How to Keep Your Green Event in the Black

Some green event practices save money. Others will cost you more. Follow these strategies to balance the sustainability bottom line, and take the pain out of budgeting for your sustainable event.

Keep green event cheap


I once worked with two organizations who hosted a mid-size conference at the same convention center within a short period of time. One planner negotiated an expanded recycling and composting program up-front, before signing her contract. The other attempted to add a similar program after agreements had been signed. The first planner spent nothing extra, and achieved a 78% diversion rate. The second planner paid an additional $3,000 for the same added waste services. The lesson? Start early and use your buying power to reduce or eliminate additional costs for green programs.

Seek Ye Cost Savings!

Focus your green laser on waste-trimming, efficient practices. Common targets include:

  • Selecting a walkable convention neighborhood to eliminate or reduce attendee shuttles.
  • Resisting the urge to add locations and dates to graphics so they can be reused.
  • Eliminating food waste through menu design and accurate ordering.
  • Requiring attendees to opt-in to printed items and pick-up materials.
  • Avoiding single-use packaging to reduce shipping costs, unpacking labor and disposal fees.
  • Renting locally and scheduling and consolidating freight to reduce shipping costs.
  • Cooperating with events preceding and following yours to save on sharable equipment.
  • Don’t forget that selecting a sustainability-minded destination or venue at the outset can often eliminate costs, and present value-adds for sustainability.

Stop and Think before You Pay Extra

Buyer beware: while some green event fees are valid, some are based on unsubstantiated claims that are not always true. So always ask for proof of value before you pay a green up-charge. Be aware that the US Federal Trade Commission has guidelines for green product marketing, and the burden is on your vendor to provide evidence of sustainability claims.

Also, don’t accept added fees without questioning them first. For example, the idea recycling and composting costs more may not apply in cities where landfill fees are greater than recovery costs. Other up-charges may not give you as much sustainability benefit as you might think, such as some biodegradable plastics, which may not degrade depending on landfill conditions.

So avoid paying more for a benefit that may not occur, or that you’re technically already getting already. For example, green energy may be a standard part of a venue or destination’s utility mix, reducing the need to pay extra for a carbon offset.

Invest Cost Savings in Important Things that Do Cost More

Seek a neutral overall budget impact by choosing sustainability investments that make sense. This can include things such as:

  • Attendee experiences, including volunteer programs and creative CSR projects.
  • Fairly traded items, to ensure the clothing, food, floral and promotional items at your event are not produced by people in unfair working conditions.
  • Sustainable food, which is almost always provided at a premium.
  • Composting of food waste, which can comprise 30-40% of landfill costs where heavy organic waste is not separated from trash. Note that although composting may cost money, it can also save on landfill fees.
  • Carbon offsets and green energy solutions that improve renewable energy capacity.

While saving money is a motivating factor for all of us, it’s important to understand that our cost-cutting planning decisions can often have external human and environmental costs. For example, the transition to compostable disposables at conference events may seem green, and can save money compared to reusable china.

However, this practice eliminates dishwashing labor and disposables may be diverted to landfill if a composting program is not in place. I’d encourage all planners, where funds are available, to choose options that invest in providing safe, fair and secure jobs for workers, as well as reducing waste.

Secure Sponsors

Brands are looking to distinguish themselves from their competitors by demonstrating how they do social and environmental good. So consider developing sponsorship packages for sustainability options that do cost more. This works particularly well where you can find a sponsor whose values, services and products align with an experience you want to create that is visible to attendees.

A large-scale example of this is the “Green Out” at the Waste Management Phoenix Open 2014. You can consider smaller scale ideas, too, such as sponsoring fairly traded coffee breaks, service activities, health and wellness programs or carbon offsets.

Embed Cost

By anticipating the green steps and materials that may cost you more, it is possible to embed the cost in your registration fee or ticket price. This does require event sustainability strategies are considered at the outset in a much more proactive way than they may be currently, so start early. This works well for those items that scale according to attendee numbers, such as an organic meal plan.


If you’re nervous added costs might be resisted by attendees, consider testing the waters with green choices for participants to buy into. Optional programs may save money, in the case of opting out of printed programs or delegate materials, or raise money, in the case of an opt-in service project or carbon offset.

Hosting a festival or event? Consider a $1 opt-in to raise funds for sustainability infrastructure that supports green goals. Bonnaroo engaged fans to fund a 50 kilowatt solar power system, which provides 20% of the event site’s power from renewable sources. Want to learn more? Check out these great tips for crowd-funding your event project.

In Conclusion

If I had a dollar for every time I heard green events are expensive, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t need to worry about them costing more! While it’s true you can save green by going green, sustainability programs can be more expensive in some cases, and are often worth the investment. In these situations, I hope you’ll consider these smart strategies to keep your green events in the black.

About The Author
Shawna McKinley
Shawna McKinley is a sustainability specialist who believes in the power of events to make the world a better place. She helps eventprofs take practical, smart steps through zero waste and carbon conscious choices that generate social good, business value, and happy event participants. Read more on her blog, Eventcellany.
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Julius Solaris
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