Sustainable Event Planning
As the situation with the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to evolve, TRI is dedicated to ensuring the safety of our clients and partners, while remaining proactive to continue supporting their event management needs. In this unprecedented time, TRI is utilizing virtual platforms to continue board meetings, conferences, events, and medical meetings that were initially scheduled to be in-person. We have found these gatherings in the digital realm to be immensely productive and beneficial to our clients. TRI is looking forward to providing event management support for in-person meetings in the future, but for the time being, will remain committed to staying ahead of the curve providing remote services.
As the state of our environment becomes an increasingly prevalent issue facing society, a sustainable approach to event management emerges as a priority for businesses. TRI provides sustainable event planning and management services for private, public, and non-profit clients ranging from 10 to 1000 participants. In our experience at TRI, sustainability can positively impact not just the environment but the overall event goal as well. A theme built around sustainability can contribute to higher attendee satisfaction when participants know they are minimizing their environmental impact and contributing to a better future by attending the event.
According to the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” 3 The concept of sustainability implies that our earth’s resources are limited and are to be used wisely to prevent future ramifications for generations to come. TRI implements this concept into our everyday operations and especially into our process conducting events such as medical meetings, symposiums, and large conferences.
To successfully execute a sustainable event, implementing a sustainability plan is the best way to make sure all elements of the event are addressed responsibly. Beginning with the location of the event, it is important to pick a venue that can support a sustainability theme and the amount of people expected to attend. For example, hotels and banquet halls are common locations that often have sustainability plans in place to coordinate these events. Communication with the venue of your goals for the event is important because many venues around the United States already have sustainability plans in place and center around that theme as well. Sustainability practices may include partnering with volunteer programs or shelters in the area to donate leftover materials following the event. If the venue you choose to work with does not have such plan in place, communication becomes even more essential to ensure they cooperate with the overall goal.
When searching for a venue that best suits your sustainability plans, solar panels and/or LED lighting is a great way to provide lighting for the event. Traditional light bulbs result in roughly 90% of its energy into heat, which is why venues are beginning to transition to alternatives with the intentions of preserving wasted resources. As an event planner, this may be a deciding factor when deciding between a few venue locations. Additionally, the closer the location to the attendees, the more likely they are to use eco-friendly transportation or utilize public transportation which can be encouraged in the invitation. Outdoor events are also a great opportunity to utilize natural lighting and set the stage for the overall theme of sustainability.
Another option that has become increasingly popular is virtual outlets, to conduct events such as board meetings, conferences, and smaller medical meetings. The utilization of platforms such as GoTo, Webex, and Skype allow for events to be sustainable while maintaining productivity. These platforms provide remote access for board meetings, presentations, Q&A sessions, etc., while maintaining the ability to connect with individual participants who attend these events. Virtual meetings have become the most effective way to avoid wasting resources while continuing the ability to establish relationships in an event setting.
Once your venue has been chosen, notifying attendees of your goals for the event is pivotal to receive participation. Attendees are more likely to embrace sustainability plans if they are aware of the theme upfront before attending. In our experience, participants of the event embrace the opportunity to preserve resources which leads to an increased level of interaction during the gathering. An effective way to promote events is through electronic platforms and utilizing a social media presence which also supports sustainability goals. This is not only a beneficial way to market the event, but also reduces waste by eliminating leftover promotional materials such as paper invitations, flyers, paper agendas, etc.
Food and beverages are often provided during events, especially for larger groups. We have learned at TRI that communicating with catering groups and the venues themselves beforehand is essential to ensuring that appropriate amounts of food are served while reducing the waste of resources which can either be donated or reused. For example, utilizing reusable materials like china plate sets, stainless steel bottles, or encouraging attendees to bring their own personal reusable water bottles can save plenty of wasted material. In our experience, providing incentives for attendees to bring their own bottles for water is a great way to generate participation. These incentives should be marketed in the emails and social media posts. Of course, plan for some attendees to not bring their own bottles, in that case use PET plastic materials that can be easily recycled. Additionally, communicating with the venue for buffet items to be served in bulk, reduces the packaging and containers used to carry the refreshments.
At TRI, we understand it can be challenging to eliminate wasted food following an event due to eating habits of your participants being unforeseeable. To alleviate this challenge, we utilize a few practices to provide enough refreshments for attendees during events, while still reducing the excess amount of food. During the preparation stages we do our best to provide an accurate amount, of attendees through communication with our invitees, venues, and catering services. Reviewing history of events, attendee food and beverage preferences, and consumption behaviors is also a useful way to provide an accurate number of people attending and the amount of refreshments needed during the events. Also, if possible, we implement a practice called “menu ganging”, which requires coordination with the venue and catering service beforehand to consolidate menus with another event group that may be following your event. This is an effective way to avoid any excess food and potential waste. In the case there is an excess amount of food, prepare to either donate food to a nearby homeless shelter or compost waste by collaborating with the venue to put this plan into action.
Recycling is a critical aspect of executing a sustainable event as well. To avoid any confusion between waste and recycling, the bins should be next to each other with clear signs pointing to what each bin’s purpose is. Also, providing photographic examples of what should go into each bin is extremely helpful. A generic sign that does not have an event title or date and utilizing hook & loop fasteners on arrows to direct attendees, allows signs to be reused when the direction of bins changes from event to event. We have found this to be the best way to eliminate the need to be constantly printing new signs that can only be used for one event.
At TRI, our four decades of experience providing event planning and management services for a variety of clients, has allowed us to establish a set of sustainability plans and practices to eliminate as many wasted resources as possible. TRI is constantly looking to improve and adopt new practices with the goal of protecting our environment. We hope you join us in our efforts!
- Social Tables. "Eco-Friendly Events: 11 Surprisingly Simple Ways." Social Tables, 9 Jan. 2020, http://www.socialtables.com/blog/meeting-event-design/eco-friendly-events/
- "Going Green: Eco-Friendly Ideas for Your Next Event.” ITA Group, http://www.itagroup.com/insights/eco-friendly-events (Accessed April 22, 2020)
- "What Is Sustainability?" UCLA Sustainability, http://www.sustain.ucla.edu/about-us/what-is-sustainability/ (Accessed April 22, 2020)
- TRI - Christina Caravoulias, Manager of Communications
- TRI – Loretta Jurnak, Manager of Event Planning
- TRI – Amy Lippincott, CMP, CGMP, HMCC, SEPC, Event Planner
About the Author
Niko Switalla is a Business Development Specialist at TRI. Niko has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Iona College.