Here's what you need to know about planning more sustainable events
June 8, 2022

Here’s what you need to know about planning more sustainable events

As we are bringing back in-person events, attendees have increasingly become more conscious of the climate and sustainability. With so many factors to consider when organizing an event and so many demands on your budget, you might feel as if planning a green affair is just another headache. In your role as an event planner, how can you create experiences and programs that generate marketing results while positively impacting society and the environment?

 There is no doubt that putting on an event that is environmentally friendly can be tricky at times. But once you have all your ducks lined up and know what needs to be done, you can rest assured that the ROI and positive response from your attendees will make it all worthwhile.

What is Sustainable Event Management?

Sustainable event management is the process of organizing and executing events in a way that minimizes the environmental impact and waste. It is becoming increasingly important as more people become aware of environmental issues and are looking for ways to reduce their own carbon footprint, whether it’s through attending events or organizing them. Sustainable event management involves committing to practices such as:

  • Partnering with venues and vendors that have third-party sustainability certifications (e.g., LEED, APEX/ASTM, Green Key, and GREENleaders)
  • Offering attendees a means to reduce their carbon footprint by taking public transportation to the venue
  • Serving food in biodegradable containers or providing reusable containers
  • Promoting waste conservation and sustainability throughout the event (for example, with signage, educational sessions, and announcements)

The Benefits of Hosting Sustainable Events

There are many benefits to sustainable event management. As a result of reducing your event’s carbon footprint, you will save on energy bills and avoid fines for exceeding emissions limits. You can also improve your brand reputation among attendees and sponsors by promoting yourself as an environmentally responsible organization, which may increase engagement and future sales. Furthermore, you may be eligible for tax incentives. The best part about this strategy is that it works on all levels: from small-scale community events to large company conferences, every effort counts towards achieving greater sustainability goals!

The State of Sustainability in the Events Industry

It is not a secret that the trade show and event industries generate large volumes of carbon and waste. The number of event organizers taking sustainability seriously is on the rise, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Many event-related organizations, venues, and businesses are taking steps toward a greener future, including developing robust sustainability programs, building greener convention centers, and joining industry-wide campaigns such as the Net Zero Carbon Events pledge and global initiatives such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In response to the urgent need for sustainability, we compiled a list of tips on how every event professional can contribute to a greener future and make a positive impact right now.

How to Create More Sustainable Events

1. Create a sustainability policy

Creating a sustainability policy is an excellent way to start your event planning process. The first step is to have key stakeholders take part in identifying the goals and objectives of your sustainability policy. From here, it’s time to develop actionable steps that align with these goals and objectives.

For example, if one of your primary goals is to reduce water waste at events, consider instituting a free water refill station on site so attendees can refill their reusable bottles instead of purchasing plastic ones from vendors. Suppose another goal is reducing food waste by encouraging attendees to bring their own containers for leftovers (or even better: eat only what they need). In that case, you might consider providing compostable utensils or plates at food stations. These are just two examples—there are many other ways you can create an effective sustainability plan for your event!

2. Create satellite events and keep things local

Smaller, more intimate events can be an important part of a bigger plan for sustainability. Rather than having one major conference a year, consider hosting a series of regional micro-events. The best part about this approach is that it keeps travel time for participants to a minimum, which helps reduce carbon emissions significantly. This is especially useful if you’re trying to plan an event with lots of speakers or trainers who are flying in from out of town.

Additionally, you’re supporting local businesses and communities. Take, for example, what’s in season and what’s easily available when searching for local catering vendors and foods. If you are planning an event during the fall, serve apple pie instead of chocolate-covered strawberries imported from Spain.

On another note, one other reason why this strategy may be of interest to you is the fact that it creates an intimate networking environment, where attendees can establish meaningful relationships without feeling forced to run a marathon of networking.

3. Consider portable event environments and pop-up structures

The popularity of pop-up events has grown rapidly, especially for B2C events. Sadly, sustainability isn’t always associated with pop-ups. Creating a temporary space and then tearing it down and disposing of the materials is quite wasteful, even if recycled materials are used. However, there are event design agencies and fabrication firms such as VDA that can help you create branded module event structures that are portable and reusable time and time again.

4. Pick your venue based on sustainability ratings

Choosing a venue is probably one of the most important things to consider when you are planning an event. When evaluating site options, make sure that it has the right sustainability ratings. You can look for venues that have invested in sustainability and have been awarded with LEED certification, or use an industry-specific search engine like GreenBook, which shows green events and eco-friendly venues. A facility that has a good sustainability rating has taken steps to reduce its carbon footprint through the use of recycled materials when building the space, or the use of efficient heating and cooling systems. Partnering with a venue of this type will allow you to keep your event footprint low.

5. Work with sustainable event vendors

Working with sustainable vendors is the key to running a truly green event. By choosing partners who align with your ethics, you can be sure that they’ll do what they can to make your event environmentally friendly. Before choosing a vendor, make a list of the requirements you’re looking for. In this way, you can set your own requirements and then find suppliers who meet them. You may want your event decorations and props to be reusable, so find a supplier that can make this happen for you. Additionally, you could partner with an event design firm that has extensive experience in integrating waste materials into the creation of physical activation. As an example, Boston-based event design agency, VDA, has successfully utilized recycled materials to design numerous green corporate events. Moreover, VDA was also the first to introduce a re-purposing initiative in 2014, which positively impacts the environment by promoting sustainability, recycling event materials, and donating them to local artists. Working with partners who share your values and objectives will make the planning and management process easier, so finding them is a crucial step in your sustainability journey.

6. Create a green catering plan and donate extra food

As food is a major contributor to climate change, making ethical catering decisions is a fundamental element of green event planning.

First, focus on local suppliers. Not only does this reduce the carbon footprint of transportation and packaging, but it also helps support local businesses and communities. Second, look for companies who use sustainable practices in their production processes—this includes using recyclable materials such as glass containers rather than plastic bottles for beverages or using ingredients sourced from organic farms where no pesticides are used. Thirdly (and most importantly), work with your caterer to create menus that minimize waste. Consider reducing the amount of meat served or offering more plant-based dishes. You can also plan a seasonal menu.

Finally, if there’s any food left over after your event has come to an end—don’t throw it away! Instead of letting perfectly good food go bad in landfills where it adds greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere, donate uneaten foods to those in need. Partner with food pantries and donate excess food to them once your event is over. Check with the charity to see what their specific rules are, including whether they need refrigeration or freezing and when they need the food by (this could be right away).

7. Integrate hybrid and virtual events in your strategy

Rather than encouraging all attendees to travel to your events physically, consider providing an option for your audience to attend remotely. You can greatly reduce your event footprint by taking this approach, sometimes by as much as 95%. Using VDA Virtual, you can design an immersive 3D experience that incorporates sights, sounds, and even engagement activities, just as though you were attending the event in person. More broadly, you can use virtual and hybrid elements to bring together people who aren’t able to attend in person. In this way, they can experience parts or all of the event remotely. Plus, virtual events save money on transportation expenses and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

8. Cut down on paper materials and offer digital swag

Make use of technology to your advantage and instead of printing out brochures and other materials, direct attendees to your event website or app. If you think there will be a need to take notes during an event, use scrap paper instead of printing off new sheets each time.

Offer digital event swag as an alternative to traditional materials like pens, t-shirts, and hats. You can also offer digital tickets as opposed to physical ones so that attendees don’t have any waste at the end of the day when their ticket is no longer needed (or lost). There are other fun options for digital swag, such as free online training courses or non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

9. Implement a waste management program

It is imperative to encourage attendees to bring reusable mugs and water bottles from home to minimize trash. Your next line of defense should then be recycling. If you can’t avoid producing trash, the next best thing is to make sure that it’s properly disposed of and recycled. Choose vendors who have a recycling program and use items that are made from recycled materials or biodegradable plastics. Consider the environmental impact of your waste management program. Find out how much energy is used during manufacturing and transportation, as well as what happens to the waste once it’s collected? Are there any emissions associated with disposal? Does this vendor offer compostable or biodegradable material options? Do their trucks run on clean energy sources such as solar or wind power? While composting is an excellent option for some types of food scraps, there are materials that are better suited for backyard compost piles rather than municipal solid waste systems because they can attract pests if not kept moist enough while decomposing in landfills…

Ensure Sustainable Events are Part of the Future

You should spread the word once you have taken steps to make your event more sustainable. Let attendees know what the sustainable aspects of your event are, or that your event is certified sustainable by Wolfpack. In addition, you can engage your attendees by offering rewards, incentives, or recognizing sustainable behaviors such as walking/biking to the event or recycling/composting.

The quest for sustainable events is never complete; there is always room for improvement. On the other hand, a lack of green initiatives in your events will make it harder to attract attendees, speakers, and sponsors.

Creating eco-friendly events can be challenging when it comes to finding the right partners that can help you take this initiative to fruition. Do not worry, VDA is here to help you plan, manage and produce events in compliance with the principles of sustainability.

Back to Viewpoints Overview