Did you know that an average trade show results in a considerable carbon footprint? The average trade show guest is said to generate approximately 20 pounds of waste during the event. This waste is generated from factors like a person’s chosen mode of transportation, paper use and packaging, and even swag. (Yes, people throw away swag.)
At this rate, an average convention with 1,000 attendees will generate about 580 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
These emissions, also known as greenhouse gases, are responsible for various environmental and health effects that slowly make the planet uninhabitable. They cause climate change by trapping heat. These gases also contribute to the rise in respiratory diseases (especially in vulnerable, under-resourced communities) due to smog and air pollution. Numerous distressing phenomena, like extreme weather, increased wildfires, and food supply disruptions, are also caused by these greenhouse gases.
Looking at what carbon emissions are capable of, it only makes sense for humanity to try and reduce the collective greenhouse gases generated by various human-made activities.
In contrast, the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us a different reality. In regions where governments actively enforced distancing and lockdown, air quality improved significantly. Although this isn’t necessarily a silver lining of the pandemic, it is a window to a different outcome, one where the planet and the collective health of humanity and other living species are greatly improved.
With the proliferation of virtual events and virtual conferences, the pandemic has shown us that virtual doesn’t have to mean low-quality. Advancements in virtual event technology and other online platforms, coupled with eco-friendly event planning, have greatly improved the quality of numerous virtual events. This time, we can enjoy our virtual events without harming the planet.
In this article, we walk you through everything you need to know about putting together a green event. We also include best practices and ideas that you can implement at your next in-person, hybrid, or virtual event.
What is a green event?
As the name suggests, a green event is an event that takes a strategic approach to minimize waste generated before and during the event, thereby reducing its impact on the planet. As a term, green is pretty interchangeable with phrases like eco-friendly, environmentally-friendly, sustainable, etc.—we’re just sticking with green for simplicity. And green is pretty.
Although there are no existing regulations that explicitly categorize an event as “green,” reducing the consumption of energy and materials are two of the common ways to improve an event’s sustainability.
Furthermore, it’s essential to distinguish between events that push an environmental agenda and events that implement sustainable practices.
Events designed by organizations with an environment-friendly focus, like the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Greenpeace, and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), belong to the first classification. While groups like these organize events to further their environment-focused agenda, it’s also possible that some events mounted by similar organizations don’t implement sustainable elements or eco-friendly practices.
Meanwhile, events that are not focused on a green agenda can implement sustainable practices, like reducing paper consumption or using energy-efficient equipment. We include some event examples below.
What is sustainable event management?
Sustainable event management is a practice implemented by event organizers to design and curate an environmentally-friendly event. Event consultants find processes that protect the environment while creating an experience that attendees will remember and enjoy.
As stated above, although there are no set green event guidelines, there are widely accepted practices that can help you plan a sustainable event. And as the world becomes more environmentally conscious, sustainable event management will no doubt grow more popular.
How to make an event green?
As more and more people and organizations are becoming conscious about their impact on the environment, more people are asking how to make an event sustainable.
There are different ways to make your event green-approved. But depending on the event’s size, scope, and nature, event organizers can use various methods to decrease the event’s environmental impact.
Below, we outline some event organizers who are known for mounting green events and implementing green practices to reduce an event’s impact.
Green event best practices
Numerous event planning companies in the U.S. implement green practices. If you’re in Jersey City, you might want to check out Greater Good Events. They work with eco-friendly vendors and source fair trade, ethical, and locally grown products. Wherever possible, they prefer reused and recycled items and set up donation opportunities after the event, from florals and food to decor and clothing.
In the wedding planning industry, there’s Field & Gown, a company based in Vienna, Virginia. They aim to provide environmentally friendly alternatives to wedding decor without sacrificing aesthetics. For furniture and props, they scour local flea markets and antique stores—a practice that reduces the amount of plastic used in shipping.
There are obviously numerous companies in the digital services industry that went entirely virtual because of the pandemic or were already there before. We’re one of them, and it was a decision we did not arrive at lightly. In fact, buyt having an intentional focus on our own environmental footprint, it enables us to consult clients who share that intention in that direction.
Furthermore, we make it a point to donate to environmental causes regularly. When it comes to the conservation of the environment, every little bit from everyone helps.
Sustainable ideas for your next event
If you can’t get an event consultant trained in sustainable event management practices, don’t worry! We have some ideas below that can get you started.
Reduce paper consumption
A huge amount of paper is typically consumed before, during, and even after an event, from event checklists to invitations, and event decor to thank you notes. Consciously reducing your paper consumption is one of the simplest yet most impactful ways to make your next event eco-friendly.
Instead of paper checklists, you can use online project management tools, checklist apps, or email. Instead of sending out paper invitations, you can go the digital route. You can send an email to your invitees that could lead them to a website where all the pertinent information can be found.
If using paper can’t be avoided, you might want to look into using plantable paper or seed paper, which can be planted and grow into a vegetable or indoor plant. This can also double as a gift or event giveaway for your guests. And as the plant grows in their gardens or indoor pots, attendees get the pleasure of being close to nature. If your event has a particular environment-conscious message, plants from seed paper can help drive this message home to the event’s attendees well after the event has ended.
Choose eco-conscious venues
With the increase in environmental awareness, there’s also a rise in event venues or hotels that are designed to reduce carbon footprints. An example is the Waldorf Astoria in Las Vegas, Nevada. The luxury hotel doesn’t simply provide guests with the five-star treatment, but they also feature energy-saving lights, eco-friendly cleaning products, and organic cuisine. It also boasts of a LEED Gold certification, which means that the building and facilities are energy- and resource-efficient.
If the event spaces and hotels in your area aren’t LEED-certified, here are some things you can look for:
- The buildings or facilities are made from sustainable materials — Examples of sustainable materials are bamboo, adobe, wood, cork, and straw, among others. Generally, these materials have to be reusable, recyclable, and of course durable.
- Low-energy lighting, electricity, and heating — The establishment uses energy- and resource-efficient lighting, heating, and electricity by using solar panels and LED light bulbs, among others.
- Energy-saving windows — These windows are designed to prevent hot or cold air from escaping a room. The increased insulation from these windows reduces the overall energy usage, making it resource-efficient without compromising on comfort.
Make recycling easy
Reduce the need for transportation
Travel, most specifically air travel, is one of the biggest carbon emitters. No matter where you hold your event, the guests will need transportation to get to the venue. If transportation can’t be avoided, you can still make this element as environment-friendly as possible. You can organize shuttle or carpooling services to help your guests get from the airport, train station, bus station, and hotels to the event venue and back. Having this service does not only reduce carbon emissions, it also helps make the attendees feel more relaxed since they don’t have the worry about securing parking, renting a vehicle, or navigating through traffic to make it to your event on time.
Yet another option for reducing transportation-related carbon emissions is by going hybrid or virtual. Hybrid events still significantly decrease your event’s carbon footprint by making the event available for a large portion of your attendees online. Meanwhile, going fully virtual is one of the sure-fire ways to cut down on carbon emissions as no one needs to travel to get to your event at all.
Examples of sustainable events
We would feel awkward taking you this far down the green events rabbit hole without leaving you with a few examples of sustainable events that have caught our attention. This is not a best-of list, nor a comprehensive one. Just food for thought-starting.
Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games
The 2014 iteration of the Commonwealth Games is the first to secure the ISO 20121 sustainability standard. The ISO 20121 is the international standard for sustainable events.
The Glasgow Commonwealth Games featured a wide range of eco initiatives, including a zero waste to landfill policy. The event organizers achieved this by composing all food waste and disposable cutlery generated during the games. They also reused about 260,000 equipment and furniture from the London 2012 Olympics.
The event also featured Recycling Ambassadors composed of volunteers. They helped the attendees with recycling. They were also responsible for ensuring that waste generated by the ceremony parties were dealt with in an environmentally-friendly manner.
However, the games’ reuse recycle ethos didn’t stop there. The games venues were constructed on a foundation of recycled food waste. In addition, food and garden waste collected from households all over Scotland were composted and reused to construct the Athletes’ Village.
Oracle, a multinational computer technology corporation, holds annual conferences in San Francisco, with the goal of inspiring its attendees by engaging in sustainability practices while creating legacies that benefit the host destination.
The 2014 event featured two initiatives designed to meet these goals. Among these initiatives was a workshop designed for the next generation of programmers. It attracted about 150 young people, who learned about engineering, robotics, and programming.
The participants consisted of students from local underperforming schools and children of conferences attendees, who paid a registration fee to join. Proceeds were donated to Black Girls Code, a local organization that aims to increase the number of African-American women in the computer science and technology fields.
Furthermore, the conference donated 9,390 meals to people in need. The organizers also distributed other unused and non-perishable items, like toilet and soap, to various community projects and charities.
The Croissant Neuf Summer Party
The Croissant Neuf Summer Party is an annual family festival that takes place in Wales. It has been recognized as the Greenest Festival in the UK three times. The event also runs exclusively on solar energy.
Solar panels and wind turbines power everything at the festival, from the sound equipment to the event lighting. The event also used the latest LED technology, which made the event energy-efficient. In fact, the lighting used for the event’s main stag was found to have used less energy than the average hairdryer.
In addition, the food and drink served at the festival were purely organic. The organizers also successfully recycled 95% of the waste generated during the event and they pledged to plant three trees for every car that enters the event grounds.
Hopefully this article has inspired you to prioritize green practices at your next event, whether it’s a fundraiser, conference, festival, or virtual versions of these events.