Although it may seem inconsequential to adjust a single event in order to integrate sustainable practices, a collective commitment from all event organizers to promote environmentally sustainable events can yield a positive impact on our planet—all without compromising on event quality.

Want to reduce your event team’s carbon footprint? Learn five actionable best practices to planning sustainable events. 

Why host a sustainable event?

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A sustainable event refers to any event, conference, or gathering that is planned through the lens of environmental consciousness. These events are commonly adopted to achieve one or both of the following objectives:

  • Environmental sustainability: Utilizing tools and practices that not only reduce environmental harm but also promote long-term ecological benefit.
  • Economic sustainability: Organizing an event that generates positive economic outcomes and profitability — both for the organization and the local community — all the while ensuring it doesn’t compromise social, cultural, and environmental aspects.

While implementing sustainable practices has become increasingly common, there’s still some work to be done. A recent HeadBox study revealed that 8 out of 10 employees believe the businesses they work for are not running sufficiently sustainable events. 

Benefits of sustainable events

Yet for those companies that do have their eyes on sustainable practices, they reap a plethora of benefits:

  • Increased ROI: Sustainable events actively cut costs by utilizing modern technology to reduce environmentally harmful practices, such as air travel, and limit the number of in-person attendees, resulting in less waste.
  • Enhanced reputation: According to a recent study, 3 in 5 people believe in the importance of businesses acting in an environmentally, eco-friendly way. Additionally, 85% of adults reported the willingness to take personal actions to improve sustainability—including advocating for and attending sustainable events. 
  • Future investment: The main benefit of sustainable events is the investment into a better tomorrow. A small adjustment on behalf of event organizers results in a long-term, positive ripple effect for our planet. 

Fortunately, for an event organizer, hosting a sustainable event doesn’t pose an additional logistical challenge. Instead, by grasping the best practices of sustainable event hosting, they can optimize operations and craft a more efficient and impactful event experience.

5 best practices for sustainable events 

Include environmentally conscious practices in your next event with these 5 tips.

1. Organize event transportation

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Vehicles contribute approximately 1.4 billion tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere annually, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. By organizing transportation for your event, you can help reduce these carbon emissions. Here’s how:

  • Organize a shuttle bus to pick up local attendees.
  • Advocate that attendees carpool with one another to the event.
  • Communicate public transportation options through email. 

An event organizer may also go the extra mile to arrange shared Ubers for attendees, resulting in both lowered carbon emissions and increased attendee satisfaction. 

2. Produce environmentally-friendly swag

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Common event swag includes branded tote bags, keychains, notebooks, water bottles, pens, lanyards, and t-shirts, among others. Improper disposal of swag can lead to substantial environmental waste.

Festivals, for example, produce 25,800 tonnes of waste annually. Event organizers can work to reduce this by creating swag that is environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Instead of using single-use plastics, choose reusable and biodegradable alternatives for items like tote bags, water bottles, and pens. Opt for sustainable materials like organic cotton or recycled polyester for t-shirts and lanyards.

Also, be intentional with the swag you offer, so promotional items don’t go straight to the trash. For example, instead of carrying swag to events, Postal lets attendees select an item they want via a customized swag card with a Postal-generated QR code and then mails it to them.

“This is a great example of changing the way we operate, being more mindful and efficient with the goods we give out, and reducing waste,” says Kiana Ghassemi, Senior Manager, Experience Marketing at Postal. “Corporate responsibility matters, and I think we’ll see more intentional swag options in the event cycles to come.”

3. Opt for an environmentally-conscious venue

For in-person events, consider partnering with a venue that is LEED-certified. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and it signifies that the venue has been officially recognized for meeting high standards in sustainable construction, operation, and maintenance practices.

Further considerations include:

  • How close is the venue to public transportation?
  • If the venue is not LEED-certified, do they uphold environmentally sustainable practices and policies?
  • Does this venue have a reputation for hosting sustainable events?

Many venues have embraced eco-friendly practices, making it easier for event organizers to access the necessary information.

4. Aim to eliminate waste

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According to Lime Venue Portfolio, events waste upwards of 50% of the food made available to attendees. Other common examples of event waste include excessive use of disposable cutlery, plates, and cups that end up in landfills, unused or discarded promotional materials such as brochures, flyers, and branded merchandise, and energy waste from inefficient lighting and equipment usage.

Although completely eliminating waste may not be feasible, implementing sustainable practices helps minimize waste and promote responsible consumption:

  • Embrace sustainable food practices: Work closely with caterers to accurately estimate the amount of food needed and encourage them to prepare only what is necessary. Leftover food can be donated to local charities or food banks instead of becoming food waste.
  • Opt for reusable or compostable alternatives: Instead of disposable cutlery, plates, and cups, consider using reusable options or compostable alternatives made from biodegradable materials. 
  • Prioritize energy efficiency: Utilize energy-efficient lighting solutions, such as LED bulbs, and set up timers or motion sensors to control lighting in areas with low activity. Encourage exhibitors and vendors to use energy-efficient equipment and appliances.
  • Eliminate printed materials: Store agendas, venue maps, and more on a mobile event app to limit printed materials. 

Additionally, event organizers can work to educate attendees and exhibitors about the event’s sustainability initiatives and encourage their participation. They can do this by providing guidelines on responsible waste disposal and offering incentives for eco-friendly behavior, such as discounted entry for bringing reusable water bottles or providing recycling bins for exhibitor booths.

5. Host a virtual event

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Travel—particularly air commute—is a leading driver of environmental damage. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, approximately 10% of total Co2 emissions are tied to travel and the tourism industry. 

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses reconsidered the way they meet and interact, significantly reducing aircraft-induced emissions. Although pandemic restrictions have lifted, the practice of meeting virtually has very much remained—serving as an excellent way to improve event sustainability. 

Through the use of hybrid events, attendees can tune in from anywhere in the world, taking away the necessity for both car and plane travel. This way, event organizers not only broaden their reach but also reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Utilizing technology for sustainable events

The most effective sustainable events adopt event management software. Not only does event technology provide organizers with an abundance of resources — such as gamification, networking, and data capabilities — it also serves as the vehicle through which attendees can tune in from anywhere, with ease. 

The ability to reach a worldwide audience through innovative event management technology helps drive sustainability efforts, such as reduced carbon footprint, less waste, and enhanced communication.

With many in the events industry adopting hybrid events in the spirit of environmental consciousness, they’re turning to all-in-one event management software, like Webex Events, to streamline and simplify the event process—from the initial event planning phase to streamlined registrations and automated post-event communication. 

Webex Events is easy to use, allowing event organizers to prioritize sustainability without compromising on attendee engagement and overall experience.