIC include:

  • Event organizers and suppliers share responsibility for implementing and communicating sustainable practices to their stakeholders.
  • Basic environmental practices.
  • Basic social considerations.
  • Supporting thriving economic practices.

Leaders developed these principles in direct response to common practices within the industry. In order to make improvements, the EIC believes both organizers and vendors take responsibility. Heres is a snapshot of the industry’s current impact:

  • Event Manager Blog suggests that conference attendees discard or contribute to over 4 lbs of waste every day and…
  • More than 40% of that waste from events ends up in landfills.
  • Looking at an event’s carbon footprint, 70% of CO2 emissions are from airplane travel.

Reduce costs

Technology is streamlining processes and reducing costs for event organizers. From event management software and digital invitations to onsite technology like mobile apps and digital display signage – organizers benefit from reducing paper and printing costs.

TEDxMileHigh, for example, saved over $7,000 on a single event by offering an event app rather than paper programs! Learn How

Because time is money, it’s also worth noting that event management software, registration tools, and event apps are saving event organizers thousands of hours of administrative work and thus allowing more time for more meaningful tasks!

Meet attendee expectations 

In addition to improving your impact on the environment, reducing your footprint can benefit your bottom line. Individuals value sustainability in their lives and increasingly seek out businesses that align with their values. 

88% of consumers want brands to help them to be more environmentally friendly

Futerra, Forbes 

According to Forbes, individuals today are more likely to support a brand or company that aligns with their values. As such, over the last few years, consumers have gravitated toward brands that stand for the same values. This has, in turn, fueled an increase in value-driven organizations. Ultimately, in order to compete, it’s increasingly important to incorporate values like sustainability in a business. 

Now let’s jump into how to put it into action. Here are 6 ways to start thinking about organizing a sustainable event:

Make sustainability a priority

If you’re leading the planning and organization of an event, it’s important to set the stage early on. You have the most power to make sustainability a priority in the pre-planning stages, so outline your sustainable goals early on.

If you’re proactive in the early stages of planning, you have a better chance of getting potential partners on board with your sustainability goals. From choosing a more eco-friendly and accessible location to checking with your region’s waste and recycling mandates, factoring the environmental effects into every step of the planning process will ultimately reduce your party footprint.

Ditch paper for digital communication

Traditionally, events have been a huge paper-waste. Invitations, flyers, event programs, and paper handouts are some of the event materials that typically end up in the trash before an event is even done. To achieve sustainability, move towards eliminating paper waste with digital marketing and communications.

Online Invitations

There’s no need to print and mail hundreds or thousands of invitations, today it’s standard practice to send invitation emails for an event. Rather than printing invitations focus on connecting with attendees via the touchpoints they frequent most; targeted campaigns using email and social media give organizers the opportunity to connect.

Bonus! Using email invitations gives you the opportunity to reach out with reminders multiple times to keep your event top of mind.

Mobile App

Instead of making event-goers haul around folders, booklets, and business cards; use an event app as a one-stop replacement for paper. An event app, like those created with Guidebook, will allow you to organize schedules, and relevant event materials, as well as encourage increased engagement through personalized schedules and in-app messaging – all while saving paper. 

Rather than providing such materials, that will likely end up in the trash, utilize an event app to house all your event materials. In addition to your savings and reduced impact on the environment, your attendees will thank you for the added convenience. 

Skip the swag bag

guidebook events

While swag has become synonymous with conferences and events, it should be no surprise that those 50 ¢ notebooks, pens, or fidget spinners you’re giving away are not produced under the most sustainable of conditions. In an article on Fast Company, Elizabeth Segran points out just how wasteful the swag industry is. In fact, the industry is wasteful on both ends – those items likely traveled a long distance before making it into your swag bag and will likely end up in the landfill soon after the event. 

Digital swag

Ditch cheap goodie bag stuffers like pamphlets, pens, or keychains, and use your event app to deliver guests to a virtual bag. Offer discount codes, e-tickets, or downloadable freebies to your attendees, none of which require printing and are more beneficial to your attendees. 

Not only will delivering digital goodies to your audience make compelling offers more easily accessible, but you can also use this opportunity to generate revenue to help pay for the event. Include digital swag in your sponsorship proposal, and encourage sponsors to go the digital route. 

Providing swag in a digital format benefits your sponsors and attendees alike. Digital swag means no more lost goodies – your attendees will be able to access it at any time from their phones and your sponsors will have one less thing to bring to your event. 

Memorable experiences

Or if a physical gift is important to your business, think about alternative ways to wow your attendees. Treats like coffee, ice cream, or donuts can have just as big an impact! Similarly, services like a quick massage or professional headshots may be an attraction that keeps your conference booth buzzing.

Both edible treats and experiences are delightful ways to make a splash at a conference or tradeshow while remaining low waste.

Choose sustainable vendors

The vendors you choose impact the sustainability of your event. When choosing your vendors, incorporate sustainability into your decision-making process. 

For large events, you’ll typically need to work with multiple vendors, including:

  • Caterer 
  • Seating, furniture
  • Decor 
  • Entertainment
  • Security 
  • Technology and AV

There are many resources out there that simplify finding vendors that align with your goals; searching online for a sustainable caterer, for example, can help to get you going in the right direction. If you’re not finding local resources though, you’ll have to ask each vendor about their practices. Create a set of questions that you’ll ask each potential vendor.

Of course, it’s up to you to set parameters around your expectations. For example, when choosing a caterer, it may be important to you that all food is locally sourced. This will be a critical point when reviewing potential caterers. 

Similarly, when selecting decor, it may be important to you that all decor is reusable. If this is a requirement of yours, you’ll need to work to find a vendor who can make this possible. 

Pick a green venue

LEED-certified venues 

Where you hold your event is a major decision. This decision has an impact on the sustainability of your event. We encourage any organizer with sustainability in mind to choose a LEED-certified venue. 

A lot goes into a venue achieving LEED certification.  

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an internationally recognized green building certification system.

US Green Buildings Council

LEED-certified venues undergo a stringent verification to certify it was built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

Environmentally forward venues

While LEED-certification is the gold standard when it comes to environmentally-friendly venues, there are venues of all types that are making strides to reduce waste and improve their impact. 

To find venues, you can conduct an online search and ask potential venues about their energy and waste practices to find the best choice. Venues that follow environmentally-friendly practices are pretty easy to spot online as they likely are proud and promoting their work. 

There are many ways venues make strides to become more environmentally friendly. Here are a few practices you may want to look out for:

  • Recycling programs
  • Compostable or recycled materials 
  • Locally-sourced materials
  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Blackwater treatment
  • Solar energy 
  • Automated building management systems
  • Support or donations to non-profits

Choose green options  

One of the simplest and most effective things you can do is to ask your venue about sustainable alternatives or green event programs. Does the venue recycle or compost? Is the venue open to lowering the lights to save energy? And if not, is the venue willing to accommodate and make adjustments? If you’re not finding established green programs, you may be surprised to hear that your venue is happy to make tweaks to trash/recycling, catering, etc.

Encourage sustainable transportation

Air travel is one of the biggest contributors to an event’s footprint, especially if your event is bringing together attendees from various locations. Event Manager Blog found that transportation is responsible for as much as 70% of events’, like conferences, carbon footprint.

Air travel makes up 70% of an event’s carbon footprint.

Event Manager Blog

Select your event destination with transportation in mind. Think of cities with robust public transportation like Seattle or Chicago, or avoid transportation altogether and opt for a walkable city like Boston or Washington D.C.

People aren’t the only things being transported. Often equipment rentals can travel great distances to arrive at your event. Instead, make it a point to rent your equipment locally. 

If your destination isn’t flexible, there are still a number of actions you can take to reduce the impact your attendees have. 

Consider sustainable transportation options, surrounding your event to offset the flights and minimize your impact. Here are a few ideas that can help cut emissions:

  • Offer a shuttle service to encourage attendees to carpool
  • Invest in sustainability by offering subsidized public transportation vouchers
  • Offer discounted or fully covered rideshare passes to attendees

Whether you have the ability to pick an eco-friendly destination or make deliberate decisions to be sustainable locally, transportation has a huge impact on the overall sustainability of your event. 

Closing thoughts

When planning an event, many factors impact sustainability. We’ve laid out a number of tactics to make your event green – from location and transportation to physical elements including event swag and materials. While changing an entire even approach may not happen overnight, there are meaningful changes we can all make to reduce our impact as an industry. 

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