Waste Not, Want Not: How Meeting Planners Can Make Their Events More Environmentally Friendly

Post authored by Amy Henderson, CMP, Senior Meeting & Event Manager at Experient

Amy Henderson

Amy Henderson, Senior Meeting & Event Manager

While I love this time of year and all of the excitement and happiness it brings, it also brings to mind thoughts of over-indulgence and waste. We often overspend on items that aren’t used and prepare too much food that goes to waste. But in the spirit of overindulging, I encourage you to think about how we can eliminate excess in our everyday lives as meeting professionals.

A staggering statistic I learned from my friends at Legacy Sustainability Management is that an average person generates 13.5 lbs. of waste at home daily. At a conference, that same person generates about 61 lbs. of waste per day! This really puts in perspective the amount of waste our industry creates year after year, and it’s quite overwhelming.

I recently participated in planning for the Greenbuild 2012 annual conference that was held in San Francisco. The US Green Building Council’s level of commitment to our environment and society at large is very uplifting and impressionable. Everything they do as part of their convention planning is carefully thought out to ensure they are creating the smallest carbon footprint possible.

We all know some of the standards of green meeting planning, such as serving food items in bulk and not individual packaging, using china instead of disposables, eliminating bottled water and having an online registration system. However, through my experiences with greening meetings over the years, I have learned many other concepts that I hope will make you think even more about practices you can initiate to make your own events more environmentally responsible. Here are ten great ideas to get you started:

1. When possible, seek out compostable products instead of those that are only recyclable. Compostable products not only save energy, but they degrade within only a few months, produce no toxic residues, and release valuable nutrients back into the soil, aiding the growth of trees and plants.


Having your meeting facility turn off all unnecessary escalators during non-event hours is great way to conserve energy.

2. Monitor the use of energy at your events:

• Have the meeting facility turn off all unnecessary escalators during move-in, move-out, and during all hours the show is closed.

• Power down all unnecessary lights and equipment in the facility after hours.

• Turn off the power at your cyber cafes, registration computers, and lighted counters when the show is closed.

3. Work with your registration provider to produce paper badges that are recyclable and do not require badge holders.

4. Have your vendors and hotels email all invoices to you instead of printing and mailing them to save on paper and fuel.

5. Whenever possible, cut down on shuttles for your event and offer public transit passes to your attendees.

6. Shop locally for registration materials, supplies, and promotional items instead of having them shipped in.

7. Set up kiosks in your exhibit hall or public space area to allow attendees to purchase carbon offsets. There are many reputable carbon offset programs out there that allow you and your attendees to purchase offsets and the funds will be used to plant trees or invest in alternative fuel production to offset the environmental damage created by traveling and attending the convention.

8. Have your exhibitors donate materials from their booths instead of paying to ship them back.

9. Create a greening award to incentivize your convention team to come up with ideas for greening your event and for properly implementing initiatives you already have in place.


The average person at a conference generates about 61 lbs. of waste per day, but meeting planners can do their part and help eliminate excess waste.

10. Engage your attendees and exhibitors! Here are a few ideas:

• Provide attendees with information on the amount of waste they are potentially generating so they will be encouraged to utilize the recycling containers available in the facility and not be careless with their waste.

• Encourage them to limit the printing of maps, event schedules, and handouts. Instead, provide them with electronic PDFs, a mobile website, or a mobile event app that contains important information about the event, the facilities, and the surrounding area.

• For your exhibitors, ask them to refrain from passing out brochures, handouts, and DVDs to potential buyers. QR codes are a great way for them to distribute their materials electronically with nearly zero waste. Thumb drives are inexpensive and reusable, can be preloaded with advertising materials, and make a great gift.

• Ask attendees to report back to you on the performance of the hotel and the meeting facility. For example, did the hotel take the guests’ towels even though they were hung up for re-use? Were recycling bins readily available throughout the convention center?

We all need to take a closer look at how much waste we create—at home, at the office, and at our events. Luckily, the green movement has picked up momentum and there are many resources available to help. Remember, even the smallest steps can have a huge impact.

About Amy Henderson, CMP, Senior Meeting & Event Manager

Amy has been with Experient for 16 years, providing meeting planning services to a variety of clients in the higher education and green building industries. She is a current member of the Green Meetings Industry Council, and due to her extensive experience providing green meeting solutions for her clients, Amy serves as a subject matter expert on green meetings at Experient.

Prior to joining Experient, Amy worked as a hotel sales manager, convention service manager, and as a corporate and association meeting planner. She has a BS in Marketing from the Pamplin College of Business at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.



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