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5 Ways to Incorporate Sustainability into Your Event

This article was inspired by a recent event that I attended, The Northwest Event Show. A friend of mine works for the company that hosts the event and I was excited to see that they had a Carbon Neutral pledge advertised as a central part of the conference and exhibits this year. Their web page states, “In an effort to lower/offset our carbon footprint, the Northwest Event Show has partnered with ForestNation to replant a forest in Tanzania.” In addition to this, I did take notice of several other ways in which they adopted sustainable marketing practices throughout the event. 

When it comes time to plan your next event, trade show, or conference, today we’re sharing 6 ways to incorporate more sustainable practices and lessen the impact and waste that is typically produced as a result of people gathering.

Choose a Sustainable Venue

One of the biggest environmental impacts of events is the use of energy and resources in the venue. When selecting a venue for your event, first consider its overall environmental impact. Look for venues that have taken steps to reduce their carbon footprint, such as those that use renewable energy sources, are LEED-certified or have implemented energy-efficient lighting and heating systems.  Additionally, choose a venue that has a good waste management program in place and recycles as much waste as possible. Cvent, an event planning platform, has published a searchable directory of green venues where you can search by city, size of venue and more. Be sure to do a web search on “sustainable venues” in your area and explore the results that come up as well.

Eliminate or Reduce Single-Use Plastics

Single-use plastics are one of the biggest contributors to environmental pollution. According to the UN, we produce 300 million tons of plastic each year worldwide, half of which is for single-use items. They take hundreds of years to break down, and during that time, they can cause harm to wildlife and their habitats. When planning your event, aim to reduce the amount of single-use plastics used. This can be done by providing guests with reusable coffee cups, beverage containers, water bottles or encouraging them to bring their own.

During the event, I met and spoke with one of the founders of r.Cup. They provide reusable cups for attendees of sporting events, concerts and festivals around the world. They also shared with me that they include a line item in the event registration checkout that is a “Sustainability Fee” of $0.38 which accounts for the cost of their reusable cup. This has proven to be an easier method of getting attendees to pay a minimal amount to support sustainability efforts. Genius!

I also attended another conference recently that supplied reusable coffee mugs and they encouraged all attendees to use the same mug over the course of the day and then take it home with them as a keepsake. Additionally, opt for biodegradable or compostable food containers and cutlery instead of traditional plastic.

Consider Transportation Options

Transportation is another area where events can have a significant impact on the environment. Encourage attendees to use public transportation or carpool to your event. Be sure that the venue has bike racks for those who choose to cycle, and make sure that the venue is easily accessible by foot as well. If you have guests coming from out of town, consider arranging a shuttle service from their hotel to the venue or from the event venue to any after-hours networking events.

Choose Sustainable Food Options

Food is an important part of any event, but second to travel, food waste can have the most significant environmental impact at any event. When choosing food options for your event, consider local and seasonal produce. This not only reduces the carbon footprint associated with transportation but also supports local farmers and reduces food waste

Plan to order a quantity of food that is typically 10-15% less than the number of attendees who have registered. Why? You can count on some attendees missing meals or eating elsewhere. Additionally, choose vegetarian or vegan options as these require less energy and resources to produce than meat-based dishes. Finally, make sure that any food waste is properly composted (based on the availability of this service in your area) rather than sent to landfill.

Opt for Digital Programs and Marketing Materials

Our final tip and one that I am especially passionate about from my days of trade show planning is to limit the amount of printed materials that you distribute at your event. Ultimately, this ends up in the recycling bin (if it’s actually recyclable) or goes straight into the trash bin after someone looks at it once, if at all!

Gevme was one of the presenters at the conference I recently attended and they shared a few facts on marketing material waste at events:

  • There are an estimated 100 billion business cards printed globally each year. 1 paper business card = 2g CO2e, totaling 6 million trees per year
  • Most printed flyers are discarded. According to the Direct Marketing Association, only 1% of people who receive a flyer respond to it or take action. QR codes are improving this tracking, but this material could be sent straight to them without having thousands of single-use flyers printed.
  • Overall, event programs only have a span of a few days and the chances of needing a reprint as information changes or is updated closer to the event is high, therefore resulting in increased paper usage and waste.

Encourage attendees to use a free app that allows them to upload their information into a digital business card format. Companies like HiHello offer a free solution without needing to download an app to receive your information. As an alternative to printing, create digital event programs that can be updated easily and promotion graphics that can be shared on all of the different social media platforms. 

You can also put together digital “swag bags” instead of handing out single use tote bags at your event. Even though many of these bags are marketed as “reusable,” chances are, you’re not going to use a bag covered in sponsor logos on your next trip to the grocery store.

Communicate Your Sustainability Efforts

Finally, it’s important to communicate your sustainability efforts to attendees. Let them know what steps you’ve taken to reduce the environmental impact of your event and encourage them to do their part as well. This can be done through signage, social media posts, or even by providing a sustainability report after the event. By raising awareness and encouraging others to make sustainable choices, you can help create a more environmentally conscious community.

In conclusion, sustainability should be a key consideration when planning any event. By choosing a sustainable venue, eliminating or reducing single-use plastics, considering transportation options, choosing sustainable food options, and communicating your efforts to attendees and exhibitors, you can help reduce the environmental impact of your event. With everyone doing their part, we can create a more sustainable future for all.

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