Planning Environmentally Aware Events

Lark Weller
Institute for Social, Economic and Ecological Sustainability

There often seems to be an unspoken assumption that business and environmentalism don’t mix. Business functions are renowned as ostentatious shows of excess, but this does not have to be the case! Today, it is easier – and more important – than ever to plan business events in an environmentally aware manner. This article details the nuts and bolts of planning a “green” business meeting or event, from pre-event planning to post-event cleanup.

Let’s start at the very beginning. The moment it becomes clear that your organization will hold an event or meeting, sell an environmental approach to management by emphasizing the range of environmental benefits, enhanced public image and potential cost savings that result from incorporating environmental considerations into the planning process. Be sure to point out that its environmental leadership may help your organization obtain new or additional sponsorship and funding.

Once you get the green light to pursue an environmentally aware planning process, identify environmental issues that are especially significant to your organization, community or region. Select environmental priorities reflecting those particular issues. Finally, determine the amount of effort your management will dedicate to meeting these priorities. Clearly defined environmental goals will help you identify the specific actions you can take to meet these objectives.

When it becomes time to translate your company’s priorities into actions, there are several elements of an event that should be considered: site selection, food service arrangements, product purchasing and the collection of recyclables. When considering meeting locations, look for a site that best addresses your environmental priorities. To meet waste reduction and energy conservation priorities look for locations/rooms with enough windows to bring in natural daylight and a sense of the outdoors. Make sure your location also offers comprehensive recycling collection, mass transit services and bicycle racks.

Select food service providers that use reusable service ware, or sell products that come in recyclable or minimal packaging. A careful head count of attendees and their dietary requirements will reduce preparation of unnecessary meals. Consider supporting the services of a caterer who provides organic, whole foods. Always provide vegetarian and/or vegan options to your attendees. (Not only is it simply considerate to offer nourishment to those of all dietary convictions, but also the production of meatless diets generally consumes fewer natural resources than do animal-based diets.) Should you end up with excess food, donate it to your local food shelf.

When your company begins to purchase products for its event, encourage your planning team and contractors to look for products that: are reusable (such as name tags, binders, grease boards), have recycled content (especially post-consumer), are printed with vegetable- or soy-based inks, use little or no packaging (or packaging that contains recycled or reused materials), and are recyclable or compostable on site or in a community program. Remember, though, that the best way to deal with waste is to not create it in the first place. Determine what materials are needed at your event and consider ways to reduce the amount used. Conference planners may reduce the amount of paper they distribute with significant cost savings by purging duplicate addresses from mailing lists and requiring that all printed materials be double-sided. Encourage on-line registration to minimize paper usage and postage costs. Similarly, encourage speakers to use electronic presentations, and to print up only as many paper handouts as they feel will be used. Inform event contractors, exhibitors and vendors about recycling procedures prior to the event. Arrange with your recycling contractor for an appropriate number of clearly labeled containers to be strategically placed throughout the site.

As your event occurs, make sure that attendees are aware that it has been planned with an environmentally aware approach. This is your opportunity to exhibit your leadership and share your environmental commitment with others! Encourage attendees to recycle with visible signs, written announcements, and opening remarks.

Environmental planning doesn’t end once your event does. Evaluate your event and its successes as it begins to wrap up. For instance, as collected recyclables are removed, look for food waste mistakenly discarded in recycling bins or recyclables placed in the wrong bins. Try to determine the cause of any contamination such as inadequate signage or poorly placed containers. Request that the recycling vendor and trash haulers report on exact quantities of materials and trash removed from the meeting site.

Consider the fact that your event’s participants are valuable partners in the success of your environmental planning. It may benefit your organization to conduct exit polls asking respondents to comment on the environmental aspects of the event. Also, seek suggestions to improve the environmental quality of your next event.

Finally, share your environmental achievements with your associates. Inform management, shareholders, sponsors, contractors and the public about your success using your internal newsletter, bulletin board system or annual report. Prepare press releases highlighting the environmental results of your event.

By following the guidelines above, it is rather easy to plan and conduct an environmentally aware business event. Don’t hesitate to take the lead and encourage your organization to be an environmental asset to your community!

What You Can Do

* Prevent and reduce event waste by using double-sided printings for promotional materials and handouts, providing reusable name badges, and allowing attendees to order copies (rather than producing bulk handouts).

* Communicate your event’s environmental goals to employees, contractors, and participants. Remind reluctant contractors that you will be glad to shop around for contractors who are willing to meet your priorities. Keep in mind that, if you are a leader in conducting environmental events in your community, you may need to educate individuals and businesses about what this entails.

* Conserve energy and reduce traffic by seeking naturally lit spaces, and providing and publicizing mass transit options to attendees.

* Support local, green businesses when purchasing and arranging event materials, food, and lodging.

* Monitor the results of your planning, and make note of areas that can be improved for your next event.

Web Resources

US EPA: Wastes Homepage

Green Biz:

Print Resources

In Earth’s Company: Business, Environment, and the Challenge of Sustainability (Conscientious Commerce), Carl Frankel, 1998

The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability, Paul Hawken, 1993



Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance
520 Lafayette Rd N
Floor 2
St. Paul, MN 651-296-3417

Minnesota Department of Administration – Materials Management Division
200 Administration Bldg.
50 Sherburne Ave.
St. Paul, MN 651-296-1424

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