Memorial Weekend special—double your chances to win $250! Take the survey.
Memorial Weekend special—now through Monday, every survey response counts as TWO entries to win $250! Take the survey.

Checklist: 9 Key Steps to Producing a Truly Sustainable Event

Here’s how you can consider your carbon footprint before, during, and after an event.

I Stock 1340881556
Photo: Petmal/iStock

“Every decision you make during an event has repercussions on the environment,” says Martha Keele, COO of Alaska-based event planning company Toast of the Town LLC. Follow this step-by-step checklist to ensure you're making your event as sustainable as possible. 

1. Build sustainability into your conversations from the very beginning.
Think about your event’s impact every step of the way—especially at the beginning of the planning process. Two key considerations? Choice of venue and catering partners, Keele says. Ask some key questions upfront, she advises: “Are they recycling and reusing? Are they donating unused food to a mission or food bank? Where is the food coming from? Can we work with our venue to, instead of paper and plastic, get in actual linen or biodegradable materials?”

Similar conversations need to be happening with clients. “They’ll come to us at the very end of the event and ask to put out recycling bins,” Keele says. “And yes, we should do that—but if that's your goal, let's start talking about it months ahead of time when we can actually make a serious impact.”

2. Add time to do it right.
Of course, having these conversations early and often takes time—and a little extra effort. Evan Collier, founder of New York-based fabrication company ARCH Production & Design Inc., says his sustainable efforts are often challenged by short timelines. “When we have two weeks to produce something, you're likely not getting good quality parts, we’re not properly cleaning up, we’re shipping stuff when the paint is still wet,” he points out.

All of which leads to waste and items that are less likely to be reused—or even issues where colors and materials don’t come out the way the client expected and need to be redone. This leads to even more waste of both materials and human resources, Collier notes. “Producers need to be setting boundaries with clients in terms of timelines.”

3. Lean on technology.
 In our new hybrid world, clients should also be encouraged to think carefully about who they actually need on-site. “Is it worth the budget and the impact to fly somebody from Australia, or should we have them join us virtually and give a wonderful presentation?” Keele asks.

She also emphasizes how a robust event app can cut down on paper waste. “Instead of investing in all that paper print, which will likely get stuck in the trash afterwards, we put it all online on an app and on the website,” Keele says. “All the session resources, down to all the downloadable documents, get loaded—and then people are able to really self-navigate.”

Just make sure to make it user-friendly for guests who are used to note-taking, she adds, by encouraging them to bring their own computers or having options to annotate directly in the app.

4. Think carefully about your materials.
“Sustainability starts with the concept and design,” says Collier, noting that he always encourages clients to think about the impact of what they’re asking for. Can the materials be reused or upcycled—or better yet, created from something that has already been reused or upcycled?

Of course, many clients will want something on-brand and customized. At that point, Collier focuses on the materials used. “It's better to do a painted finish than it is to do a vinyl wrap, for instance,” he advises, noting that projections can also be a good, sustainable option.

5. Get vendors working together to cut down on the number of deliveries.
Collier also advises having vendors communicate and share resources. “If we can group our delivery with the lighting, sound, or staging company, we cut down on having to use multiple trucks and equipment rentals,” he points out. “That minimizes the carbon footprint.”

Collier stresses the importance of careful internal organization here. “If we can get really organized internally, and have a very clear list of things that we need to get for a project, we can really minimize the waste.” Take a cue from sites like Amazon, he says, which allows you to group your deliveries for a more sustainable option.

6. Be thoughtful about your swag.
Sponsors and exhibitors are unlikely to want to eliminate gifts and premiums all together—but there are certainly ways to reduce the environmental impact. “We suggest, ‘Don't come with the pen or the stress ball or the notepad of paper. Come with the branded water bottle or the metal straw or the great tote bag,’” Keele says. “If we're going to invest in something, let's make it something that guests will use afterward.”

7. Educate your staff.
In addition to educating clients, it’s important to get your staff on board with the extra considerations. “It's a lot easier to just throw something in a bin and assume the venue's going to take care of it at the end of the project,” Keele points out. “From a professional development view, there needs to be staff training on why this is a priority."

8. Encourage refurbishing.
After an event, reusing items can be a great way to reduce your impact. “It’s something that we need to build into the culture. For example, you don’t always need new lanyards every year,” Keele says. “Order something that can be multiyear—besides, it helps your budget to order in bulk.”

Refurbishing is also hugely important to Collier, who always encourages clients to store fabricated items at ARCH’s facility after an event. “The next year, we can clean it up, put on the new branding, add some new bells and whistles. So they'll get three or four years, maybe five years, out of one item,” he says.

Collier adds that real progress will come when event vendors start taking a stand. If clients prefer to dispose of items rather than pay for storage, for example, the ARCH team charges them an extra fee for upcycling—and then makes every effort to reuse the item internally or give it away via Craigslist or eBay. He also likes to donate items to reuse centers like Materials for the Arts.

9. Build on your progress every year.
“Every decision you make during an event has repercussions on the environment,” Keele notes. “Start by asking, ‘What can I easily do to make a difference for my first year?’ And then build on that.”

Page 1 of 116
Next Page