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Sustainability is a hot-button issue for consumers around the globe. There was a 71% increase in online searches for sustainable goods — plus, public concern for the environment has grown by 16% since 2017. And no, this isn’t a trend that’s exclusive to consumer goods. Fifty-nine percent of event planners say environmental responsibility impacts their event plans.

Sustainability doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, either. Here are ten ways to make your next event sustainable without sacrificing the attendee experience.

1. Communicate Your Commitment to Sustainability

You’re committed to sustainability, but do other people know about it? Sustainability benefits the environment, of course, but it should benefit your brand, too! You’re going the extra mile here, so it’s okay to brag a little about your commitment to Mother Earth. 

Your sustainable events pledge needs to be super obvious. We’re talking about putting it on the front page of your website in a slider or a banner. Pledging to create sustainable events is also your chance to explain the why behind your green policies, so attendees are less likely to complain about paper straws if they know your goal in advance. 

plan sustainable events to protect our planet2. Minimize Shipping

Events have a pretty big environmental footprint. The amount of shipping our industry relies on is just astronomical, so it’s vital to minimize shipping as much as possible. 

For example, instead of shipping freebies to the conference and then back to HQ, simplify the whole affair: ship event goodies to your attendees’ front door. This way, you’re only shipping items once to their final destination. Tools like automate sending items to attendees directly via a link, event platform, or QR code. 

And hey, it’s one less thing to worry about on the event day. What’s not to love?

shipping and drayage are often not sustainable for events3. Ditch Single-Use Items

Do you really need to deck out your event with a lot of plastic stuff attendees will use once and throw away? Fifty percent of event planners opt for reusable or biodegradable items, so you can probably cut single-use items at your event. 

Ditching Single-Use might mean: 

  • Forgoing linens: Sure, linen is better than plastic table liners, but it still requires washing and ironing. Why not say, “No thanks,” to table coverings entirely? They’re fiddly and get in the way of your attendees’ meals and laptops. 
  • Using stand-ins: If you’re hosting an award show at your event, there’s nothing wrong with ordering a placeholder award for photo ops. You can then ship the actual award to recipients’ homes. 
  • Opting for reusables: Use reusable glasses, mugs, silverware, napkins, and plates for your event. If your attendees are mobile, give them a quality water bottle like Hidrate Spark that they’ll use. Check with your venue to ensure enough water refill stations for everyone’s needs.

4. Get a Reusable Stage Setup

In general, stop making stuff for a single event that you’ll never use again. And yes, we’re talking about those crepe paper decorations that you will tear down on the last day of the conference. 

Your stage setup doesn’t need to go straight in the bin. Endless uses modular stage setups so we can reuse what we buy. If you need inspiration, here are 150 scenic design ideas to implement at your next event — that won’t hurt the planet.

5. Shrink Your Expo Footprint

You don’t need expo booths that take up four spaces. And you certainly don’t need giant plastic signage that exhibitors will trash immediately after the event. 

Try to minimize your expo hall’s footprint to be more sustainable. For example, HubSpot Inbound gave every vendor an identical booth with their name printed on top. This practice evened the playing field for vendors, who didn’t have to worry about competing for attendee interest. 

That led to fewer gimmicks and more genuine conversations. Sign us up!

6. Outlaw Freebies — Yes, Really

Okay, your exhibitors might riot over this one, but it’s an essential ingredient to creating sustainable events. 

You should outlaw freebies. It might sound a little harsh, but these giveaways create so much landfill waste that it’s not even funny. Who even uses branded koozies or frisbees? 

Tell your exhibitors that this stuff is off limits at the expo hall: 

  • Business cards
  • Pens
  • Brochures
  • T-shirts

You might have to police this if exhibitors try to skirt the rules, but as long as you let everyone know ahead of time, you shouldn’t have too much trouble. 

If exhibitors are having a tough time adjusting to the rule, remind them they can do digital swag bags. The almighty QR code can prevent a lot of plastic from going to landfill. 

7. Offer Sustainable Food Options by Default

Research suggests that plant-based options are more eco-friendly. While you don’t have to make it your mission to turn steak-loving attendees into vegans, you can undoubtedly make sustainable food the default at your event. Forty-six percent of event planners offer vegetarian or vegan options at their events so you won’t be alone here.

For example, make oat milk the default creamer when you set up your coffee stations. You can still offer conventional options like cow’s milk but require attendees to ask for it. You can also offer a mostly meat-free menu, so attendees must seek out meat if they want it. 

8. Go Paperless

Attendees don’t want to carry a stack of paper during a conference. From agendas to maps to tickets, paper overwhelm is just no fun. It’s no wonder that 90% of event planners use e-tickets to streamline their events. 

Try to minimize paper and signage as much as possible. The best move is to offer everything within your event app. If attendees aren’t using your app, that probably means it sucks (sorry). Instead of taking the easy way out with printed agendas, take this as an opportunity to fix your app and encourage adoption.

If you genuinely need signs at the event, get digital signs. Digital signage allows you to switch up the graphics and message according to the event — and you can even drop in a few animations to turn heads and continually update the schedule in case of changes. 

use digital signage for sustainable events9. Take Your Event on the Road

Instead of booking one colossal event annually, that draws thousands of people, adopt a satellite sustainable event model. Offer a handful of events near areas where your audience lives. That might mean doing a version of your event in San Diego, Portland, and Fort Lauderdale over several months.

Sure, this still requires shipping your setup and employees around the country, but it’s still more sustainable than requiring 1,000 people to book flights and hotels.

Traveling to events isn't sustainable. 10. Plan a Virtual Event Instead

COVID-19 taught us that virtual events can pack just as much punch as in-person events. They’re incredibly eco-friendly because they don’t require travel, hotel stays, or catering. That puts less stress on you and the environment, so if you want to minimize your footprint, go virtual.

Plan Events That Do No Harm

Sustainability isn’t just about your one-time event. As an event planner, you have the power to be a change-maker in your industry. Equip attendees with habits and practices that encourage sustainability long after they leave your event. 

These ten tips will set you up for a sustainable event, so give them a try! If you’re still racking your brain to create an event that won’t hurt the Earth, get in touch with Endless. See how our tech-forward approach helps event planners design sustainable events without the stress.

Sonja Hayden

Author Sonja Hayden

More posts by Sonja Hayden
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