Sustainability FIRST: 8 Ways to Make Your Event More Sustainable

Events can take a heavy toll on resources and the environment: they can generate significant waste, and put a strain on local resources like water and energy. Thus the popularity of “green” meetings and events has skyrocketed over the past few years, and as a result, FIRST has worked with several clients on how to execute their programs more sustainably.

What exactly is a “green” event?

According to the Green Meeting Industry Council, “a green meeting [or event] incorporates environmental considerations throughout all stages of the meeting in order to minimize negative impact on the environment”. Both the Green Meeting Industry Council and the EPA have compiled a list of standards that an event must meet in order to qualify as a green event. Meeting these requirements not only provides immense environmental benefits but can result in certain monetary advantages for agencies. For example; utilizing re-usable name badge holders for an event of 1,300 attendees can save approximately $975 for the next program. Going green can also increase the positive press of an event.

So, where to start?

Although it may seem overwhelming, achieving increased sustainability is possible. These eight tips can help spearhead eco-friendliness for any event.

1. Make a Plan

One of the most important steps in achieving a more eco-friendly event model is identifying past environmental issues and how to fix them. Through this analysis comes the formation of new internal environmental policies that should be shared among the entire team, with suppliers and with clients.

The International Organization for Standardization offers ISO 20121, which shares guidance and best practices to help you control events’ social, economic and environmental impacts. Every action counts, from relying on tap water instead of plastic bottles to encouraging use of public transportation. Their flexible approach means that it can be used for all types of events, from music festivals to school outings.

2. Venue Selection

A key aspect of any event is the venue. To be eco-friendly, it is helpful to look for venues that are centrally located to public transportation, large enough to hold the entire number of attendees, and have third-party sustainability certifications, Green Key, APEX/ASTM). Multiple FIRST clients utilize hotels that are economically focused, such as 1 Hotels, which implements initiatives for food, energy, and waste sustainability.

3. Transportation

This goes hand-in-hand with the venue location. A more central location can provide attendees with the option to walk, bike, carpool, or take public transportation. This is a key element in becoming more eco-friendly since it is reported that transportation contributes to 75-90% of the carbon footprint. By partnering with eco-conscious transportation providers, such as Driving Force Global who offset their carbon emissions for each event, you are reducing the impact your events have on the environment.

4. Food & Beverage

The most eco-friendly food distributors will be the ones that purchase organic, local, and seasonal products. Extra points if they use re-usable packaging! Leftover food is commonly thrown away but can actually help others in need. Before the event, try to partner with a local food bank. That way, all leftovers will be put to good use. There are a lot of restrictions with donating food from hotels, so start conversations about this early!

FIRST works with one client to donate all leftover food, whenever it is possible to do so. Organizations such as Rescuing Leftover Cuisine can discuss post-event food donations in the lead-up to an event to ensure preparedness and minimize waste.

5. Event Technology

Go digital; the less paper involved the better! Successful eco-friendly events offer electronic presentations and information. Eco-friendly technology is also available, like plasma, and utilizes less energy. For example, one of our clients has gone completely paperless, and has replaced printed programs with digital signage and a smartphone app for all event needs including PowerPoints and agendas. FIRST has worked with several clients to move to these more digital substitutes.

Some clients have even opted to include an additional question on their event registration website that asks delegates if they would like to opt for soft copies of all materials and publications instead of hard copies. This option is easy to implement and makes a big difference. The number of soft copies for these clients has increased each year, and is now about 50/50.

6. Event Registration & Check-in 

Ditch the long lines of check-in at an event and be more “green”, by allowing virtual registration. Your attendees will thank you for the shorter registration lines, and you’ll be making a sustainable choice!

FIRST develops custom apps for events, and can answer any questions you have about how to move to an app-based check-in process.

7. Décor Waste

Once an event is over, it is easy to simply toss away the used materials and signage. Instead, try donating furniture to a company like PickUpPlease or sell items on eBay. If there are leftover flowers, donate them to a company like Repeat Roses.

8. Attendee Gifts and Branded Materials

More and more FIRST clients consider environmentally friendly and sustainable gifts, which can be branded just like traditional gifts. One company, Relan, even repurposes event marketing materials to make bags and other gifts that would otherwise end up in landfills. ZEAL Optics uses plant-based materials in all its sunglasses and frames. The Eco Compact Umbrella is made from recyclable and sustainable materials such as a bamboo handle, recycled aluminum shaft, and PET fabric made from recycled materials. A company logo can be placed on the umbrella canopy and/or carrying case.

All aspects of an event contribute to its sustainability. Being proactive about making environmental changes can drive events to eco-friendly success. Let us know what you’re doing to go green on our social media channels!