5 Budget-Friendly Ways to Plan More Sustainable Events

April 19, 2019

Feeling powerless to make your events more sustainable? Want to make your events greener without having to ask your boss for permission or spending more money?

In her recent webinar, “5 No-Cost Ways to Green Your Events,” Julia Spangler, sustainable events consultant, offered tips for accomplishing just that, providing actions that event planners can implement right away to create more Earth-friendly events.

“Sustainable, zero-waste event planning can provide unexpected cost savings related to printing, event supplies, catering orders and more,” Spangler said in the webinar. “They may even allow you to surprise your boss with cost savings you didn’t expect, proving that green is not only good for your team but also for your business.”

Here’s how you can start making your events more sustainable today.

1.    Ask Your Vendors About Sustainable Options

Talking about sustainability is how event professionals help the industry move toward a more sustainable future, so take the initiative by letting your vendors know that sustainability matters to you. Start by asking if they offer any sustainable options, as they may have some you haven’t taken advantage of simply because you haven’t asked.

“One of the most frequent comments I hear from vendors is that their clients aren’t requesting sustainability, while on the other hand, event planners simply assume their vendors are already being sustainable, so they don’t ask about it,” Spangler said. “This miscommunication is one of the biggest hurdles preventing events from becoming greener, but it’s also one of the easiest barriers to overcome, so all it takes is asking the question.”

If you’re involved in sending out RFPs, consider including a simple Sustainability Expectations clause, she added.

2.    Work with Your Printer to Maximize Efficiency

While going paperless by putting all your event collateral online or in a mobile app is one of the top ways to make your event greener, creating an app isn’t a simple process, and it also requires a budget and boss approval. Even events that don’t print programs usually have some paper items, such as menus, signs and table tents. So while having a paperless event is a great goal to aspire to, you can be more sustainable with what you do print by being more efficient.

The size and shape of your print project affect how efficiently it prints. Most professional print jobs will start with printing multiple copies of a project on a large rectangular sheet of paper called a parent sheet, and depending on the size and shape of your project, more or less of that sheet will be left blank or wasted, Spangler explained.

“Always ask your printer how many copies of your project fit onto one sheet of paper and ask them if changing the size will allow more copies to fit,” Spangler advised. “Paper is one of the main expenses for a professionally printed project, so using less will result in noticeable cost savings.”

3.    Share Carbon Offset Information with Your Attendees

According to Spangler, travel is the top contributor of greenhouse gas emissions from events, and if your event draws attendees from across the country, travel alone could account for 70-80 percent of your show’s carbon emissions. While this means that a big component of your event’s environmental impact isn’t under your direct control, you can be proactive about attendees offsetting the impact of their travel through carbon offsets, she advised.

An individual or company can offset the impact of their greenhouse gas emissions by supporting projects that reduce global carbon emissions by an equivalent amount so they end up canceling each other out.

“Start by finding a carbon offsets provider that allows individual purchases and make sure the provider that you ultimately recommend has an easy online check-out for individuals to use,” Spangler said. “It’s also important for a carbon offset program to verify that those projects actually do reduce carbon emissions, so check out Climate Action Reserve, which has a great offsets marketplace that lists reputable climate offset providers.”

4.    Give to Your Community

Why allow your event’s leftover swag, promo items and other supplies to end up in landfill when you can donate to organizations that need them? For example, Kids in Need Foundation, a national organization that distributes free school supplies to children in need, has partner centers across the U.S. that accept a wide variety of items, even those that aren’t technically considered school supplies.

“If you don’t have an affiliate organization in your area, you can also donate swag and supplies to schools, art centers or after-school programs,” Spangler advised. “Be creative depending on the types of items you typically have leftover and think about who would have a use for them.”

Also, make sure to ask your chosen organization what donations they will and won’t accept, as you want your donated items to be useful. Not only will your company be able to get a tax benefit from donating, but you’ll also have a great story to share about how your event supports local communities.

5.    Start a Food Waste Record

Food waste is a huge problem at events, but reducing it starts with understanding how much food you’re currently wasting. Start by comparing the quantity of food you order with the quantity that is served and consumed at your event, and ask your caterer to provide a post-event report detailing how much food was prepared but not served, Spangler said.

“For a plated meal, ask how many plates were not served, and for buffets or stations, the number of pans or serving dishes that were prepared but not served,” she said. “Look at your headcounts versus how many guests ate a given meal so in the future you can reduce your headcount if necessary.”

Track any food or beverage you purchase directly, such as water or snacks, monitor how much you purchased versus how much was left over and use this data adjust your orders for future events.

All of these green tips can be implemented in degrees, a little at a time, to help your events become more sustainable. Simply starting the conversation about sustainability is how event planners begin pushing the events industry in a more environmentally friendly direction.

For more tips from Julia Spangler, read this interview

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