10 Ways to Produce an Eco-Friendly Event

The world needs us all to do what we can in the name of climate action.

With the recent release of the IPCC report, a summary of all the climate research done in the last 10 years, we know that immediate action towards reducing carbon emissions needs to be a part of everyone’s work and life.

When it comes to producing an event and sustainable event management, there are so many things that can be done to lessen the carbon footprint and reduce the impact on the environment. Productions come in all shapes, sizes and budgets, so making whatever changes to combat the climate crisis that are possible for you is something to be commended and to be proud of.

Happily Eco-Friendly Events

Here are some considerations, tips and advice for anyone looking to make their event more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

1. Think virtual-first and avoid air travel

Air travel is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, and it is the biggest contributor to an event’s carbon emissions. Out of all the types of transportation, and all the components of an event, if guests, talent, and shipping are flying in to attend, the carbon footprint will increase by about 95%.

If a lot of the audience is interstate and/or international, there are a few simplified ways to decrease or eliminate air travel.

The first option is to go completely virtual. The second is to have a virtual component and go hybrid, allowing the audience to be a mix of onsite and online. The third is to have smaller and more localized events, instead of one major event.

Virtual events have a very small carbon footprint. At Happily we make them carbon neutral by measuring the carbon emissions of a Happily event and offsetting any emissions from computers or tech by planting the corresponding number of trees in our Happily Forest.

For more, check out these Happily Virtual Case Study.

How does Meeting Format Impact Total Event Emissions? Graph Image: Graph adapted from this original article by Shawna McKinley.

2. No plastic water bottles, switch to water stations

Having drinking water readily available for attendees is important, especially for long, onsite summits.

Traditionally the most convenient way is to hand out plastic water bottles. Even though plastic water bottles are recyclable, the majority still end up in landfill. It will take about 1,000 years for them to break down, and not to mention the devastation it can have on marine life if found in the ocean.

Rethinking how attendees access water during the event can be a big step towards sustainability. We suggest having multiple water stations (no one likes to wait in a long line) with biodegradable cups, or use it as an opportunity to have some cool, branded bottles as swag that attendees can take home and reuse as well.

3. Clearly labeled recycling bins

Wherever the event may be, make the recycling bins a point of pride.

Make them clearly labeled for people to understand what they can put into it, with a rubbish bin right next to it for everything else. Have them easily accessible and brightly colored so they are not difficult to spot.

4. Eliminate paper, go digital

Decreasing the amount of paper that is handed out to attendees or used by staff is a good step in reducing the carbon footprint of the event. Plus, converting to tech can create a better experience for attendees and a more streamlined process for staff.

Building a custom event app or microsite can create a place where attendees can access all the event resources and information that they could need; eg. schedules, registering, downloadable PDFs, venue map, COVID-19 safety protocols, menus - whatever is appropriate.

The best thing about going digital is that it can serve every and all functions that you need it to. Whatever would normally be printed as a handout, or information pack, can be digitized and conveniently at the attendees' fingertips. Optimizing the use of QR codes will also contribute to the user experience.

For more, check out this Happily Case Study.

5. Promote public transportation

Travel in general is the biggest contributor to an event’s carbon footprint, and the less cars and the more carpooling, the better.

By clearly communicating any public routes that will take attendees to and from the venue, you will get them to consider public transport as a good and reliable transport option.

Clip Bike Impact

Image: Comparing NYC commuters Co2 emissions every year, compared to CLIP, a bike pedal assist via clip/bike.com

6. Have a shuttle service

If public transport isn’t available or the venue is a little out of the way, then consider offering a shuttle service.

If you can, go green with the vehicle. Electric cars and vehicles have zero harmful CO2 tailpipe emissions compared to regular gasoline-powered vehicles, which produce environmentally harmful CO2 emissions

The same goes for hybrid, as they are still better than gasoline-powered vehicles, and technology advancements have also made diesel a clean, green option for high-powered engines.

Think of it as a way to not only to get less cars on the road, but also to create a stress-free and more accessible experience for attendees.

7. Go veggie with a sustainable food and beverage vendor

If the event is catered, there are so many ways to ensure sustainability. Many catering companies are environmentally conscious and will do most of the sustainable work for you, if you find the right vendor.

At Happily we have a list of Sustainable Vendors throughout the country that include catering, and also other areas such as printing and fabrication. Just let us know and we’d happily connect you with some.

Some attributes of a sustainable catering vendor include:

  • +50% of of the menu should be plant-based, as eating less meat can contribute to less emissions (One pound of meat uses up 2,400 gallons of water)
  • Donate any leftover food to local communities and charities
  • Use Fairtrade products (typically tea, coffee and chocolate)
  • Use locally sourced ingredients and seasonal produce for the region, to avoid imported products
  • Aim for zero food wastage. Do not make 10% more on food for guests. If we run out, we run out. That’s ok.
  • Use compostable packaging and utensils for single serve take away boxes
  • Fish sourced from sustainable supplies
  • Composting food scraps
  • Opt for real glassware, plates, etc. Happily has a ban on plastic bottles

 Chart: The Carbon Footprint of the Food Supply Chain via Visual Capitalist

Image: The Carbon Footprint of the Food Supply Chain via Visual Capitalist

8. Find alternatives to non-biodegradable materials

Where ever there is an opportunity to ditch single use plastics, use plant based recyclables and find an alternative to non-biodegradable materials, then take it.

Ask suppliers and vendors about the materials they use and how sustainable their products are. Usually suppliers and vendors will proudly display their eco-friendliness so it shouldn’t be difficult to find the right one for you.

Here are some things to think about when it comes to sustainable materials used to create them:

  • ‘Swag bags’, including all packaging and the products themselves
  • The paper and ink used to print any marketing collateral, hand outs, banners, signs ect.
  • Any catering needs such as coffee cups, cutlery, napkins, plates ect.
  • Name tags or lanyards
  • Fabrication, such as booths or set designs

9. Find an event venue that is sustainability conscious

Venues come in all shapes and sizes and will depend on the needs of the event, like, if it is a massive multi-day summit, or a smaller workshop scenario.

Here are some things to take into consideration or ask of a venue:

  • If they have a Green Policy
  • Has a LEED certification
  • The percentage of LED lights the building has (Hint! The more the better)
  • Architectural design incorporates sustainable features, like the use of natural light
  • Escalators are energy-efficient, running based on occupancy or event needs
  • Near and accessible by public transport
  • If catering is only done in-house, refer to ‘Hire a sustainable food vendor; above
  • Water recycling and catchment system for minimal water wastage
  • Air-conditioning controlled in each room, to minimize the excessive use
  • Prefer venues powered by clean energy sources like solar and wind
  • Use shore power, not generators
  • Use large signs instead of paper

10. Tell people about the event’s eco-friendliness

Proudly explain and promote the elements that are sustainable and eco-friendly, and how it is contributing to the fight against climate change.

It will elevate the esteem of your event, and also advocate the importance of climate action in general, and encourage others to follow your lead.