This summer I started attending meetings with another group of event professionals and so far I have liked their content. The Reston Herndon Meeting Planners planned their 2nd Thursday Breakfast this season and I was really looking forward to it.

The topic presented by the speaker Suzanne Morrell was “Green Is The New Black”. When I saw the title, I was excited to attend because a couple of years ago I wrote about the same topic.

The more I read about the subject of sustainable events, I keep asking myself–how do we achieve it? How much do we have to do? Where do we start? How do we measure it? I know many people have the same questions because I do too! After the session, I approached Suzanne and I told her that I had attended sessions about sustainable events before and it seems like it’s the same information, but no concrete steps on how to get started. The truth is there is no recipe for how to get started but to research, understand and take action. Now, I honestly feel better knowing that I’m not as confused as I was before about how to get started.

This post may not answer all your questions, but what I can say is that no matter where you start, it’s a step forward to helping Earth. Many of the things below are things that Suzanne talked about too.

Just because we have events ranging from twenty to hundreds and thousands of people, it doesn’t mean that we cannot achieve getting closer to a more sustainable event.

Below are my suggestions on how to get started based on what I’ve read, done, and learned. Also, I highly suggest going to the Event Industry Council (EIC) website and read the sustainable event standards. This will help you to get a better understanding on what you need to look for depending on which sector of the industry you are in such as event organizer, venue, food and beverage, audio visual, etc.

Below is the link to the EIC sustainability and registry page, and the principles of sustainable events

I’m still learning and I’m sure industry professionals who have done it are still learning. The key is to get start it one step at a time. I have the most experience as an event organizer, so I will list ways to get started from that point of view:

  1. One way is to start small and change things you can without having to get it approved by the board or higher management such as vendors that you want to partner with and you know it’s within your budget or making small changes that I have mentioned at the end of this post.
  2. If you want to take it even further and do more, you can pitch a project to the decision makers, but I highly suggest doing research and specifically show what you want to do and achieve, how you are going to do it, and what is the projected impact on the budget and attendee experience.
  3. If you take route #2, don’t expect the company to say yes right away. People don’t always welcome ideas that are different from what they have been doing for years and IT IS OKAY. Just work on your proposal and prove your point how your idea will benefit the company overall. Also, assure them that you know your idea is different and some people will have a challenge adapting to it, but all changes take time for people to get used to.
  4. Once it has been approved and because you did your research, you will know the best way to record everything you are doing. The next step is keeping track and see how it is making a difference with your expenses, attendee experience, and your carbon footprint.

Remember that sustainable events do not only mean what you can see such as food being put out at events, or the signage in the lobby. Think about the supply chain for everything you need for an event. For example, where are the materials for the signage coming from? Are workers being paid fairly? energy and water consumption? I know this may sound really overwhelming, but keep it in mind for when you start this project and know what to ask to suppliers because, as a planner, you may not be responsible for where they get paper for example, but you will be responsible for asking and making sure that whoever you partner with does have sustainable practices.

Any little changes we make in our every day lives make a difference! Tell your venue that you do not want straws, save the signage for the following year and don’t print any dates on it, encourage attendees to take public transportation or walk if it’s possible. Even if you are not prepared to pitch this to higher management because you are still learning, little things like avoiding straws is a start!

I hope you found this article helpful and made you feel a little better that it is OKAY to start small!