An event can’t be cost-effective, sustainable and still decent. Surely something has got to give?
This myth has been plaguing event professionals for years making it seem like it’s an impossible feat to host amazing events and reduce the impact on the environment.
We have set out to show you that this isn’t true, and while green meeting practices are a fine art to nail down, once you have those processes in place (and really understand the green meetings definition) they are highly rewarding.
In this post, we share a variety of green meeting ideas and walk you through how you can create green policies to further your sustainable reach.
Plus, we are going to show you how to do it in a way that keeps costs down and actually save money through your sustainable efforts.
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Above all, we promise not to use jargon or bamboozle you with science that busy eventprofs simply don’t have time for.
Read on to discover:
- An Easy Start Guide to Sustainable Events
- How To Make Your Events Greener Without It Costing More
- Common Green Event Mistakes You Should STOP MAKING
- Easy Adjustments for a Greener Event: 8 Areas You Can Make a Big Difference TODAY
- 4 Areas Sustainability Investments Will Have the Most Impact for Your Event
- An 8 Step Walkthrough To Do An Event Waste Audit
- Climate Friendly Events: 4 Steps to a Carbon Neutral Event
- FREE DOWNLOAD: Your Handy Green Meetings Checklist
- The Complete Guide to Creating an Event Sustainability Policy
- Green Marketing To Strengthen Your Brand and Gain Brownie Points
- 35 Easy Green Meeting Ideas
And more besides!
Let’s transform your meetings to make a real difference and avoid some of the major mistakes that rookie event planners make with going green.
What Is Sustainable Event Management?
According to ISO 20121, sustainable event management is the process of integrating environmental and social responsibility issues into event planning. Sustainable event management requires you consider the needs and values of different stakeholders that are impacted by your event. On the one hand, you take steps to reduce significant negative impacts, or harm, such as solid waste. While on the other hand you also seek out opportunities for events to leave positive legacies that benefit communities, including philanthropic and volunteer projects.
Why Should Event Planners Even Care About Running Greener Meetings?
Running greener meetings isn’t on every event planners radar but there are lots of reasons why you should be producing more sustainable events. The benefits of sustainable event practices are many-fold, as you will see below…
Why care? I find meetings that consider sustainability are more convenient, satisfying and interesting for attendees and less risky for organizers.
Shawna McKinley, Event Sustainability Specialist
Here are just a few:
The Event Attendee Perspective
By taking a holistic approach to sustainability you could actually be increasing the ease and convenience for your attendees at the same time. For instance, someone might really want to attend your event but the travel distance or cost might make it impossible. If you can offer a virtual ticket this can increase your event reach and keep everyone happy.
Sustainable events can be more convenient because they adapt technologies to help attendees get outcomes more efficiently, through mobile apps and hybrid events, for example.
Shawna McKinley, Event Sustainability Specialist
Greater Connection and Reward
Sustainable event management includes steps such as providing locally sourced produce, from farm to table. It can also include the opportunity for attendees to get involved in local volunteering projects or give back to the destination. Either way, having a more sustainable approach can make the event more rewarding and worthwhile.
Sustainable events can be satisfying and interesting because they make it worth attending in person because the planner has taken steps to connect participants to a destination in a meaningful way, perhaps through the authentic cuisine, local entertainment or a community service project.
Shawna McKinley, Event Sustainability Specialist
Matches Attendee Ideals
Social consciousness matters to a large proportion of your current or potential attendees. If you can’t meet their expectations they are less likely to come along or to return to future events.
I think it's short-sighted to think it doesn't matter. Odds are it matters to at least some of your current or potential event participants.
Shawna McKinley, Event Sustainability Specialist
The Event Organizer Perspective
Avoids Damage and Risks To Your Brand
If you are not making efforts to reduce your event environmental footprint you could be inviting criticism and unwanted questions, or even risking financial penalties or loss. Ignorance or denial of your duty means that opportunities could also be passing you by and limiting your growth potential and you could get left behind.
Sustainable events can be less risky from a planner perspective because you're anticipating shortcomings in practice that could be a source of criticism or financial loss. For example, green practices for sponsors could help them avoid a wasteful representations of their brand to attendees, which might be critiqued on social media.
Shawna McKinley, Event Sustainability Specialist
It Can Save Money
Making your events environmentally friendly not only benefits the environment but can also save money for your business or event budget. Even by implementing simple changes it can make a difference to your bottom line.
In my experience, eco-efficient event practices save money in many situations. Particularly when it comes to waste-wise food and beverage planning and design-for-reuse branding. And further, creative sponsor activation inspired by sustainability can earn your event new sources of revenue.
Shawna McKinley, Event Sustainability Specialist
Good Practice Can Attract New Attendees and Staff
Promoting your environmentally friendly methods can set your event apart from your competitors and attract new attendees who buy into your approach. Focusing more on your environmental impacts can also help to attract and retain staff.
Increased Revenue Opportunities
By embracing and planning greener events you could actually be increasing your chances of investment. It could open doors to working with new clients to help meet their own CSR objectives or procurement criteria. It may also attract the attention of a new sponsor and provide unique ideas for sponsors activations.
Do you know the harm your event might be causing? And what risks are inherent? And what experience and growth opportunities you might be missing out on? To me those are questions that are worth answering, and event sustainability approaches can help.
Shawna McKinley, Event Sustainability Specialist
Sustainability Improves Long-Term Success and Profitability
Reducing the environmental impact of your business will improve the sustainability of your business. If you are less dependent on natural resources than your competitors and have ways to deal with rising costs due to climate change, your business will have a greater chance of long-term success and profitability.
Sustainability has become a part of social consciousness to the point I would argue it is essential to have some type of basic policy and approach in order to maintain social license to operate for all businesses, including meetings.
Shawna McKinley, Event Sustainability Specialist
Why Are Events So Wasteful? Shocking Stats Event Planners Can’t Ignore
We’ve heard events is one of the most wasteful industries, but is it really? Truth is, event footprints are a bit like fingerprints: each one is unique. And you can’t learn about yours until you pause to measure it.
EventMB and MeetGreen put together these handy graphics to share research information about a typical conference event footprint. Our aim: to give you an idea of what to measure, how to measure and a few tips you can follow to shrink your waste and carbon footprint.
The Average Conference Attendee Footprint
First, you want to look at the typical footprint of a conference attendee. On average, a single guest discards 1.89kg of waste per day, of which 1.16kg is landfill materials. To put this into perspective, that’s the equivalent of 2.6 (or 3480 kg) weight of compact cars for a 3-day 1000 person event going to landfill each time.
Understanding Waste Categories
Even with a good composting and recycling program at the venue, a mid-sized corporate tradeshow with around 5,000 attendees will still go through tons of waste. 41% of this will still go to landfill with as little as 3% being donated. Organic waste that includes compostables will make up 21%, with recyclables being the second highest at 35%. Of this, the traditional recyclables of mixed paper, cardboard, plastic, and metal cans create 23% of recyclable waste, but many don’t realize that you can recycle carpet, padding and booth waste which is why it only counts for 7% and plastic film is the lowest recyclable item at 2%.
Understanding what can and can’t be recycled or reused allows you to adjust your marketing and awareness to make sure everything is being disposed of properly.
What Goes Into Your Event Carbon Footprint?
Using the same mid-sized national association conference tradeshow with around 5,000 attendees we can see the breakdown contributing to an event carbon footprint. The largest contributing factor is understandably air travel which makes up a whopping 70% of footprint statistics which highlights the need for centralized locations to cut down on this.
Next, 10% on car and 4% on train travel for attendees coming to and from the event which can be further reduced by shuttle programs. Then 8% of the total footprint is accounted for by guest room energy and 4% on venue energy which could be cut down by choosing energy efficient or green powered venues. Lastly and probably the most surprising, meals only account for 3% of the carbon footprint and the final 1% is accounted for by freight.
How To Shrink Your Event Carbon Footprint
It’s important to understand at this point that depending on your event type, your carbon footprint can vary. Obviously, a local conference will have far fewer air traveling attendees, but car or train journeys could be higher for example. Other ways to shrink your carbon footprint include:
- Providing remote, virtual and hybrid options attending options.
- Centralized locations that balance out the travel and are closer to the majority of participants.
- Green venues and hotels who already have initiatives and programs in place. Including green energy purchasing.
- Incentivizing carpooling for attendees
- Eliminating in-event travel by designing walkable event neighborhoods
Reduce Your Landfill Slice
Ultimately, the biggest problem is still that 41% which goes to landfill, and this is what you need to cut down and avoid.
- Selecting a destination, venue and caterers with good recycling and composting programs.
- Provide waste stations, signs and monitors to help exhibitors and attendees sort their waste.
- Take advantage of and improve donation programs particularly for food and exhibitor materials.
To view the full infographic click here.
Yikes! Greener Events: Where Do You Even Start?
If you’re concerned about your event’s environmental impact, it might be time to look into making it more sustainable.
Before you do, you need to 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 at potentially more attendees and make it possible by charging higher ticket prices as attendees become interested in global welfare and sustainability.
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.
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)
- Food and Beverage
- Printed materials
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.
Perform an evaluation:
- Identify your biggest area of concern. This 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.
- Appreciate Limitations. Notice you won’t get 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.
- Integrate into culture. Make sure you speak to all members of your team, including vendors and suppliers so that they understand and can deal with their impact too.
Reuse Wherever Possible
Repurposing and upcycling are big trends right now which should help with these initiatives. Ensure that when you are considering different elements you are thinking about their longevity and ability to be reused in the future.
Reduce, reuse, recycle:
- Recycle plastic bags. They can be the bane of our planet but initiatives with supermarkets are meaning higher quality options are available that can be reused. Plus, once they start to deteriorate, you can take them back to the supermarket and exchange for a new one allowing for further recycling. Think of all the errant plastic bags that are left at events, collect them up and reuse them when you are done.
- Non-personal. You can reuse lanyards, badge holders, ribbons and other materials so long as you don’t personalize them during your event. If you don’t want to stop using them altogether this can be a happy medium.
- DIY. Make your own food stations from an upcycled piece of furniture, or repaint worn props to spruce new life into them. There are endless ways to DIY your event which is good for the environment as well as your budget!
Use Lighted Signs or Reusable Signage
Signage is another expense on the event budget sheet and one that is often discarded afterward. But again, avoiding the personalization can really help!
This way please:
- Keep it generic. Use phrases such as “this way” or simply use arrows that can be used in any event rather than themed phrases or ideas.
- Chalkboards. You can use fancy chalk artistry that allows you to change the message without discarding the sign.
- Recyclable materials. Whenever possible use signs that can be reused or portions of them that can be recycled or even make them yourself by upcycling some old shelves into a rustic wooden sign.
Make It Easy
If you want people to embrace your new green ways, you need to make them easy. People want to be sustainable but with minimal effort for them, so help them!
- 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.
- Clearly Label. Don’t assume that all attendees will know what to do with their recycling. Add cool graphics with examples of what goes where to help them out and avoid any confusion which saves resorting later.
- Incentives. Offer an incentive such as freebies or digital swag if attendees bring their recycling to you and sort it accordingly.
Find a Secondary Use
In addition to recycling materials, you might find that something in your efforts yields a cost-savings somewhere else. Doing this is not only cost-effective but further reduces your footprint.
- 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.
- Leftover food can be used for homeless initiatives or shelters if it hasn’t been served as well as being composted
- Cardboard boxes can be easily recycled or used to package up excess or reusable event supplies and stored effectively so keep some on hand.
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 easier working with a consultancy firm.
Hire the professionals:
- Broaden control. 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).
- Understand the jargon. Consultants can explain the difference between offsets, regulations and requirements so that you are doing everything you can legally and sustainably for your event.
- Be a role model. Doing things properly and on a larger scale encourages others to follow your lead. Hiring a consultancy firm allows you access to knowledge and efforts you wouldn’t have even considered otherwise.
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.
- Look for qualifications. Find approved vendors and individuals who are already on their way with their own certifications and qualifications of sustainability standards.
- Ask for proof. Don’t just take their word as given because greenwashing is common when discussing sustainability. If a supplier tells you it’s sustainable, don’t be afraid to ask how and to see proof.
- Create a policy. Green policies can help you all get on the same page and ensure you are all functioning as one unit so that everyone knows the standard to adhere to.
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 with a clear explanation of 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.
- Start small. Incorporate different issues on a smaller scale, perhaps by first using locally sourced ingredients and then later implementing a recycling or composting program. This helps you get to grips with the logistics rather than rolling out full-scale and being unable to live up to expectations.
- Reflect in your branding. If you suddenly change your branding overnight it can be confusing, start by introducing compliance logos and then if you want to do something on a larger scale it makes sense with your brand progression.
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.
Back to school:
- Explain to attendees. It’s important to help attendees understand why you’re making the switch and how they can help. Involving them in the process early on makes them more likely to be compliant and feel connected to the issues.
- Incentivize. You want vendors, keynotes, entertainment and sponsors on board so be clear about the benefits and what is in it for them to partner up in these initiatives.
- Staff training. It’s not going to run smoothly if the staff misunderstand the protocols they need to follow. From training the kitchen staff to properly manage leftover food so it is eligible for shelters, to cleaning staff using the right products to promote sustainability and high standards.
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.
Shout it from the rooftops:
- Post local initiatives you are working with on social media which not only markets yourself but raises awareness for the cause.
- Include green symbols and compliance logos on marketing materials to be recognized.
- Work with sponsors and partners to publicize working together on these initiatives to widen reach.
Green events are more expensive, right?
You’re not the only one who thinks so. Plus, attendees want event CSR without taking on the extra ticket prices, so what can you do?
While it’s true you can save green by going green, some sustainability programs can be more expensive in some cases but they are worth the investment. To avoid translating these costs to attendees (which they won’t appreciate) here’s the mistakes you could be making, some smart strategies to implement and actionable tips to keep your green events in the black.
Are you shying away from greening your events because it seems like more work? Have you stopped paying attention to green because you’ve tried before and feel your efforts did not deliver the results you were hoping for? If so, consider if these common mistakes might be preventing you from experiencing the benefits of going green.
Mistake #1: Starting Too Late
Budget is approved. Venue is booked. Agenda is set. Now what about the “green” stuff? Because sustainability is still a relatively new idea for events, it’s common to add it into our process late, after most critical decisions have been made. The drawback of this approach is that it reduces the value sustainability can present. By putting sustainability at the front-end of the planning process suddenly new possibilities open. And some of the frustrations often associated with starting too late—like not getting what we want—are eliminated or reduced.
Start sustainability early:
- Boost technology. Can you increase member or customer engagement by adding remote attendance options and new technology?
- In line sponsorships. Look for sponsors that are in line with sustainability and CSR to increase your budget and capabilities.
- Plan close meetings. Consider the best location to “meet close” and reduce the time people spend away from their families, in addition to their costs and carbon footprint to attend.
Mistake #2: Putting Practice Before Purpose and Process
When doing green events, it can create a lot of long checklists. So long, that by the end of an event you could have checked hundreds of boxes, be exhausted and still feel like you haven’t gotten anywhere. When you stop looking solely at the minutia of practices, and focus on the intention of the process as well, suddenly things get goal-oriented and creativity blossoms.
Shift your planning focus:
- Switch recycling for packet-less. Instead of running around checking the box that recycling is in place, create buffets with non-packaged butters and no polystyrene. Focus on what contributes to less solid waste overall.
- Measure performance. Use checklists as an incentive to measure your team interaction rather than as a task list or restrictive burden. Checklists can support an overall intention that’s understood by all.
- Shift processes. Shift toward more succinct goals, team involvement and action planning to achieve goals and a clearer way to evaluate success. This purpose can be re-iterated in procurement systems, human resource development, reporting and other core planning processes. Making the effort more effective.
Mistake #3: Communicating Too Vaguely About Things We Don’t Understand
We use a lot of buzz-words in the green event world: zero-waste, carbon neutral, legacy, corporate social responsibility and others. But, they can sometimes mean different things to different people. Often, we don’t understand the technical meaning of the words we do use that have clear definitions. We mix up recyclable products with recycled content products, for example.
It is therefore very important to be specific about green event practices, especially when communicating them to suppliers and participants. Not doing so exposes events to risk, and can lead to misunderstandings and disappointment.
- Ask your suppliers for their expertise. For example, Consider the situation of a planner who pays an additional fee to use biodegradable service ware for an event. He adds a note about this to his green event web page so attendees are aware. During lunch, an attendee snaps a photo of a landfill bin overflowing with plates, cups and cutlery and shares it via Twitter, citing #wasteful. Embarrassed, the planner asks the caterer why the service ware is not being composted. Only to learn the biodegradable serviceware is not accepted for composting locally, and must be landfilled, and if he wanted the service ware to be composted he needed to buy compostable and not just biodegradable items.
- Communicate clearly with participants. Manage their expectations early on, going into depth about the level of sustainability at the event if needs be.
- Filter marketing campaigns for greenwashing. This means making sure you aren’t using potentially deceptive information to make a product—or in this case an event or event-related product—seem more environmentally responsible than it really is. This can range from being vague (what exactly is a zero-waste event?) to lacking proof (excuse me sir, are those biodegradable name badges tested to break down in my compost?).
Mistake #4: Putting Data Before Stories
Crunching numbers that show the quantifiable impact of green events can be a favorite for event planners. After all, now you can see it is working. However, sustainability is better spoken with stories, and then supported by good numbers. People are typically seeking an emotional return on investment in sustainability that is best delivered by sharing stories with a human interest.
- Use local sourcing. Letting participants know 100% of a gala dinner is locally sourced for example might be good. But what really makes them think it is excellent is when they can see a short video before their meal that introduces the farmer and his family who raised their meal, the chef who prepared it, and staff who are serving it.
- Convert to values. Not everything appeals to everyone, and converting the information to stories that appeal to attendees’ daily lives hit home for them. For example, discussing the health impact of non-sustainable processes and materials or the affect this might have on crime or public safety in their own lives strikes a chord and gets them thinking.
- If in doubt, bring out the animals. Most people will find more empathy for an animal than another human being so use the cute and fluffy to make your point. Show the impact of non-sustainable initiatives and how this affects ecosystems or the animals themselves and you’ll be onto a winner.
Now you’ve stopped making the common sustainability mistakes, it’s time to put them into practice in various areas to ensure you aren’t overpaying for a green event. Focus your green laser on waste-trimming, efficient practices. Common targets include:
Start with your venue, which is often one of the largest chunks out of the budget and have open and honest conversations (before you book) about what you want to achieve on a sustainability level.
- Access, affordability and availability being equal, look at which hotel venue has the best environmental practices. Then, if the chosen vendor doesn’t have strong practices, can sustainability be negotiated into the contracts?
- Cooperating with events preceding and following yours can save on sharable equipment and associated set-up costs.
- Pick a venue with existing values. If a venue is deliberately sustainable then it can already be incorporated in the hire costs so you don’t need to consider it on top. The Crystal in London for example, is one of the choice green event venues for going green events, having hosted Eco summits and other sustainable events. It has 70% fewer C02 emissions as well as various initiatives in its design and architecture that lends to it being greener. Selecting a sustainability-minded destination or venue at the outset can often eliminate costs, and present value-adds for sustainability.
Chances are you are going to be serving food of some sort and this can have plenty of sustainability impact, even if you are opting for something small and simple. Menus are a great opportunity to take initiative, responsibility and add sustainability efforts:
- Accurate ordering systems. Avoid over ordering food while still ensuring you don’t run out with accurate ordering systems designed to carefully calculate food per person. Another way you can do this is to have guests pre-order food.
- Organic meal plans. Sourcing organic food options promotes better health and living as well as reducing carbon footprints further down the process chain.
- Digital Menus – Using tablets on tables helps to keep the cost of printing down as well as working in conjunction with automated ordering systems so it is a win-win.
A common misconception within event planning is that sustainably dealing with food waste is difficult and complex. But in recent years, it’s actually become a lot easier and although requires extra planning, should run smoothly once protocols are in place. Of course, dealing with food carries its own set of legislation so you should adhere to this when donating, but as a whole it shouldn’t be overlooked.
- Shelter initiatives. Partner with homeless shelters or local initiatives that can take leftover food and disperse it to the needy once your event is over. As long as staff understand what is to be done with it, they can immediately start boxing and storing once food is back in the kitchen as a seamless and sustainable way to deal with food waste.
- Composting. Although it can have its own associated costs, composting can outweigh what you would pay to landfill and therefore makes it financially viable.
- Pre-order. On the other end of the spectrum, ensure you aren’t mass producing food that you don’t need. Instead, ask attendees to pre-order from a set menu ahead of time.
Packing a powerful punch, you don’t want to overlook floral arrangements for your event. However, they aren’t very sustainable, with many of them simply being thrown away. If you still want to include them, here’s how:
- Fake flowers. They are reusable, look just as good as the real ones and you can get flowers that match your branding, themes or colors that can be used again and again, particularly for corporate events.
- Living décor. An increasing trend is living décor which gets the best of both worlds. It allows for a floral or green showcase while being long-lasting and sustainable. This could be something simple like using potted bushes or plants for entrance ways to hanging trailing baskets for aerial décor.
- Gift them. Offer the floral arrangements as prizes or gifts as part of the auction, competitions or favors at the end of the event. Many people will pay for a professional arrangement so make it an incentive as well as a way to get more life from your florals.
Events need power, but where we get it from matters. Use green sources to power some, if not all of your event (depending on size and needs) which can show attendees you care but also promote new forms of energy to guests.
- Solar panels. These can be integrated into furniture, such as benches or tables as well as being temporarily installed (e.g. for lighting) for longer events. Solar panels can also be pre-installed at many green venues so look out for them.
- Attendee powered lounges. Promote healthy living as well as clean energy sources with exercise bikes that help to power technology and comfort within a lounge. You could have smoothie bikes to create your own pedal powered cocktails or something as simple as having them hooked up to colorful lights to change the atmosphere when cycling.
- Carbon offsets. Calculate how much carbon is generated from travelling attendees and make donations to offset this, for example using green initiatives such as planting trees.
Probably the biggest contribution to your C02 emissions and event footprint as a whole, particularly if you are drawing attendees from various locations. It’s important to consider sustainable transport to offset any of the longer journeys to keep your impact to a minimum.
- Selecting a walkable convention neighborhood to improve accessibility and remove the need for transport during your event entirely.
- Renting locally and scheduling and consolidating freight to reduce shipping costs.
- Offer a shuttle service to encourage attendees to carpool, saving on parking spaces as well as cutting emissions.
If it’s not necessary, don’t use it! Excessive packaging can impact your sustainability in a big way! From excess rubbish needing to be recycled or go to landfill needing to be organized along with the costs associated with this, it’s better to be conservative.
- Unwrap yourselves. Doing this ensures everything will be recycled and managed properly rather than leaving it to attendees to unwrap elements at the table or open them at the food station.
- Avoid single-use packaging. It’s best to avoid it altogether to reduce shipping costs and disposal fees.
- Biodegradable options. If packaging is necessary, opt for biodegradable options that are less harmful to the environment and could be used again if necessary e.g. hessian bags over plastic.
Of course you want to incentivize your event and reward your attendees, but what is the best way to do this sustainably?
- Digital swag. Offer discount codes, e-tickets or downloadable freebies to your attendees, none of which need printing but still are just as cool.
- Community rewards. Instead of tangible products, offer to make a donation in the winner’s name to a local charity or program in need.
- Reusable items. Encourage a memory of sustainability by offering reusable items to guests. For example, hessian tote bags, reusable travel items and mugs or cups.
5 Ways to Avoid Unnecessary Sustainability Costs
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.
Benefits Without Benefits
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.
Brands are looking to distinguish themselves from their competitors by demonstrating how they do social and environmental good. With this in mind, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. A large-scale example of this is the “Green Out” at the Waste Management Phoenix Open 2014. You can consider smaller scale sustainable event ideas, too, such as sponsoring fairly traded coffee breaks, service activities, health and wellness programs or carbon offsets.
Waste auditing at events is a dirty job, but can provide rewarding cost-saving insight that is also good for the planet. So why not give it a try? From saving money to reducing risk and helping the planet, there are many benefits to conducting an event waste audit.
But how do you go about conducting your own? Here’s the eight basic steps:
Identify the Goal
Waste audits can do many things, including identifying redundant, excess materials and eliminating costs. So it’s important you clarify what you want to learn through your audit. Once you’ve set the goal, it’s important to share it with staff, vendors and other event participants who will be involved.
Set the Scope
Be very clear about the scope of event activity you’ll be auditing. Is it all of the event? Or just one aspect?
This may depend on the resources you have available: time, labor and money. Or perhaps where you perceive the greatest benefits are possible. Some waste audits last through an entire event, which can be important if you want to gain insight into waste produced during move-in, move-out and live event days.
Others might cover a 24 hour period as a sample; an ideal way to accommodate limited resources. Another option is to isolate a certain area of the event to analyze, such as food waste from meals, or waste from exhibitor booths.
Don’t Cross the Streams!
Your waste audit is not going to be very accurate if you allow other event waste to co-mingle with yours. So make sure you isolate your waste stream from any other events that may be taking place at the same venue around the same time. This may involve setting up a special area to marshal your waste while it is being sorted.
To ensure success, brief cleaning staff about any variations to standard disposal procedures. For example, make sure they bring waste from your session rooms to your area, while taking other event waste elsewhere. Another part of this step is making sure venue waste equipment is emptied prior to your audit, so any residual waste from earlier events is not counted with yours.
Identify, Enroll and Communicate With Waste Managers
Many, many hands touch event waste. This includes venue operations staff, catering staff, temporary vendors, exhibitors, planning staff and perhaps even attendees. By connecting with these different waste managers you can learn how materials move through your event, from unloading to set-up and tear down. Be prepared to inform and enroll existing waste managers in new procedures that may be needed for the audit.
And don’t forget: you may also need to recruit staff and volunteers to do your sorting! If you do not have resources within your organization, consider asking if there are any local recycling or student teams that may be keen to help.
Event waste audits require special equipment to make measurement easy and ensure staff are safe. The following is a helpful checklist to get you started:
- Scale for weighing waste.
- Containers for marshalling and disposing of waste, ideally that are standard sizes, like 56 gallons, which helps easily estimate waste volume by sight. Standard colors for each stream can also help, such as blue for recycling, green for organics and black for landfill.
- Trash grabbers or pickers, preferably long enough to reach inside your deepest containers.
- Gloves, ideally latex and non-latex, for any sorters who may have sensitivities.
- Aprons for waste sorters, who should wear closed, durable shoes.
- Waste bags, possibly colour-coded for different waste material. Bonus points if the bags match the colour of your bins!
- Tables that you’re not afraid to get dirty.
- Signage for labelling bins. Posters with images of materials can help make it easy for sorters.
- First aid kit and contact information in case of emergencies.
- Hand washing station or hand sanitizer.
Make It a Mission – Make It Fun!
Let’s face it: dumpster diving is not a glamourous task. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Look at ways you can gamify the experience, and reward sorters for the accuracy and quickness of work. Bring a chalkboard where you can post up your goals, record the day’s accomplishments, and list the benefits that have resulted from sorting. Consider providing special “appreciation” breaks and meals in a clean, separate area. A fun soundtrack of energetic tunes can also keep the work moving.
Collect the Numbers
Most waste audits measure waste by volume, or weight. It’s quite easy to measure by volume of you use standard size containers to sort your material. Merely record how many containers of each material you have and multiply by the volume of each container. Remember – you need containers for each type of material you want to analyze. That might mean many containers if you have diverse materials!
It’s also possible to measure by weight, if you have a scale. If you weigh the stream, make sure to subtract the weight of your containers to get most accurate measures. Whatever you do: pick one type of measurement and stick to it! Only volume or only weight. Mixing the two will give inaccurate results. Consider displaying your materials as a pie graph, to show relative percentages of each material.
Report and Recommend
Based your findings, you can then determine next steps that address your objective. For example: if you’re looking to reduce cost and you may want to look at your pie chart and consider how to tackle those pieces of the pie that are the largest and might present cost-saving, like food waste. Food waste is a very heavy stream. And expensive not only in terms of hauling fees, but wasted food you’ve paid for, as well.
When making recommendations be aware of what you can control, and what you can merely influence. So if waste auditing reveals food waste is your issue, you may want to start with addressing catering services you order, rather than outside concessions, which you may have little power over.
Until event professionals measure their carbon impacts it is difficult to know what management steps are most effective to take and what communications claims are credible when it comes to saying an event is “climate-friendly” or “carbon neutral”. Following these steps will help you become more knowledgeable about the carbon impact of your event, and where opportunities exist to reduce and offset.
What Are Climate-friendly Events?
Climate-friendly events proactively embrace the fact events produce carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which contribute to climate change. Event managers who adopt climate-friendly strategies accept they have an opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and costs they can avoid, and take responsibility for those they cannot.
Why Climate-friendly Events?
Climate-friendly events make sense for the planet: they reduce the production of harmful greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. But do climate-friendly event strategies make sense for business too?
Energy use, cost and carbon impacts may be directly correlated. Where energy use drops, cost and CO2 tend to drop as well. For example:
- By eliminating attendee shuttles in 2008, the Unitarian Universalist Association eliminated $80,000 in event costs (Source: UUA/MeetGreen).
- Shambala Festival cut fuel consumption, cost and carbon by 20% between 2011 and 2012 by paying careful attention to onsite power management (Source: Powerful Thinking).
- From a venue and hotel perspective: Green buildings reduce day-to-day costs year-over-year. LEED® buildings report almost 20 percent lower maintenance costs than typical commercial buildings, and green building retrofit projects typically decrease operation costs by almost 10 percent in just one year (Source: USGBC).
Opportunities for sponsorship
Climate-friendly event strategies can be a source of event sponsorship. In a high-profile example Dow Chemical became the Official Carbon Partner of Rio 2016, supporting mitigation of 500,000 tons of carbon emissions through verified emissions reductions.
At a minimum, carbon conscious efforts represents an investment in an event’s social and environmental licence to operate, acknowledging participants expect event organizers to be responsible. Communication of such efforts can make participants feel better about attending, knowing carbon impacts are being minimized and mitigated.
4 Steps to Climate-friendly Events
Step 1: Measure Your Event Carbon Footprint
Planning a climate-friendly event without measuring your carbon footprint is a bit like buying a pair of shoes without knowing your shoe size. You need to measure before finding the right fit.
Every event has a unique carbon footprint. This is because events use different sources of energy in different ways. The highest source of emissions for a conference, typically come from participant air travel, for example. However, a community festival footprint is usually characterised by a greater portion of emissions from car trips, portable power generators and food preparation. Emission reduction strategies for different events will vary depending on emissions sources, making it critical to know where your CO2 is coming from.
- Event planners can use online tools, carbon offset providers or consultants to measure their carbon footprint. Some organizations may have internal staff or travel agencies who calculate carbon.
- Scope your measurement. This involves drawing clear boundaries around what sources of emissions will be included in your calculation. While there are no clear-cut standards about what to include for events specifically, it’s important to be as complete and transparent as possible by including relevant and significant sources of emissions.
- Get specific. Added resources may be needed for accurate and complete calculations. While helpful in estimating your footprint, one-size-fits-all free online calculators can generalize impacts and miss important sources of emissions. For example, few include portable generators or allow detailed consideration of attendee air or car trips. So if you are planning to make important decisions or statements about your climate-friendly event it can help to hire a professional for a small fee.
Effectively scoping can help to brainstorm emissions sources that are:
- Directly controlled and/or are owned by the event organizer, including freight, participant shuttles, portable generators and staff travel.
- Not directly controlled or owned by the organizer, but are seen to be part of the event, such as guest rooms, participant travel to and from the event, and emissions from the production of products used by the event (such as food or giveaways).
Step 2: Reduce Your Emissions Through Well-Targeted Strategies
Most effective actions to reduce emissions will become evident once your carbon footprint has been measured. Large sources of emissions at events can be reduced through some common strategies.
- Design an option to enable remote participation, such as a hybrid event, live stream or virtual tradeshow.
- Hold the event in a city that is central to your attendee base, reducing distance travelled.
- Choose a city that has direct flight access for participants. Fewer connections means fewer emissions. Association conferences that are held closer to where the majority of members live can reduce air emissions by 20-40% (Source: MeetGreen).
Venue and guest room energy:
- Select a green building for guest rooms and event space. Look for designations such as LEED®. This is because LEED-certified buildings have 34 percent lower CO2 emissions (Source: US General Services Administration).
- Choose a region that uses low-emissions energy sources. Siting your event in a country, state or province that uses renewable energy (such as hydro, wind or solar) will automatically reduce your carbon footprint.
- Attendee ground shuttle fuel:
- Design a walkable event neighbourhood to reduce the need for attendee transport. Communicate walking routes to make access easy.
- Choose a coach provider that is able to access local, new and fuel efficient vehicles.
- Integrate transit into event transportation planning.
Encouraging transit use for local event commuters can save approximately 5 kilograms of carbon per trip. For a 10,000 attendee festival that adds up to 100 metric tons of carbon avoided (Source: BART).
- Prioritize use of local rental equipment and supplies, especially for heavy items.
- Schedule freight so shipments can be consolidated. Avoid last-minute, single shipments. Eliminating 10 metric tons of shipments travelling 1,000 km cuts approximately 1 MT of CO2 (Source: MeetGreen).
Portable generator fuel:
- Know your power needs and talk to your generator provider about the proper size and set-up of generators to promote efficient energy use.
- Reduce power demand by using equipment that is more efficient and working with staff and contractors to eliminate unnecessary consumption.
- If the UK’s summer festivals cut their diesel generator consumption by 10%, over 1 million litres of diesel and more than 3,000 tonnes of C02 would be saved in one year alone (Source: Powerful Thinking).
Step 3: Be Accountable for Unavoidable Emissions Impacts
While reducing emissions is a top priority, it is also possible to take responsibility for carbon emissions that cannot be avoided through carbon offsetting. Carbon offsetting are credits for greenhouse gas reductions that can be sold in order to compensate for other emissions produced elsewhere.
Finding a provider and a project:
- Event planners can tender for carbon offsets much like they do for other event services. When selecting a provider look for someone who understands your event-related needs and is able to source offset projects that are a good fit for your event.
- Ask questions in your RFP to help you find the best provider and project for your event, including:
- Is your provider able to help you measure your carbon impacts accurately and specifically?
- Can they be present at your event to talk about the offset project?
- Can they provide communication support to prepare messaging for participants?
- Are they able to provide references for event-related client projects?
- What type of offset projects do they offer? Where are they located and how are emissions reductions achieved, measured and monitored?
- Can you pick the project you want to support?
- Are the projects verified, certified, permanent and/or additional?
The last question is particularly important. Higher quality offset projects will be checked by a third-party according to recognized standard. These standards assess permanence to ensure the project has a long lifecycle. For example, a carbon offset project that planted trees with a high risk of being cut down would have little permanence, and less carbon benefit. Additional projects are projects that would not have happened without offset funding.
Funding an offset
Offsets are typically sold per metric ton. An offset provider might quote you a price of $5 to $25 per metric ton. Why the variance? Project quality is a big factor: better projects that meet stringent criteria can cost more. The amount of emissions you want to offset can also affect pricing where bulk discounts are available.
Possible funding models for offsets might include:
- Adding the cost to your event budget and paying for it outright
- Securing a sponsor to cover the cost
- Including the cost in the ticket price or registration cost for attendees, either as a mandatory or optional fee
- Requiring suppliers to cover the cost to offset emissions associated with their services
- Any combination of the above
Step 4: Communicate Your Climate-friendly Strategies
Climate-friendly event efforts present a brand-building opportunity for your event. So don’t forget to weave messaging into your experience. Your carbon offset provider may provide logos or brand assets to assist.
Methods to consider may include:
- Climate-friendly information added to your event website, registration system, mobile applications or participant confirmations.
- Social media messaging, including inspiring fun facts that show the difference individuals can make when acting together to cut carbon.
- Onsite digital signage stating commitments, sponsor support and positive impacts.
- Ambassadors or green team hubs onsite.
Obviously, all meetings are different and you should do your best to ensure that you’ve considered sustainability and environmental impact throughout each stage of the planning process. This green meetings checklist is a great starting point to help you know the right questions to ask and where to look to keep your footprint to a minimum.
Green events take things up a notch. They consider sustainability and the environmental footprint throughout the process to ensure minimal impact on the world. However, meeting planning can be complex at the best of times so organizing a green meeting might be unfamiliar or difficult. We have put together a quick checklist that you can tick off against to ensure you don’t forget a thing when planning more sustainable meetings.
A green event without an event sustainability policy is a bit like a road trip without a map, or a hike without a compass. Embarking on a journey without one can make you feel a little lost.
Event sustainability is a complicated topic, which only becomes more difficult with lack of intention and a clear strategy. An event sustainability policy can ground sustainable event efforts so they meet the outcomes desired by organizers, sponsors, attendees and other stakeholders. It should be the first step in planning a sustainable event, but often comes after green best practices are implemented. In fact, the presence of a policy is arguably what elevates green events from novel experience trend to a planning strategy with a clear value proposition. So how can you take control of your event sustainability intentions to get green efforts working for you?
Why Should I Develop an Event Sustainability Policy?
Few green events have a policy to guide their actions, and often rely on checklists to implement best practice. But what are the fundamental aims of diverse best practices? An event sustainability policy attempts to answer this question, and can assist planning teams by:
- Clarifying priority intentions so desired returns can be achieved. Last-minute green event programs can appear a bit like the tail wagging the dog, cobbled together having researched existing best practices that happen to be in place already. Such “policies” (if they can be called such) can appear a mish-mash of random acts that lack clear objectives. You wouldn’t plan your event without clear experience or economic objectives, so why should your sustainability program be any different?
- Orienting staff and vendors in how to spend time and resources. One of the most common frustrations cited by event planners related to sustainability is that they don’t have time to pay attention to it. Vendors can be challenged where sustainability requests tend to be more emergent after contracting, rather than baked into scoping processes. Sustainability policies formalize expectations, giving clear priorities to follow at the outset.
- Reducing risk. As the public face of sponsors and organizations, events face many reputational risks. Event sustainability policies can become a vehicle to identify and inoculate for “what if” risks, such as ethical issues, irresponsible sourcing decisions, corrupt bidding processes, labor disputes and other social and environmental issues that can cause negative public relations.
The American Wind Energy Association recently adopted an event sustainability policy to provide guidance to organizers in how to promote use of wind energy in the event supply chain. “Our goal is to embody the value We (Heart) Wind Energy in all we do, including events,” states Elesha Peterson Carr, Director, Conference Planning & Event Logistics. “We know this mandate is important to our members and it helps us be clear up front that we want vendors to deliver services that support wind energy, even if that means educating them about how to do that.”
The roadmap varies depending on the nature of the event, depth of stakeholder involvement expected and available resources. Common steps in the policy journey can include:
- Clarifying The Scope
It’s important to identify at the outset what the policy will apply to and this is an exercise in boundary-setting.
Know the limits:
- Consider policy size. Does the policy cover one event? Multiple events? One department? Or an entire organization?
- Policy control. To what extent can the policy control versus what it can merely influence.
- Where does it apply. Which part of the event will be affected by the policy?
- Researching Issues
A policy is great, but it becomes redundant if it doesn’t deal with the right issues and those that will affect your event:
Make it relevant:
- Who should define these problems? Who is the most qualified as well as has the better perspective on the issues that may arise.
- Consider stakeholders. We will look at this in more depth in a minute but ultimately during this research you need to consider whether; what you think your most important sustainability challenges are, and whether or not they match the views of other stakeholders.
- Look at where to aim. The research should primarily deal with making sure you are addressing the right problems. The sustainability issues and concerns that are specific and relevant to your event.
- Talking to Stakeholders
As an event planner you may have one perspective that suggests solid waste is your biggest event sustainability problem that should be addressed by your policy, given it is also something you have some control over. However this may not be the same for other stakeholders for your event. For example, it’s possible your event attendees have different priorities and feel strongly about food sustainability.
Address the right issues:
- Focus groups. Talk in groups for each stakeholder to find out their primary issues and concerns when it comes to event sustainability.
- Surveys. Offer surveys for previous attendees during follow up that contains one of two questions on sustainability. That way you will be specifically targeting your demographic and their concerns.
- Evaluation. Perform evaluations that pre-emptively consider sustainability impacts on each individual stakeholder. For example, residents neighboring your event could be bothered by potential noise, or traffic congestion.
- Inventory of Resources
It’s critically important that any event sustainability policy is filtered for available resources of time and money. This will ensure you’re equipped to achieve what you’re setting out to do, and don’t stretch yourself too thin.
- Creating a specified budget. Allocate funds directly to your sustainability policy or implementation so that it’s a forethought during the planning phases and you know you won’t run out.
- Forecast. Preemptively go through each event stage and consider the environmental impacts or opportunities for each so that you can come up with a necessary system to deal with this should the need arrive.
- Make it measurable. Ensure that in this system there is an option to measure the success and impact of arising sustainability issues and where the policy polices, make sure you can gain or track analytics relating to it.
- Focusing Intentions
Every event sustainability policy should clearly identify what you want to do. While it’s not necessary to get into the details of action plans and technical requirements, it’s important that overarching statements about what you intend to achieve are made, prioritized and agreed to.
For Lorien Henson, Senior Events Marketing Manager at Hootsuite, an event sustainability policy has helped outline the environmental duty-of-care expected from internal event managers. “Our policy development process was deeply focused on preventing environmental impacts we could control, given many of our events are housed in third party experiences. The policy directs staff to buy smarter by following strict sustainability criteria that meet the primary goal of reducing solid waste. Any item we buy must currently meet two of our core criteria for source reduction and diversion of waste, and we’re aiming for three in future.”
4 Things Your Event Sustainability Policy Should Include
ISO 20121 provides some guidance on core elements that should be included in an event sustainability policy. The policy itself should be a succinct document that is signed by senior management.
- Values: These are typically one-word principles or a brief statement that describe the spirit of conduct implied under the policy. Examples of values include: diversity, transparency, stewardship, leadership and inclusivity. It can help to ensure each value is clearly defined so they can be easily recognized, and modelled.
- Issues: Policies often exist because there is a problem that needs to be identified, and solved. For example, climate change may be an issue that conference attendees care about so much that organizers are driven to act on it through energy reduction and efficiency goals. In contrast, an outdoor festival may be criticized for impacts on the natural environment, calling on the organizer to create a policy that focuses on protecting and rehabilitating the event site.
- Goals and targets: Goals should be directed at addressing issues. They should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Most objectives are concise action statements, sometimes only two words: a verb and a noun. For example, “improve health”, “reduce waste”, or “improve satisfaction”. Every goal should have a performance indicator that can be assessed, and short and long-term targets should be set. For example, improving satisfaction may be gauged by an attendee rating event-to-event.
- Commitments: Event sustainability policies should also identify any external or internal commitments. This might include requirements to comply with and exceed legal obligations, as well as any accords businesses may have signed on to, such as the UN Global Compact. At a minimum it should identify how the organization plans to report and communicate progress against the policy.
Where and When Should an Event Sustainability Policy Be Used?
Once created, the next step is to roll out and engage people in the event sustainability policy. There are some logical parts to this process:
- Including the policy in staff orientations, trainings, reviews and incentive programs.
- Integrating the policy with procurement so that RFPs and contract agreements reflect the policy.
- Informing sponsors, speakers, attendees and other event participants of the policy so they are aware what to expect and how the policy affects them. This can be done through agreements, registration and confirmations.
- Sharing progress against the policy with communications leads so that key messages can be reinforced through any public relations or reporting.
It’s great to see many events hanging out their green shingle these days. But are your green event marketing claims putting your event brand, product or service at risk?
Event professionals should be encouraged to be transparent and inform participants about sustainability-related accomplishments. However, it pays to check event sustainability messaging for greenwashing that can put you and your event brand at risk and here’s how to make sure your green marketing messaging is accurate:
What is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing describes the practice of using potentially deceptive information to make a product—or in this case an event or event-related product—seem more environmentally responsible than it really is. UL cleverly describes Seven Sins of Greenwashing, which can range from being vague (what exactly is a zero-waste event?) to lacking proof (excuse me sir, are those biodegradable name badges tested to break down in my compost?).
What Are The Risks?
Greenwashing can damage to your event and event brand, eroding trust and public goodwill. Negative public attitudes can cause sponsors to shy away from your event, not wanting their brand to be impacted by the collateral damage. And the damage, once done, can be difficult to repair.
What Does Greenwashing Look Like?
Let’s take a look at some common green event marketing claims:
- “ABC Tradeshow is proud to be a carbon neutral event”
Sounds good, right? Look again and ask: What does neutral mean? And what carbon impacts are being addressed? You can quickly see this statement could benefit from added context. Consider this more specific alternative: “ABC Tradeshow has purchased Green-e-certified carbon offsets that will reduce emissions equal to venue energy use within two years.” This statement is better because it clarifies certified offsets were purchased, describes the carbon impacts measured and how long it will take for emissions to be accounted for. Showing a real understanding of the event’s impact.
- “Our lunch boxes are compostable and will be composted if placed in green bins onsite”
This claim works, provided the planner and caterer have confirmed the boxes are accepted by their compost provider, and have followed through on the onsite composting program described. Had the phrase only stated lunch boxes were compostable it may constitute greenwashing if disposables were being discarded into landfill.
- “Our event uses signs made of recyclable material”
This one is a bit tricky. Let’s say the signs are made of a foam-type material, and it has a #6 triangle on it. If foam is not recyclable in your event location (which is true in most situations), a take-back program would need to be arranged to ensure the signs are actually recycled. If that’s not happening, this statement could be deceptive, because although the material is technically recyclable it’s not practically recyclable at your event. However, if you use a cardboard substrate this claim may be okay, although could be strengthened by clarifying “…and will be recycled”, assuming the venue recycles cardboard (which most do).
- “Our hotel is eco-friendly”
By now your green filter is likely limber enough to anticipate you want to know a little more about what an “eco-friendly hotel” is. “Eco-friendly”, “natural”, “green” and “organically grown” marketing claims are always stronger where they are accompanied by certifications and labels that are third-party verified. A clearer statement might be: “Our hotel is LEED® Gold certified” or “Our hotel has earned a Five Green Key eco-rating.”
How To Communicate Event Sustainability Efforts and Gain Brownie Points
Given these potential faux pas for green event marketers, you may think you’re better off keeping quiet about your efforts. Don’t! Communicating your sustainability efforts and positive environmental impacts of events can help build your brand, and earn good will. What’s important is that you treat green event messaging like all of your communications, and review it for potential risks.
- Educate Yourself
Event professionals are encountering more and more biodegradable, compostable, recycled content, fairly traded and other kinds of green lingo in the marketplace. What we don’t often realize is many of these terms have technical aspects. For example, biodegradable is different than compostable, and fairly-traded is different than Fair Trade.
- It’s your responsibility to understand what you are claiming. Do your research on terminology before you start so that you are presenting things correctly.
- Turn to organizations like the Green Meeting Industry Council and Sustainable Event Alliance to help expand your knowledge about green event management and marketing terms.
- Double check with vendors and suppliers. Make sure they are educated and aren’t greenwashing by mistake. Ask them to clarify their own claims and terms so that you know all processes of yours are in keeping with the green processes you are trying to adopt..
- Management, Then Marketing
While we are obviously focusing on marketing and messaging here, it’s important to stress that communications must be supported by good management systems.
Back it up:
- A good first step may be creating sustainability criteria for purchases, so that you can always ensure recycled content products are used.
- Another step might be integrating expectations into contracts, so you have recourse to ensure event discards will be recycled or composted.
- Create a policy and offer training to ensure that all staffing levels understand requirements and are trained in effective protocols.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Question
Sometimes we hesitate to ask about something because we’re afraid we’re the only one who doesn’t know what “zero waste” is. Legitimate businesses invest a lot of time and money in backing up green claims, so they will be thrilled to be asked!
Have a frank discussion:
- Don’t be embarrassed to ask suppliers some key questions: What does this term mean? Can you provide proof of certification or testing? Is it current and up-to-date? Can you provide data that backs up your claim?
- Hire a consultant to help go through all of the processes with you and answer any questions you may have.
- Seek businesses that have legitimate green certifications to work with so you know that the information is more likely to be correct.
- Check Your Filter
You can also test your green messages by running them through the Seven Sins of Greenwashing filter or coming up with your own system to make sure you aren’t doing it accidentally. Elements you could include are:
Keep yourself accountable:
- Ask yourself if you’re providing adequate proof, being specific enough and disclosing trade-offs.
- It can also pay to check your message with a small, friendly audience of critics who can give you feedback
- You can also refer to guidance provided by the US Federal Trade Commission about green marketing claims. The Green Guides provide many examples to exercise your greenwashing filter by showing what types of claims are valid, and which are deceptive.
First and foremost, you should consider if you need to have a meeting in the first place. Simply finding a better solution or only holding meetings when absolutely necessary is an excellent sustainability idea. We have pulled everything we have learned together to give sustainable events examples to produce a greener event. To put it to good use, here are some green meeting ideas to get you started:
Going paperless is the simplest option and one that initiatives actively encourage. Do this by providing digital passes, tickets or simply a code that allows attendees access to avoid the ticket drama, associated costs and impact.
Organic Meal Plans
As the healthier option, organic food is also the meal option with less carbon footprint. It’s simply grown and transported so you can reduce this further by opting for locally sourced too.
Use Real China
Bring the tone up a notch with real china that can be re-used, from plates and cups to using proper cutlery, it avoids packaging and excess waste.
Offer furniture that incorporate solar panelled or alternative energy sources. This shows you can still provide high-tech charging options with lower impact.
Credit: Igor Salopek
Public Transport Scavenger Hunts
Allow your guests to explore the city by encouraging them to use other modes of transport. This has long-lasting effects because it boosts confidence and knowledge for different transportation that has a lower footprint overall than everyone using their cars.
Create a culture of recycling at the office or during a meeting by having see-through plastic bins with milestone markers. Guests fill them with their own recycling and when the milestones are reached, the sponsors pledge to donate to excellent causes. Perfect for fundraising in a sustainable way and helping multiple causes at once.
If you’re offering chauffeur services or other VIP elements, a car may be necessary. So, choose an electric car or high efficiency hybrid car to reduce emissions and footprint.
Primarily however, you should be encouraging carpooling for attendees. Offering a shuttle service allows guests to meet in an easier central location and then travel together. This can also be an excellent way to stay on schedule as you know when all the guests are arriving or leaving!
- People Powered Lounges
Lounges are excellent networking opportunities and activities help to break the ice so incorporate the two with green meetings in mind with sustainable options. This could be bike or treadmill powered games and incentives so something smaller like these smoothie bikes.
#tb unique b2b environment to connect with people, cocktails & exercise = experience * * * #cycle4drink #cocktailcompetition #tradeshowdesign #exhibitiondesign #exhibitionexperience #cocktailmakers #brandexperience #b2b #connect #resonate #brandexperience #designagency #brandexperiencedesign #brandexperienceagency #agencylife #MovingMinds
Solar Powered Charging Stations
Eco or green events can still incorporate technology like these pop-up solar powered charging stations, perfect for outdoor events. As you can see they offer temporary charging and would obviously suit the sunnier climate or seasonal events but would particularly suit a summer festival to give your event a little something extra.
Tablet Table Ordering
Remove the need for menus altogether by using an iPad or tablet that connects to the kitchen ordering system. Saves time, effort and reduces human error, plus it saves on printing and promotes sustainability.
No need for the memo, sticky notes or official letterheads. An email or online RSVP system can be more effective with less environmental impact. Plus, you can send reminders and updates easily too.
If printing is absolutely necessary, opt for double-sided. It saves paper and is easier in information packets rather than having too much paper for everyone to manage.
Avoid buying individual bottles of water or drinks and instead choose a bulk dispenser or pitcher. A glass pitcher and 6 glasses has zero waste involved as opposed to 6 bottles and plastic cups.
Does everything have to be done in person? If not, consider remote meetings with considerably lower environmental impact.
Partner up with a local initiative so that leftover food can be sent to the homeless or those in need. Many green meeting buffets will have food left over, even with the strictest of ordering systems so have something in place as a back-up and don’t let food go to waste.
Email Campaign Follow-Up
Surveys and feedback capabilities are important post-event. Just make sure they are online campaigns rather than multi-page real forms. You could also include incentives like prize draws or discounts for those that complete it.
It may go against the grain, but printing personalized elements, e.g. table numbers and menus with dates or specific event information means you can’t re-use them. Laminate basic table numbers so they can be wiped clean and used for your next event.
LED Lighting Options
Lighting can play a key part in the décor and atmosphere of any green event. Just make sure it’s either low watt or LED that has less output than standard lighting. Plus, it has plenty of options (if not more) to work with.
Recycled Paper Notebooks
Some people just prefer to do it old school, so let them! Notebooks and physical notes are the preferred way of working for many, so you should still accommodate for this. However, you can lower the impact by using recycled paper books and promoting the re-use so that attendees can take them home as gifts, or simply use them at their desks in the office.
Sponsoring Fair Trade Coffee Breaks
Coffee often goes hand-in-hand with meetings. So even if you aren’t supplying food, you could raise awareness for and use fair trade coffee options. It not only adds an element of storytelling to help promote but these sponsored coffee breaks are excellent for guilt-free networking.
Water Saving Appliances
For long-term green meeting gains, you can install water saving appliances in the office (or look for these at the venue.) This could include options like reduced use dishwashers, two step toilets or rain collection processes.
Avoid single packet condiments such as sauces and butters, instead opting for bulk options such as butter dishes or squeezable sauces which work particularly well at a condiment station on the side of your buffet table.
Extend your green reach by encouraging and telling others about your initiatives. Competitors always want to get ahead which means if you start adopting these practices, encouraging attendee behaviour. Venues and other businesses will have to follow through too in order to keep up with the trend.
- Fake Florals
Stunning bouquets can be used on a buffet table as décor, on desks or as features but they can be costly and short-term. Instead, opt for fake options that you can store away and re-use for other corporate functions as well as for the next meeting.
Plant-Your Own Favors
Create an activity where attendees can paint their own ceramic plant pots and offer exotic seeds at the end of the event for them to take away. These could be weird and wonderful plants (think Venus fly traps) or something unexpected like colorful vegetables (purple carrots are actually a thing!) It gets them talking and incorporates green themes.
Venues that incorporate solar panels will have a better energy rating and green status reducing the carbon footprint of your event. Of course, you can also include your own temporary panels that could power things such as lights or animated décor too.
Health & Wellness Programs
Make long-term investments by organizing health and wellness programs that not only aim to improve the health of your attendees but encourage a healthier, organic and transport free life. For example, fostering a love of exercise and staying active makes attendees less likely to use cars in the future and these are the long-term initiatives that change culture’s perspectives.
Carbon Offset Initiatives
Search for local or governmental initiatives that help to offset emissions. Do this by either purchasing offsets calculated by the carbon footprint of your event (usually by adding onto ticket prices) or investing in specific green initiatives that equal and neutralize the impact your event will have environmentally.
Choose locations that are central to attendees to average out travel distances and reduce the carbon footprint. Also, choosing locations mid-city with plenty of transport links encourages attendees to use public transport or walk instead.
Opt for a venue that can offer you the whole package to avoid transportation and extra set-up costs and impact. For example, airport hotels that have meeting or boardroom rentals as well as a restaurant or catering and accommodation all in one.
- Cardboard Booths/Furniture
Use recycled materials for booths at exhibitions, trade shows or even a pop-up meeting space. They are re-useable, minimal effort and highly adaptable. Plus, they can be recycled again and again.
Credit: Fold Life
- Corporate Competitions
Promote sustainability by holding competitions that will outlast the green meeting or event. For example, offer incentives, discounts or privileges for those who leave the car at home and walk or cycle to work every day for a week.
Making efforts towards running greener and more sustainable events can offer lots of benefits and cost savings. We hope that this no jargon guide has given you lots of eco friendly event planning ideas for you to make your events more environmentally focused that you can start implementing straight away.
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