An 8-Step Guide to Planning Sustainable Events
Large events are prone to numerous unsustainable practices, even at companies where sustainability is already a corporate goal. Waste and consumption are rampant, and often accepted as necessary evils. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to remedy these practices, and whether you implement them all or just a few, it’s time to take steps in the right direction.
1. Make a Plan for Your Sustainable Practices and Share It!
One of the biggest reasons events create so much waste is that there isn’t a cohesive plan to reduce it and hired vendors aren’t given directives to implement sustainable practices. When team members, vendors, and attendees don’t know they should be doing something different, they will default to standard practices, which are often wasteful.
Create plans that account for sustainability in all areas, including vendors and venues, as well as power usage and waste disposal. Then be sure to communicate those plans to everyone involved, including your attendees. Let people know how they should dispose of food, trash, recycling, etc., and provide facilities for both vendors and attendees that meet their unique needs.
2. Choose The Right Vendors
With defined goals and guidance in place from the very beginning, you can build sustainable practices into your event by choosing vendors who already have environmentally friendly policies. Even as you choose a venue, you have the opportunity to choose a location that aligns with your goals; there are a number of venues right here in Austin that are making the effort to “go green.” Barr Mansion is a stellar example of the movement that has venues around the world making sustainable changes.
3. Accurately Plan Your Resources
Evaluate usage and waste at previous events to better predict consumption and resource needs at your next one. Be sure to choose a venue that is appropriately sized for your needs and to source the appropriate amounts of materials to avoid needless excess. Then be sure to track how accurate your predictions were so that you can continue to hone your practices.
4. Tackle Food Waste
The food you dump in the trash after an event isn’t the only waste we’re talking about here. For every ounce of food consumed or dumped, there’s also the environmental cost of producing and transporting it. So, the first step in addressing food waste is to choose caterers who use responsibly, locally grown or produced ingredients. Luckily, Austin is home to lots of vendors, like Royal Fig Catering, who are deliciously sustainable.
Caterers know that a lot of food goes into the trash after events, but ensuring there is enough food and that their customers are happy often overshadows that awareness. Letting your caterer know you want to reduce waste and creating a plan with them to do so will help alleviate some of those pressures.
Pre-portioning items on a buffet, providing smaller serving utensils and shallower pans, and implementing a sustainable approach to refreshing depleted food options can all reduce the amount of wasted food at the end of an event. You should make a plan ahead of time to donate whatever unused food you can so that perfectly good resources aren’t tossed in the trash. Locally, Keep Austin Fed is a great resource to determine what plans you should make to ensure your remaining food adheres to donation guidelines. For the scraps on people’s plates, consider providing a compost bin next to your trash and recycling bins.
5. Find Ways to Utilize Renewable Energy & Reduce Energy Use
Solar-powered generators are an excellent alternative to diesel options, and you can minimize energy usage by choosing LED light sources and appropriately sized spaces for your event. For the times when a diesel generator is essential, be sure to rent one that is appropriately sized for your forecasted energy needs. And finally, make plans for powering down your event afterward and/or between sessions. There’s no need to leave things running when no one is using the facilities, and communicating a plan to your team will ensure that everyone knows their role in the process.
6. Eliminate Single-Use Products
From brochures to cups for water, unsustainable practices at large events are most evident in the sheer amount of waste they produce. Taking steps to eliminate these throwaway items or to rent re-usable options can make a huge impact.
You can start by simply telling attendees to bring water bottles (or, if you have swag bags, including a water bottle there), and eliminating disposable cups at water stations. For food service, hire a vendor to provide tableware, etc. that can be washed and reused for other events. If you’re bold, you may even consider the latest service options to hit the market – edible dinnerware, from cutlery to cups.
7. Go Paperless
On the business side of your event, choose technology over paper or other disposable products. Create a website or an app to deliver info directly to your attendees’ smart phones, tablets, and computers, rather than providing printed materials. And for stage design, consider using projections to jazz things up, rather than costly set materials.
8. Use Recyclable Products
When you must purchase single-use items for your event, source recyclable (or better yet recycled) materials to create them whenever possible. Avoid plastic products and other unsustainable materials as much as possible. Be sure that you hire a waste management vendor who will ensure that your recycling and waste plans are implemented when these products go into the trash.
Beginning your journey to sustainable event practices can start with just one or all of these tips. The important thing is to start somewhere.