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Green Your Conference or Event

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For many the idea of “going green” for a conference or meeting is just about as appealing as a root canal.  With so much to think about and prepare for, event staffers/organizers seldom want to add cost or complication to their event.  This notion alone is enough to dissuade them from greening their event. However, with just a little bit of creative thinking and common sense, you can host an eco-friendly event and actually save both money and time.  If you Google “green conferences and events,” you can find a slew of suggestions ranging from purchasing carbon credit offsets to only serving locally grown foods.  These notions may be a bit intimidating to those who are new to the concept; however there are plenty of easy and cost saving ways to green your event.

1) Pitch the Paper – This is my absolute favorite because not only does it reduce costs, it also reduces hassle.  Conferences and meetings can mean a lot of paper. Speaker bios, handouts, evaluations, scripts, programs, registration books…the list goes on and on.  And, why do we produce so much paper only to see the majority of it get recycled or worse, thrown out?  Why do we spend staff time stuffing bags with attendee lists and sorting through evaluations that will need to be keyed in anyway?  Well, in a lot of cases, the answer is simple – because that’s the way we have always done it.  Technology now allows us to eliminate so much paper from our events!  Load speaker bios and handouts onto your website and e-mail them to attendees ahead of time.  Send digital evaluations to attendees through online tools like SurveyMonkey, Fluid Surveys, or even Google Forms (these tools will also compile your results!).  You  my even want to consider a mobile event application to house pretty much anything you would have previously put on paper – and act as a program book!  I know that not everyone uses a mobile device, but the number of people who do is certainly on the rise!

2)  Back to Back  –  If you do have something that you must print, print it back to back.  You’ll use half the paper and your box of materials will be half as heavy!

3) Recycle – This is an easy one.  But it often gets overlooked.  Eliminating whatever paper you can is a great first step, but you and your attendees will inevitably generate some paper materials.  Maybe a speaker brings their own handouts.  Maybe you need to print some signs or directionals.  It happens. So, why not ask your conference/meeting facility if they recycle and if they can place a recycling bin next to the garbage bins?

4)  Carpools  –  Your attendees will likely thank you for this one.  With the price of gas always a concern for travelers, why not encourage or help facilitate carpools?  This doesn’t have to be a hassle.  You can use a discussion board or Facebook page to allow attendees to organize their own carpools.  They may also be more likely to attend if their own travel costs are diminished.  I know this is especially true of young people who report they are more likely to refrain from driving both for environmental and financial reasons (ZipCar Study).

5)  Eliminate the Plastic – Plastic water bottles are expensive.  Plastic water bottles are wasteful.  This is an easy one.  Ask your facilities to provide glasses and pitchers of water instead of bottles.  Those plastic water bottles take hundreds of years to decompose AND they are costing you money!

6)  Take Back What People Don’t Want – You know those name badge holders that are often given out at conferences?  Your attendees are probably not taking them home and treasuring them.  In fact, if they are anything like me, they pitch them as soon as they get the opportunity.  Much like the 3-D glasses that you are asked to return after a movie, those name badge holders aren’t especially useful after the event.  So, why not place a box out on the last day of an event where attendees can deposit their badge as they are leaving?  You’ll save money by reusing the supplies.  The holders won’t wind up in the trash.  And, attendees won’t have to try and figure out what to do with another lanyard…Green Conferences - Real Dishes

7)  Use Real Plates, Silverware, and Napkins – Eliminate waste from plastic ware, pop cans, paper napkins, and paper plates by checking with your venue to see if they can use real and reusable tableware.  Not only is this a sustainable solution…but it’s just pleasant.  There is nothing nicer than sitting down to a wonderful meal with beautiful shining china and knowing you don’t have to wash a single dish!  Your attendees will feel right at home while you do your part to help the environment.

8)  Local Giveaway – A lot of conferences provide some sort of giveaway to attendees. I attended one recently where I was given a mouse pad.  My husband attended one where he received a mini flashlight.  While the thought was certainly nice, neither of these items was great quality and as a result, got little actual use.  If you attend a lot of conferences, you likely have received your own, equally useless collection of cheap, plastic giveaway items.  Instead of selecting a standard giveaway from a catalog, why not try some local item/food that is unique to that area?  It will make a far bigger impression on attendees and be far more environmentally friendly.  In Springfield, Illinois, we have a little popcorn shop that makes specialty popcorn.  A small bag of their popcorn would be an ideal giveaway for a conference held in Springfield. 

9)  Check with Your Facilities – Let your venue know that you are making an effort to be more sustainable.  It’s likely that they will have some of their own suggestions/methods for greening the event.  For example, some facilities tell guests who are staying more than one night to indicate whether or not they need their linens changed each night. This mean less water and energy go into laundering bed linens. 

10)  Tell Your Attendees – Let your attendees know what you are up to.  Not only will they be more likely to recycle if they know that it is part of a larger plan, they may take some of your methods back to their own offices.  Likewise, they may have some of their own tips that you can incorporate into next year’s event.


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