6 Tips for a Sustainable and Responsible Event
Whenever the topics of sustainability, green movements, and environmentalism come up, I always think of the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy.” There’s a scene where the heroes debate what they should do with an item they believed to be harmless but turned out to be a potentially deadly weapon.
Rocket: Just give it to Ronan.
Quill: So he can destroy the galaxy?
Rocket: What are you, some saint, all of the sudden? What’s the galaxy ever done for you? Why would you want to save it?
Quill: Because I'm one of the idiots who lives in it!
There are several reasons that people adopt green initiatives and become involved in recycling programs, but ultimately, it comes down to them being one of the people who live on this planet.
Historically, events have been bastions of waste: reams of paper utilized for printed materials, electricity cranked to support countless shiny objects, and waste generated by hundreds of attendees. Fortunately, awareness and technology are helping event planners take thoughtful approaches to their expositions that promote green initiatives to minimize waste and reduce the carbon footprint.
If you would like your event to become more environmentally friendly – and, chances are that if you are thinking about it, your attendees are too – here are a few tips to get you started.
Determine Where You Can Improve
It does no good to try and blindly make improvements. You may wind up missing the areas that need the most improving and “fixing” the parts that were doing just fine (possibly to their detriment).
When you start to find these inefficiencies, you may also be surprised to discover that by making some changes, you will likely be able to save some money. For example, by reducing the amount of single-use waste, you can also lower your disposal costs, and by reducing the use of fossil-burning energy, you may also lower your energy costs.
Create a Sustainability Policy
Like everything to do with your event, by clearly defining your reasons and intentions, you have a roadmap to weigh, balance, and justify every decision you will eventually need to make down the road. A robust sustainability policy should highlight the values of your event and overall brand. Clearly state what is important to you – such as sustainability, diversity, inclusivity, transparency, etc. – so these values can be easily identified and followed.
Next, list the issues you just identified as inefficient. For example, you may wish to decrease energy consumption or use of plastics. If your event is an outside festival, you may try to minimize your impact on the physical environment. Once these issues are stated, it’s time to establish some goals that clearly declare how you intend to solve these issues, such as “Include a ‘Carbon Footprint Fee’ in the ticket price,” or “Use only compostable and biodegradable plates and utensils in concession areas.”
Once a carefully outlined and thoughtful sustainability policy is in place, you will discover that it is much easier to accomplish your green goals.
Be Patient as You Phase in These Initiatives
Depending on the complexity of your green renovation plans, it may not be feasible to achieve everything right out of the gate. Carefully prioritize your goals, be sure to give yourself enough time, and its usually advisable to place the most easily achievable goals first.
For example, at many events, transportation to and from the venue is a massive source of carbon emissions. It may be a reasonably straightforward process to dissuade single car use by setting up transportation (such as shuttles that pick up from two or three centralized points), rideshare apps, or carpooling to minimize the number of vehicles that travel to the event. Some rideshare apps may even provide you with a discount if you guarantee a specific amount of rides.
Your choice of venue can also help lower the number of people who arrive by car. For example, you could select a hotel as the venue so, for most attendees, the biggest trip is an elevator ride, or the venue could have transportation stops at or near the building.
Paper anything is actually a burden in 2019. Prove to your attendees that you are not stuck in the past while making a significant dent in the amount of waste produced at your event by going paperless.
Create an event app to host and communicate all the event information. Maps and directions, schedules, handouts, coupons, incentives, and more can all be run through the app. Even ticketing can be handled through someone’s smartphone, which has the bonus of making the event check-in process move quicker.
Going paperless is also a cost-saving measure. Not only do you avoid the charge of printing hundreds or thousands of pages but any changes to scheduling or fixing a typo happens with a few keystrokes instead of several recalls and reprints.
Thoughtfully Organize Waste Management
Attendees need policing – even well-meaning people may not give enough thought to how they dispose of bottles, cans, etc. While you may put out recycling bins, if you do not label them appropriately, guests will not give much thought to what they place in there, which will lead to contaminated recycling and a potentially wasted effort on your part.
Make sure that signage delineating recycling and garbage is obvious and easy to read. If you have bins dedicated to specific items – such as paper, glass, cans, etc. – it is a good idea to shape the opening so only those items fit. That way, even someone who is not paying attention will have to take notice and follow your plan. However, don’t be too picky. If you place a detailed list of what’s appropriate and what’s not, you’re just going to wind up with annoyed guests, ignored instructions, and contaminated recycling. Keep it clear, concise, and straightforward.
When hiring a waste and recycling contractor, make sure to follow up on where they actually take the refuse. Some companies that use the term “zero waste to landfill” simply take what they collect to an incinerator. The whole point of recycling is to reuse these valuable resources, not just set them on fire. Also, work with your catering contractor to set up composting stations. Food waste is actually a real problem in landfills, so do everything you can to reduce it.
Speaking of food, you can make an arrangement with a food donation charity to ensure that good, unused food that would otherwise be wasted is sent to those in need. You can also find local organizations in need of your specific supplies donate any leftovers.
Carefully Select Your Partners
When searching for your event’s venue and vendors, make sure their commitment to sustainability matches yours. Try to find sites and suppliers that have certifications from sustainable organizations.
Before entering into negotiations with suppliers, ask yourself what your dream vendor looks like. Then create a list of these criteria. You may be surprised how many vendors either meet your needs or can adjust for the opportunity of working with you.
If your venue supports green initiatives, then it is likely the power it supplies is generated from renewable sources, but always doublecheck. You can also work with your event production company and AV team to see how they can help close energy inefficiencies. Making little changes, like switching to LED lighting, can make a big difference when it comes to lowering your event’s footprint.
The steps we take now – both big and little – will go a long way toward maintaining our planet’s dwindling resources. After all, we’re the ones living here.