What you need to know to host a sustainable gathering
You may be wondering how you can reduce the environmental impact of your next
big shebang. Events like conferences and weddings often carry a big price tag when
it comes to their impact on the planet. You’ll want to take everything from event size
and transportation to waste production and management into account, so let’s get
Implement Efforts Right From the Start
You’ll want to have a well-thought-out plan for your event and what you can do to improve sustainability therein. Work through the event in your head, or write it down— what do you need? Are you sure it’s a necessity? If it is, is there a way to borrow it, rent it, thrift it? If you can’t do any of those things, can you buy something versatile, to reuse later at another event or donate? If it has to be disposable, are there biodegradable options? If not, what about compostable? If it can’t be either of those, can it be easily recycled? Consider every option at hand.
Also, try to keep the event as small as possible— this will provide a more intimate and personal atmosphere while reducing the overall waste and climate pollutants your guests will create during travel. It’s also less to have to worry about for you!
● Consider sending invitations to your event online, as well as updates and other notifications, to reduce unnecessary paper use and emissions created through shipping. This also increases the accuracy of your attendance count, so that you can provide just enough resources for those who will be there and not any more than necessary. It’s also cheaper and easier to keep track of. If you do use physical invitations, look into using 100% recycled paper for printing, natural inks, and maybe even plantable invitations like these.
● Look into venues that provide digital signage. Some event venues may have the option to use digital signage so that you don’t have to create physical waste in order to advertise and organize your event. You also won’t have to spend money on printing signs, and if there’s a mistake, it can easily be fixed!
● For business-type events like conferences, try to make video calls more accessible to potential attendees. This may increase event turnout while allowing for a reduction in emissions and waste from travel. It’s also much cheaper for your company overall since there won’t be any lodging or food to buy for these people!
Location is Crucial
Try to host your event in a place where most participants won’t have to travel too far to get there. This will reduce the number of emissions coming from car and air travel. It’s also good to consider the walkability of the area— if your guests have to stay somewhere overnight, help make it easy for them to walk to the venue and to restaurants and other places they may need to go during their stay. If all your guests are staying in one area but the venue isn’t within walking distance, consider hiring a shuttle service to transport them from one location to the next. It’s like carpooling— the fewer vehicles in use, the better! If your event has multiple segments, like a wedding with a service and reception, try to keep those locations a walkable distance from each other as well.
Choose Partners Carefully
It’s important to choose to work with venues, caterers, entertainers, and other partners that share your vision of sustainability or are willing to cooperate with you on it, to ensure that everything runs as smoothly as possible.
● You may be able to find green venues and lodgings that provide features such as solar power, plastic reduction initiatives, water recycling, compostable toilets, and other eco-friendly facilities. Having guests stay at places like these can help reduce water consumption and plastic pollution drastically, and it’s always good to use clean energy when possible.
● Try to work with a caterer who uses locally grown, in-season food. This will reduce shipping emissions for vegetables, meat, etc., and will also reduce the likelihood of the use of harmful pesticides and hormones during their production processes. It also helps to keep money in the local economy of the place in which you’re hosting.
● Local rental companies can provide you with decor, attire, and equipment you might need. This way you aren’t throwing out things you aren’t going to use again— the items get their full usage before they’re disposed of. This is also commonly cheaper than buying something new. They may even offer equipment with cool eco-friendly features, like lighting and sound equipment that runs on solar power.
● Above all, choose local. If you have the opportunity and ability to support a local business through one of the above ways or others, go for it! It’s important to keep money local for an abundance of reasons, including the more ethical treatment of workers and better pay. Local companies also often have much smaller climate footprints than corporations.
Waste Reduction & Management
There are so many types of waste created at events and a multitude of ways to reduce them:
● Make sure you have a reliable guest count so that you order only enough food and not any excess. Having copious leftovers after an event is a common problem, and it usually all gets thrown away, contributing largely to food waste. This is often perfectly good food that gets trashed for no reason.
● If you find yourself with excess food, donate or compost it. Contact a local organization such as a soup kitchen or homeless shelter beforehand, so that you can make sure the food is in a donatable condition. There’s no reason for someone else to go hungry when you have more than enough to go around. If there’s food you can’t donate for some reason, compost it when possible— it can be used to grow new food!
● Serve food with less meat, dairy, and eggs since these ingredients come with high emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to climate change. Try to make a vegetable or something else the star of the show, and use these sparingly as pillars of the meal rather than the main features. It may not be possible or wise to completely exclude these ingredients, but a reduction in them is important!
● Choose platters rather than individually packaged meals in order to reduce packaging waste and to allow people to take only what they’ll eat and nothing more. This will, again, help prevent perfectly good food from being thrown out unnecessarily!
● Provide condiments and beverages in bulk when possible, another important measure to reduce waste from packaging. Allow guests to pump their own sauces because those little packets of ketchup are annoying to open anyway! Drinks won’t be wasted as much either, since attendees can determine the amount of what they’re getting rather than it being pre-determined by a can or bottle, which will in turn not need to be recycled.
● Biodegradable, compostable, or paper-to-go containers give participants an opportunity to take food with them for later, which allows for less food waste in the moment and a possible reduction in packaging later on since they won’t be grabbing a plastic-encased snack from the vending machine.
● Opt for reusable tableware that can be washed and used again rather than disposable plates, forks, napkins, cups, and so on. This is a pretty obvious one. If you have to use disposables, try to find biodegradable or compostable ones before resorting to plastic!
● If your event is annual, don’t print dates on things
so that you can use them again and again for years to come, instead of making them new each time.
● Ask attendees of your conference or business event to bring their own reusable mugs and water bottles. This can drastically reduce the need for disposable coffee cups!
● Lanyards are often used once and disposed of, so partner with an organization like fairware, who will send lanyards for your temporary use and take them back later so that they can be used again by someone else. The little things count too!
● E-waste from sound and light equipment, among other things, is common because its disposal needs are unique. Since it may contain dangerous components, it is handled specifically for the safety of workers, so you will need to carefully consider where you get this equipment and that company’s policy on reuse and disposal before you rent it. If you purchase the equipment, find an adequate company or organization to come to get it for you so that they can take care of it properly.
● Eco-friendly party favors and swag are important to think about. If you intend on giving freebies to your guests, consider sending online coupons and e-tickets to them, or giving them nifty recycled/upcycled things. For weddings, maybe give your guests wildflower seeds, and for raffles, consider donating to a worthy cause in the winner’s name. Reusable items like mugs, water bottles, and totes might be nice too, but let people take them at will instead of giving them directly, to give people the option of passing something by that they don’t need.
● Secondhand decor, attire, party favors, and more are available from places like eBay, and there are sites for specific occasions as well, like Budget Savvy Bride. Consider renting or buying something second-hand before purchasing it brand new. The planet will thank you, and your wallet will, too.
When it comes to disposing of the waste your event creates, make recycling and composting accessible. Place trios of bins altogether for trash, recycling, and compost in very conspicuous places so that they’re easy to find and get to. Make sure that each bin is clearly labeled and consider placing graphics with them so that people know what goes where in order to prevent contamination of each bin by things that don’t belong in it. If your event is super large, think about gathering
volunteers to help direct people towards the proper bins, and to help with sorting and other processes later on.
Spread the Word
It’s a good idea to publicize your efforts in achieving sustainability at your event so that attendees are aware of and curious to help with reaching goals. Let them know how they can contribute positively, and maybe even reward them for it with some recognition in an email, on a sign, or out loud at the event. You can also spread awareness for the impacts of day-to-day actions and what guests can do to help on their own, by making statistics and tips & tricks accessible to them in an update or announcement, digital or in-person.
If you’re looking for an intimate, green venue for your next gathering, whether it be a wedding or elopement, corporate retreat, or health and wellness vacation, Hidden Flower Tiny Farm in Asheville, NC would love to have you! We’re a local small business that provides sustainable lodging and a beautiful setting for any of your needs. Right outside of town and close to the mountains, you can get a taste of all Asheville has to offer here. Come put your green event plan to work!