Meeting Mentor Magazine

May 2019

8 Easy Ways to Make Your Event More Sustainable

Sustainability just makes good business sense for events, said Melinda Kendall, senior vice president, sustainability, Freeman, during a recent webinar produced by the Professional Convention Management Association. It helps drive growth — by attracting new attendees and retaining existing participants who are attracted to seeing how an organization lives its environmental values on site. It provides a greater return on capital — for example, by saving money through reduced food waste. And it reduces the risk that your event, and by extension your organization, is perceived as wasteful — not only by attendees but also by the general public if you get negative press, as has happened to some event producers.

“We want to design sustainability into our event from the beginning,” Kendall said. This means talking with your venues and vendors, including caterers and transportation and service contractors, to see where you can reduce or even eliminate usage and find more sustainable choices. “You will not be the first one to ask for it, but you likely will have to ask for it.” Once on site, be sure to track key sustainability performance indicators, such as how much you are recycling, so you can report improvements to your stakeholders.

Easy Sustainability Options
Micromanage food orders to reduce food waste. In the past, if 2,000 were signed up for a luncheon, planners would “order 2,000 meals and add 10 percent to make sure. Then catering would add another 10 percent to make sure. Then 1,800 people would come to the event, and 1,600 of those would decide to join you for lunch. Sound familiar? The thing was to absolutely make sure you don’t run out of food.” Kendall suggested telling people, when asking them to register for meals electronically, that you need an accurate head count to help reduce food waste.

Rethink shuttle needs. When selecting your destination city, think about choosing a more walkable locale to reduce the need to shuttle people between the convention center and hotels. “I’m not saying no shuttle buses,” she added. “We do need to provide good access for people who have mobility limitations, but maybe we don’t need so many, or to run them as often.” Reducing shuttle service also will help reduce shuttle expenses, of course. And don’t forget to ask your shuttle provider if they run on reusable fuels.

Reduce the number of signs you use. “You know that no one reads them anyway,” Kendall joked.

Make signage reusable. The trick, she said, is to make your signs literally timeless by not including the date and year. That way you can reuse them year after year.

Choose sustainable graphics materials. Kendall offered as an example honeycomb, a signboard material with a cardboard substrate that not only can serve as a good alternative to foam core, but may actually be less expensive as well — check with your general services contractor. Also consider swapping paper or cardboard signage for vinyl, or use digital signage. “While there is an energy cost, it is a sustainable option,” she said, adding, “It does cost a bit more, but you can get it sponsored or run ads when you’re not running other content.”

Ask if your shipping company is SmartWay-certified. SmartWay is an Environmental Protection Agency program for over-the-road trucks that is analogous to its Energy Star program for appliances: SmartWay-certified companies use trucks that are more aerodynamic, and idle and use fuel more efficiently. “Even though we have to ship things to the show site, we can do it in a more environmentally efficient way. Ask your shipping company if it is SmartWay-certified.”

Put down the bottle. Now that China is no longer accepting plastic for recycling from the U.S., it’s not enough to just recycle those myriad water bottles anymore. Kendall suggested letting attendees know beforehand that you will not be providing bottled water at breaks but instead will provide water bottle refilling stations they can use if they bring their own water bottles. You also can provide refillable water bottles, which can be sponsored, as can the stations themselves. You should provide cups as well — but make sure they are compostable.

Reduce or eliminate paper handouts. Here, too, you can engage with attendees before the event, she said. Let them know they can access all the handouts and PowerPoints on the event app. If they want a printed version, tell them to feel free to print it out before they come to the show.

These are just a few of the easiest-to-implement ideas Kendall shared. For more ways to make everything from transportation to flooring more sustainable, view the full webinar (free, registration required) on the PCMA website.

Stay tuned for a future issue of MeetingMentor for more event sustainability strategies. — Sue Pelletier

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