With more and more environmentally conscious attendees, the demand for sustainability in the event world has grown exponentially over the last decade- and continues to. That said, you may be wondering why more events aren’t, well, sustainable. Well, when many people think of the word “sustainability”, they tend to equate it with the word “cost effective”, which doesn’t traditionally lend itself to the idea of a classy, spectacular event. However, we’re here to tell you that this is one of the biggest myths in the industry, and there’s not an ounce of truth to it. In fact, the opposite holds much more truth: Sustainable events tend to be more expensive, which is why our five classy ways to implement sustainability into your next event were created with cost-effectiveness in mind.
But it’s worth going the extra (green) mile, and here’s why: By 2020, it’s been projected that hybrid meetings will be the new normal, effectively reducing carbon emissions (and travel costs). Approximately 7 million people die each year from air pollution, a fact that more and more of the mainstream population is becoming aware of. Especially in the Bay Area, people are increasingly serious and passionate about conserving the sustainability of our future world. We could spout out statistics all day, but let’s get straight to the chase. Here’s how to plan a classy sustainable event that is sure to please.
1. Choose Your Sustainable Strategy Wisely
From an experiential perspective, the attendee experience is paramount. With that in mind, let’s talk about sustainable event design. The first thing you’ll need is a sustainability strategy. If this is your first sustainable event (or you could simply use some guidance, which most of us can), try referring to the APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Event Standards. In these guidelines, you will find information and resources about how to locate and choose and evaluate a venue; select transportation and reduce carbon emissions related to your event; and select and evaluate audio visual and production that best fits sustainable criteria.
Referencing these standards is helpful in every event planner, especially if you’re hosting a big event. As per their universal advice, eliminate as many paper options as possible. For example, if your event requires programs, don’t print them. Instead, make them available digitally via an app everyone can share or on screens at the event. (Or, if you have recycled programs from previous events- and they’re in excellent condition- consider reusing those). By doing this, you can actually save thousands of dollars while reducing harm to the environment from your event.
Your goal should be to eliminate excess use of paper altogether. Digital technology is a real boon to sustainable events for this reason. By choosing to communicate with your attendees electronically before, during, and after your event, you’re improving both the sustainability and experiential value of it.
Even admission to your event can be done through e-tickets. This way, you don’t have to rely on paper, and your attendees are spared the encumbrance of printing their tickets.
2. Choose the Best Sustainable Venue for You and Your Attendees
We went over this a bit under #1, but we’d like you to give you some solid tips for finding the perfect event venue for your sustainable event. Only you know your attendees and what they’re looking for in an event. So it’s your job to apply that knowledge, integrating their preferences into an optimum sustainable event design. This, of course, requires a well-prepared venue that is happy to work with you to create the best experience for your attendees.
Although not all ideal venues are green certified, locating a list of ones that are is a good starting point. Green certification actually refers to the structure of the venue itself, and indicates that the building has taken certain measurable steps to become more energy efficient and manage waste more responsibly. The actual term for a green certification is LEED, and ratings apply to determine the level at which the building meets LEED standards.
Although choosing a green certified venue (or one that meets your standards for energy efficiency and sustainable waste removal) is a great step, it’s only the first. Meeting certain “green” standards does not necessarily mean that the venue’s working practices meet adequate sustainability standards for events. So do your research, ask around for references, and communicate directly with the venue owners to find out more about their practices. Have an open conversation with the owners of potential venues about sustainability in general. If your values seem to be aligned, describe your event design and sustainability strategy. The more information that venue owners have, the better they’ll be able to determine whether their venue is compatible with your event design. And, of course, you’ll make the final decision as you learn more.
The good news is that it’s not all on the venue- you can do your part toward making your event more sustainable, and your efforts go a long way. For example, consider location. Hosting your event in an accessible location (i.e., no long-complicated routes or major traffic obstacles) reduces carbon emissions from travel. Needless to say, it also makes your attendees’ trip smoother and less expensive.
If people are flying to attend your event, make sure the venue is a short, accessible distance from the nearest airport. You’ll also want your event to be easily accessible by public transportation.
Ridesharing is a major catalyst for the shift toward sustainability in the event industry- and for good reason. In fact, it’s the signature mode of transportation for millennials, who pride themselves on being environmentally conscious. A recent study by Lyft concluded that 46% of millennials use their own cars less because of Lyft. And impressive 75% of consumers consider a brand’s corporate sustainability practices before making a purchase.
How can you optimize the sustainability of your event with ridesharing? Both Uber and Lyft offer ridesharing codes that can be digitally sent to all of your attendees. It makes transportation easier and more environmentally friendly.
3. Cater to Sustainability and Deliciousness!
We don’t need to tell you that a variety of delicious, sustainable food options are tantamount to an amazing attendee experience. So how can you put it on the menu without completely breaking your bank? This is an important one; according to the most current research, 75% percent of events will only opt for sustainable programs if they are cost-neutral or cost-effective.
For most events, there will be protein and vegetable options. When it comes to putting meat on your menu, you might want to opt out of lamb and beef, and choose poultry, eggs, or pork instead. Why? Of all meats, the production of lamb and beef actually emits the largest amount of greenhouse gases. Of course, you’ll also want to include non-meat proteins such as beans and tofu. In the interest of saving costs, do a little research. Organic meat is always a little more expensive than non-organic choices, there’s no doubt about that. But costs of organic meat do vary based on brand and quality. Don’t feel bad if you can’t afford the very best brands- thorough enough research will give you a clear idea of the sustainability practices of potential vendors.
When it comes to catering, you may want to go local if possible. Bigger corporations sometimes offer better catering deals, but when it comes to sustainability, the costs tend to go up. Local, sustainable caterers can be more accommodating to your unique needs, and the communications flows more easily. And obviously, you save on shopping costs (and environmental concerns about carbon emissions). Remember, today’s attendees are the most conscious, socially responsible consumers yet; they research the events they attend, and the brands and vendors used. A large percentage of attendees really care about sustainability and want to make sure the events they go to don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk.
Another way to reduce catering costs and environmental harm is to avoid air-freighted foods. Some examples include certain tropical fruits and fresh fish. Obviously, avoiding air-freighted foods reduces transport costs and carbon emissions.
Here’s a budgeting tip that may not have occurred to you: If you or your staff has a flair for food art or even just a good eye for aesthetics, employ a little creativity with your fruits and veggies. As we all know, “aesthetically pleasing” foods tend to be plucked from the market first: Round, juicy-looking apples and perfectly pointed carrots, you know the drill. But with a creative, pleasing food design, the “misfits” can be made into art...or be chopped, diced, or sliced into a gorgeous, colorful display. So call your local organic grocer and ask for all the ugly, misshapen fruits and veggies they have- at a discount. (Just make sure the quality and freshness is not diminished- we’re talking pure aesthetics here. If the color is faded because the food isn’t as fresh as its more beautiful neighbors, avoid purchasing at all costs).
4. Manage Waste Responsibly (and Discreetly)
Now for the least glamorous part of planning a classy sustainable event- waste management. When creating event materials, be sure to review data from previous events. This will give you information about which types and quantities of food to put on the menu; ordering too much food leads to more waste, which puts more strain on the environment (and your pocket if you’re managing waste using sustainable methods, which you are).
To start with, replace disposables with as many reusable options as possible. Get out your finest crockery, glassware, and cutlery for the occasion. When your aesthetic is seamlessly integrated with your event design, using glassware instead of paper materials will only enhance the classy look and feel of your event. And instead of using water bottles, which are costly for both event planners and attendees, set up a water refill station on a table with a pretty design. Believe it or not, large events have saved millions of dollars per event this way!
Composting is another viable option for removing food waste. It does cost money, of course, but it may be cheaper than spending landfill fees. And remember, all of your efforts also work toward a longer term goal: to establish you as a sustainable brand, which helps you reach new mainstream and niche audiences, expanding your customer base.
5. Work with Sustainability-Minded Partners, and Build Long-term Relationships with Your Environmentally Conscious Attendees
If you’re working with a partner or sponsor, make sure your values are closely aligned. Most of the time, your sponsors or partners are people you’ve been communicating with for a while. You get to know them naturally over time, through social media or email, and eventually face-to-face. As you do so, you get to know more about their values, and whether they’re aligned with yours. With like-minded partners, you can set measurable targets and goals for current and future events.
What’s the surest way to grow as a sustainable brand? Build long-term relationships with customers and attendees who genuinely care about the environment. Make sure to feature your sustainable events on social media, but also engage in an open, long-term conversation about sustainability with your audience. Doing so not only puts you on the map as a sustainable brand and reaches a broader, environmentally conscious audience, but also shows your customers that your values are aligned with theirs.