Creating Environmentally Sustainable Events

Are you concerned about your event’s environmental impact? If so, it might be time to look into making it more environmentally sustainable. Before you do, know what to do and how to do it.

Whether it’s your conscience or your wallet that’s motivating you to go green at your event, you’ll find you’re in good company. Many event planners are looking to create more environmentally sustainable events.

A Nielsen study discovered that 55% of global consumers said they are willing to pay more for products and services from sustainable companies. Making that switch to an environmentally-sustainable event may get you more attendees and make it possible to charge higher ticket prices.

However, it’s important to note that sustainability is a shift to one’s thinking. It’s not just about going paperless or adding more recycling bins. In order to do it effectively, you need to analyze each area of your event and look for ways in which to make them more environmentally-friendly. It’s a change in culture that you’ll need to get staff, vendors, and sponsors on board with. Here’s how:

Creating Environmentally Sustainable Events

Draw Your Line in the Sand

In order to understand what you can do to improve your event’s environmental impact, you have to know where you’re starting from. Analyze areas like:

  • Travel (that of your staff, sponsors, speakers, vendors, and your attendees)
  • Waste
  • Food and Beverage
  • Energy
  • Printed materials
  • Venue

Out of these areas, what’s the largest drain? To make the biggest difference, it’s often good to start with the largest area of concern. But again, sustainability is a commitment. If you want to be taken seriously, it needs to pervade your entire event culture.

Understanding your biggest area of concern will also help you figure out the trade-offs you’re willing to make. For instance, if you want to go paperless and eliminate all printed brochures and materials, understand that you will need something to take its place. Most likely you will use an app or software technology in order to ensure attendees have the information they need. Notice that won’t get you to zero environmental impact as you’ll be using electricity, but electricity is easier to sustain than paper production. Wind, water, and solar are easily available whereas a tree takes years to grow and that’s not even factoring in the manufacturing process of taking a tree and making it into paper.


Reuse Wherever Possible

Plastic bags are a bane to our planet but they become less so if you use them for multiple purposes. The same is true of event pieces. You can reuse lanyards, badge holders, ribbons, and other materials. Look to reuse items whenever possible if you can’t bring yourself to stop using them altogether.

Use Lighted Signs or Reusable Signage

Signage is another expense on the event budget and one that is often discarded afterward. Whenever possible use signs that can be reused or portions of them that can be recycled. You can use fancy chalk artistry or lighted signs that allow you to change the message without discarding the sign.

Make It Easy

If you want people to embrace your new green ways, you need to make them easy. Sustainability was a major initiative for the U.S. Open a few years ago. One of the things they implemented was recycling and food waste/compost containers on every floor. These containers use chutes that transported the recycling and compostable materials to the ground floor compactors. Placing containers on every floor removed the excuse of recycling not being convenient and assisted in ensuring all of the materials came to the same place, cutting down on individual floor collection.

Find a Secondary Use

In addition to recycling materials, you might find that something in your efforts yields a cost-savings somewhere else. When the U.S. Open began gathering food waste for compost, they realized in addition to supplying local farms, they could also use it in the flower beds at the Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Work with a Consultancy Firm

There are a lot of changes you can make yourself but if you want to achieve any of the designations possible under the green movement, it might be easiest working with a consultancy firm. In many situations, there are sustainability practices that are beyond your control and a consultant can help you uncover them and find ways to work with the larger groups involved like the caterer, exhibitor booth shipping, and the transportation company (if you’re offering transportation).This is particularly helpful if you’re interested in your event becoming a model for others looking to improve sustainability practices.

Share Your Dreams with Partners

As mentioned earlier, if you want your audience to be aware of your sustainability efforts you need to ensure a consistent experience. Working with caterers, venues, keynote speakers, exhibitors, and sponsors who share your vision will create a cohesive practice. After all, you can rework your practices but if you’re partnering with a wasteful caterer or venue, your attendees won’t find your efforts believable.

Phase In Your Initiatives

Sustainability is a change in your event culture but it’s also one that will probably need to be phased in. Most events can’t afford to make immense switches to everything they do overnight. However, since you want attendees to believe your efforts, transparency is best. Share your goals and your strategy and how you will roll out each part of your plan. This way they’ll see your efforts as a future build and not a deceptive practice.


Since a successful sustainability program is about involving all parts of those you work with and serve, education will always be a part of it. It’s important to help attendees understand why you’re making the switch and how they can help; you want vendors to be clear about what this will mean for them and invite them to take part; sponsors will need to get on board; as will keynotes or entertainment. Take some time to present your ‘why’ and ‘what’s in it for them’ and more people will support your efforts.

Market Your Success

Finally, share your success with the world and the people you serve. Let them know what you’ve cut, what that saves, and how you will be using the difference. People want to be a part of something amazing. So while it may feel a little self-serving to tout your own praises, remember you are acting as a model for sustainability practices. Maybe someone out there will see what you’ve done and want to do their part as well.

In Conclusion

If you’ve been considering instituting more environmentally-sustainable events, you’ve got to have a plan. You must understand where you are and what you’re trying to do. Then create a strategy, goals, and tactics about how you will get there. Since you can’t do it alone, look to work with people who can help.

Additional Information About Greener Events

The Environmental Footprint of an Event [Infographic]
The Most Innovative Green Exhibit Ideas
4 Green Event Mistakes You Should Stop Making
5 Steps to Green Hotel Site Selection
30 Green Ideas to Get Your Green Transportation Plan Moving
9 Great Green Menu Themes
Power Up Your Event with Green Energy Ideas
Is Your Event Making These Green Marketing Mistakes
How to Keep Your Green Event in the Black
How to Meet Green [Case Study]

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Julius Solaris
Editor, Julius Solaris

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