Historically, the event industry hasn’t been known to be particularly green. Gathering large groups of attendees together can mean lots of food waste, extra electricity use, travel emissions, and unused event materials that become garbage. However, by implementing strategic, incremental changes in the pursuit of sustainable in-person events, our industry could become a leader in sustainable business practices.

It starts with your next event.

Even beyond the environmental and moral implications, sustainability makes sense from a business standpoint, with 86% of people globally saying they want the world to become more sustainable. Aligning your events with these efforts will set you apart from the competition as potential customers see that you’re a part of the solution, not the problem.

As you think about the first steps you can take to make your event more sustainable, consider these five recommendations.

1. Carefully Consider The Location 

You can begin your sustainable in-person events journey with the location itself. When looking into event venues, here are three things to keep in mind.

  • Venue: If your audience is traveling for the event, try to have your venue connected or close to the hotel(s) your attendees are staying in. Walking or group transportation is much more eco-friendly than every participant driving or taking ride shares. This can help reduce the CO2 emissions produced by your event. As an extra bonus, this can make events more affordable for attendees and allow more networking opportunities.
  • Energy: Look for venues that utilize renewable energy. Even if it’s only a percentage of their overall energy consumption, water, wind, or solar energy are much more environmentally friendly than ones that use exclusively non-renewable resources.
  • LEED-certified: A simple way to have an eco-friendly venue is using LEED-certified buildings. Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings are venues that have been verified as having sustainable designs. This means, at the least, part of the materials, water usage, energy, waste, and much more, have complied with LEED requirements. If your venue is certified, it can give you peace of mind that it is a sustainable venue choice.

2. Single Use Is Out

There are a lot of single-use items that come along with event planning, and some may be unavoidable. But setting goals to curb your own levels of single-use products makes a big difference for sustainable in-person events.

  • When in doubt, make it digital: With almost everyone carrying around a smartphone nowadays, there is very little need for physical tickets, presentation handouts, and schedules. These can all be digitized and available on an app or website. Not only does this avoid excess use of paper, but it can also save you money when you don’t have to print thousands of things for one event.
  • Avoid plastic: When serving food and drinks, avoid single-use cutlery. Reusable dinner settings are a no-brainer. No need to use excess amounts of plastic — some venues or caterers even provide reusable dinnerware. If they do not offer this service, consider buying your own which can be used for future events as well.

3. Green Cuisine

When picking out a menu or snacks and drinks for your attendees, there are a lot of ways to make your food and catering more sustainable.

  • Catering: When choosing a caterer, look for companies that prioritize local, in-season produce. Prioritizing local caterers also limits travel expenses.
  • The menu: Meat, especially red meat, takes a lot of water and land to grow while producing large amounts of CO2. When picking a menu, prioritize plant-based meals and snacks. Plant-based is also more inclusive to vegetarian and vegan attendees than animal product-based meals. Getting condiments in bulk instead of individually packaged is another way to cut back on waste.
  • Leftovers: If you have any leftover, untouched food, look into donating to a local non-profit instead of simply throwing it away. Rescuing Leftover Cuisine is an example of a charity that takes leftover food donations. Make sure they take excess food, not just shelf-stable items. If this isn’t possible in your area, try composting what you can.

4. Get Smart About Waste

One of the easiest ways to achieve more sustainable in-person events is to recycle, but this must be done correctly.

  • Recycle and compost: Where you have a trash bin in your venue, add a recycling bin. Every county has different recycling rules, so do some research on what you can recycle, and label your recycling bin accordingly. Make sure it’s next to most of your landfill bins to make recycling convenient for your attendees.
  • Food waste: If you have meals or snacks at your event, add composting bins as well. Putting a small explanation on or above your compost area is a great idea to help educate and encourage your attendees to compost their food waste.

5. Sustainable Swag

From gift bags to branded items, these fun little items can actually lead to more waste. But no one wants to give it all up. These are changes you can implement in your swag bag to be more sustainable.

  • The item: Promote sustainability with your items. Nowadays everything can be branded. Instead of branding a pen, like everyone else, try getting branded reusable straws or small notebooks made from sustainable materials.
  • Extras: Donating is one of the best ways to be sustainable. You don’t need to throw out good things! If you have extra items (even branded) you can donate them. Schools and shelters often need office supplies and clothing. Donating these items means they aren’t sitting in a landfill.
  • Swag bags: When preparing gift bags, consider an open pick-up set-up. Set up your items in sections, and give attendees a renewable bag. They can fill their bags with what they want and will use. This helps reduce the number of items that end up discarded by attendees after the event.

With so many small decisions and details that go into planning and executing an event, there are just as many opportunities to choose sustainable options along the way. For event managers, it may not be possible to overhaul their practices overnight. The important thing is that you are giving sustainability the careful consideration it deserves for each of your events.

We’d love to hear from you about the ways you’ve made your events more sustainable. Tweet us at @AllAmericanEnt_ to share!