Leave a Softer Footprint: Creating Sustainable Events

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People depend on the environment for food, shelter, and an overall healthy well-being. In order for the world to exist for generations to come, people must take responsibility for maintaining the environment. Sustainability means using, but not overusing water, materials, and other natural resources. Everyday choices people make can greatly impact the environment.

Educating event planners on best practices for environmentally friendly events is the first step toward leaving a softer footprint. Often times, planners and department chairs do not realize how their decisions can have a major impact on sustainability. Moreover, their events can set an example for standards in the university community, and can be used to educated participants about making environmentally friendly choices. The seminar agenda should include: explaining sustainability and how planners fit into the big picture, easy steps for creating a green event, and planning for trash and recycling at events.

Three examples of current practices in conferences and events that have negative impacts on the environment are overusing paper, catering choices, and how to recycle.

Reducing paper includes switching from printed to electronic invitations and communications. Invitations and RSVPs can be sent via email or through online services such as Evite, Paperless Post, or Sign-up Genius. Event agendas and handouts can also be sent via email or loaded onto an event application, such as Guidebook. Planners can encourage guests not to print the materials, but to refer to the electronic versions. If presenters do not have their presentations ready to share before the event, materials can be made available following the event via email or by posting on the conference website. Not only will reducing paper save trees, it will also reduce the amount of waste hauled away from the event.

Choosing a green caterer or working with the University’s contracted caterer on sustainable choices can also have a major impact on the footprint of the event. Planners can require catering managers to use washable utensils, plates and cups, rather than disposable. If disposables must be used, planners can choose a brand that is compostable. In addition, ask the caterer to use cloth table covers and napkins. These can be laundered and used again and again, rather than thrown out after a single use. Suggest using bulk containers for sugar, cream, ketchup and other condiments, rather than single-serve packets.

Planners can request that plastic straws are not made available to guests. Each day, millions straws are used, most of which end up in landfills. For guests’ water, request that bulk containers such as pitchers or coolers are used, rather than plastic water bottles. Plastics make up 25% of landfills and take 1,000 years to break down. Talk to the caterer about a zero-waste event, meaning no paper or plastic is thrown away and left over food is donated at the conclusion of the event.

Third, provide recycling bins during the event and encourage guests to recycle their materials. Post volunteers at the recycling area or create signs that explain which items go into the containers. This will help guests figure out where to dump their materials. Also, proper sorting insures that compostable plates, for example, will be delivered to the compost site rather than the landfill. Encourage planners to work with the facilities department to plan how the trash will be hauled away. There may be different colored containers or bags for each type of recycling. Detail how and when these containers will be picked up to be sure they are sent to the proper destinations.

Once event planners are educated about simple options that can have a huge impact on the environment, steps can be taken toward planning greener events. Often times, planners do not realize their choices can make a legitimate difference in creating a green event.

As a final step toward creating sustainable events, planners need to publicize their green choices. Emailing a flier to the attendees or posting it on the event application with bullet points about the sustainability of the event will help continue the educational process. Some planners create reusable posters that are hung on easels throughout the event to explain how they are impacting the environment. When guests are educated about why they are being asked to do something, they are more likely to participate happily in the positive choices.

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