Whether you’re trying to attract younger guests or simply just want to “do your part,” designing sustainable events is worthy a challenge for any organization.
As our society evolves into a more environmentally conscious mindset (including the increasing popularity of Earth Day), it only makes sense that our industry would follow suit. If our goal is to create experiences that stick with attendees, aligning with the same philanthropic principles is a no-brainer.
Luckily, the process of doing so isn’t so difficult—or expensive—that it’s not a viable option.
Granted, it will take plenty of forethought, planning and dedication, but it’s something that your guests will appreciate and so will future generations.
While this is by no means a comprehensive list, here are a few helpful hacks to think about when planning a sustainable event.
Start With Strategy
Just like you would for any other event, the framework you lay in the beginning will help make everything else easier down the road. Set goals for yourself and always be sure to ask “How will this help us with our goal of sustainability?” before making big decisions.
“Having all aspects of event management aligned with your goals will make it easier to implement an eco-friendly strategy,” writes Bizaboo Blog’s Cheryl Lin.
Be sure to start out with the end in mind by creating goals that you can easily track and evaluate. Knowing you saved $3,000 by not handing out leave-behinds (which usually do get left behind) can go a long way towards justifying the tangible value of your sustainability efforts.
Choosing where you host your event may be one of the most important factors during this process.
Sustainable.org suggests digging deeper than what a site’s marketing team has created to see if the facility manager has adopted the same practices of sustainability that you have. Here are some important questions to they advise getting answered:
- Do they buy locally sourced food and materials?
- Do they conserve energy and water?
- What, if any, green materials were used during construction?
- Are they willing to work with your planning committee to improve the site’s environmental performance in preparation for the event?
Additionally, it can be helpful to find a place that is easy to get to by walking, using public transportation or providing a shuttle. Odds are most of your guests will fly in and stay close, but if you’re hosting a more localized event, it can be a great way to reduce carbon emissions.
Do Your Research
If you haven’t heard the term “green washing,” you may want to do your homework. It’s become a legitimate problem in the events industry, with companies and products claiming to be “environmentally friendly,” when there’s nothing to validate their promises.
“From signage substrates to name badge systems and disposable serviceware, we need to ask for proof of claims and support those buyers who are rigorous and transparent about their product marketing,” says Shauna McKinley, of Event Manager Blog.
Want to avoid the same marketing trap? Check out the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides to see what standards are in place for eco-friendly marketing done right.
Paper, Paper Everywhere
Remember the leave-behinds we mentioned earlier?
It’s one of the EASIEST things to cut out of your event—and your budget—to support your efforts of sustainability. Sure, they look great, but what is the ratio of flyers kept to those strewn on the ground and found in the trash?
According to HowStuffWorks, a study by the California Integrated Waste Management Board found that 27% of waste collected from special events (more than any other category) is paper.
Yes, it’s unrealistic to cut out paper completely, and you’re still going to have handouts. But finding new ways to replace the typical paper-based info sheet or miscellaneous handout can go a long way to helping you accomplish your goal.
Thankfully, technology is an easy resource to rid your event of the paper monster without losing valuable communication with your attendees.
“Events can sometimes get paper heavy, especially if there’s information that needs to be shared with everyone,” writes Caitlin Uttley. “To reduce the amount of paper you use, don’t hand out flyers, folders or pamphlets to attendees. Instead, e-mail materials to guests ahead of time, or create a Web site with all the necessary information.”
Want to do something even better? Create an app that will have all that information right at their fingertips—including valuable sponsorship space—without all the excess waste.
Event sustainability shouldn’t be something we think about once a year on Earth Day.
Regardless of any political or scientific views you may hold, there’s only one planet that we can live on and the meetings and events industry can easily do its part to take better care of it.