Planning events is a massive task, but one we continue to undertake due to the positive impact they generate: for attendees, the organisation and the bottom line. But as the need to protect our planet from the effects of climate change grows, it’s important that we also consider the impact events have on the environment.
Today, consumers and event attendees expect a certain standard when it comes to sustainability. A recent Forbes article said that 88% of consumers want brands to help them become more environmentally friendly. So by making sustainability a focus, you can build positive brand awareness with your attendees.
In this article, we’ll highlight the best ideas for sustainable event planning and management that leave a positive impact on the environment, the community and your bottom line.
How do you plan a sustainable event?
Planning a sustainable event is not about reinventing the wheel. It’s simply about opting for more sustainable options at every step. From choosing who will supply your catering, to the types of merchandise on offer, these small choices all contribute to reducing the environmental impact of your event.
If you’re in the early stages of planning for an event, it’s important to set your goals and expectations early on by creating an event sustainability plan. As the event planner, you have the most power to make sustainability a priority in the pre-planning stages before any decisions or budget allocations have been made. Check out this free guide to planning green events from Melbourne City Council.
So as you start building your event sustainability plan, review these five steps and consider answering the questions under each point.
What are the 5 steps to creating more sustainable events?
Here are a few simple things you can consider during the event planning phase to ensure your event embraces a more sustainable event strategy.
1. Choosing the venue
- Is it easily accessible with public transport?
- Can you facilitate shuttle bus or carpool options?
- Is the venue energy efficient?
- Does the venue already have equipment you can use, or will you need to buy a lot of new equipment and items?
- Can you offer an online format to reduce the number of attendees who need to travel?
2. Reduce waste and recycle
- Does the venue already have recycling?
- Can you organise reusable crockery and cutlery?
- Can you organise recycling bins for guests?
- Swap bottled water in single-use plastic for refillable water stations
- Ditch plastic straws and bags for the use of more recyclable materials
3. Choosing vendors
- Pick local vendors who reduce travel time
- Does the caterer use local ingredients?
- Can you organise a charity to donate any leftover food to?
- Select vendors who have credentials such as Sustainable Event Alliance, Sustainable Brands, or Certified B Corporations to void unnecessary food waste
- Partner with sustainable hotels for accommodation
- Look for sponsors who align with your values and sustainable goals
- Is there a community group or non-profit you can pattern with to raise funds?
4. Swap paper for digital
- Optimize social media and your website for advertising
- Use digital tickets and QR code scanners
- Use Rosterfy to manage volunteer rostering and check-in and check out - removes the need for paper spreadsheets plus it reduces margins for human error!
- Create an app instead of printing out booklets or programs
- Set up online volunteer registrations, training and volunteer background checks online through Rosterfy
- Send volunteer briefs via email to save on printing and paper
- Choose a sustainable merchandise supplier
- Opt for reusable gifts such as water bottles, seed packets, coffee cups or bags
- Collect staff and volunteer uniforms after the event so they can be washed and reused for multiple events
- Recycle or upcycle any excess stock
Importance of sustainability in events
The events industry hasn’t always had a good reputation when it comes to sustainability. One report found that more than 40% of waste from events ends up in landfills. Add to that the extra emissions generated from attendee travel, and it’s clear that these negative impacts arising from unsustainable events need to change.
Sustainable event planning is not a trend, it’s a strategy at the heart of all forward-looking businesses and an important part of your practice as event professionals.
Sustainable events not only save resources and reduce the environmental impact, but they are also beneficial for the business. Embracing a sustainable strategy can put you ahead of competitors and attract attendees and sponsors with similar ideals while also saving money by reducing the number of resources you need to buy.
But ultimately, sustainable event planning is about much more than just the impact on our business; it's ensuring we protect the future of the planet we all live on.
Choosing the location for your sustainable event
As we mentioned above, choosing the location of your green event is a major factor when it comes to ensuring the event is run as sustainably as possible.
An event with easy access to public transport encourages attendees to ditch the car and jump on the train or bus instead. It also means you don't have to worry about car parking space. Try to match event times to the public transport timetable, as there’s no point starting your event at 6am if the first train isn’t until 6:30am.
If the venue is not convenient for public transport, there are still ways to reduce the footprint from travel. Encourage guests to carpool or get in a shared Uber or Taxi. Alternatively, you could put on a shuttle bus service that picks attendees up from a central point and drops them back there at the end of the event.
If you are running an outdoor event, consider the need for additional bathrooms, shade, seating and of course rubbish bins, making sure that the natural environment is returned to its original condition at the conclusion of the event.
Looking at an event’s carbon footprint, a massive 70% of CO2 emissions are from air travel. So when you have guests flying in from further abroad, it’s important to provide ways to combat these emissions. Consider paying to offset emissions, or reducing the frequency of these types of events.
Alternatively, eliminate travel completely by running the event online. Let’s take a look at running sustainable events online.
Sustainable online events
While the pandemic forced many events to take place online, we also know that they can’t replace in-person events forever. Once we can safely run in-person events again, we expect to see the number of online and virtual events drop dramatically.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t take the learnings from these events with us. Perhaps there’s an option to run hybrid events, where local attendees can meet in-person while interstate or overseas attendees can still join the event via Zoom, thus reducing the amount of travel required.
Alternatively, online events might enable organisations to reduce the frequency of events, by hosting some events online, and some in-person.
Keeping track of your volunteers with technology
Technology is your best friend when it comes to sustainable event planning. Consider event management software and digital signage and apps instead of printed programs. Additionally, the use of volunteer management software can automate the onboarding, training, check-in and check out process, ultimately reducing the amount of paper and printing costs, not to mention thousands of hours of administration work that can be better spent on more impactful tasks.
For volunteers, the use of technology to manage their own registration process through a volunteer portal makes it more convenient, accessible and efficient. I mean, who has a printer (that works) at home anymore!
When you’re running an event, it’s easy to lose track of exactly where your volunteers are at any given time. Being more efficient in this regard, with the help of volunteer management software such as Rosterfy, will not only improve the smooth running of your event but also reduce the footprint of your volunteers. Rosterfy can also automatically generate attendance certificates that can be emailed to attendees, instead of printed and posted.
Sustainable event planning may seem overwhelming as you may need to re-evaluate a lot of existing supplier relationships and processes however, it’s important to remember your overarching goal, and keep that as your north star throughout the event planning process.
Being able to implement these green initiatives and communicate these goals to all stakeholders, attendees and suppliers is pivotal to ensuring you can achieve them.
And remember, you don’t have to do everything at once. Starting small by implementing simple sustainable practices such as eliminating single-use plastics, offering a virtual component for overseas attendees or partnering with a local charity to donate excess food, are already major positive steps.
At every event you plan, you can iterate and introduce even more small changes and improvements as you work towards a complete sustainable event strategy.
Rosterfy is proud to offer a sustainable solution to volunteer and workforce management. Our automated software makes it easy for you to manage your volunteers and workforce via one centralized system. We’ve eliminated the need for excessive paperwork, face-to-face training, printed rosters, simple reporting, and wasteful merchandise by gamifying the reward and recognition system.
Read about how Glasgow City Council will use Rosterfy to promote sustainable event management and engage its volunteers ahead of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).