Meeting Mentor Magazine

July 2024

11 Quick and Easy Ways to Make Meetings More Sustainable

Everyone wants to make their meetings more sustainable, at least in theory. But where to start? Here are 11 ideas you can use today to make your meetings and events more sustainable.

Getting to net zero for your events sounds like a great goal, but the goal can feel hard to reach, even unattainable. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few of the ideas outlined by participants in a common interest group session on sustainability at CDX 2023, held Aug. 29–Sept. 1 in Nashville.

More Sustainable Food and Beverage

• Reduce waste by donating leftover food. While your venue may argue the point, the reality is that the U.S. and Canada both have laws in place to protect event organizers and venues from liability concerns when it comes to donating leftover food, though there may be restrictions on exactly what is OK to donate.

• Include food donations into your BEO from the start. One person shared that they include food donations into their BEOs from the get-go — basically, they order it with the express purpose of donating it in mind. That helps them meet their F&B minimums while also ensuring that overage doesn’t end up in a landfill.

• Eliminate single-use water bottles. Instead of providing plastic bottles of water, offer water stations where attendees can refill a reusable bottle (which can be sponsored to offset any costs). Another idea is to partner with an organization such as Fill It Forward, which provides reusable water bottles that can not only cut down on waste, but also help others because the organization donates to charities every time an attendee scans the barcode on the bottle, cup or bag.

• Cut down on meat and dairy on your menus. While some participants reported success in holding vegetarian- or vegan-only luncheons, not all groups will go for a totally meat-free meal. But do consider including vegetarian/vegan options, which tend to have lower carbon and water footprints than most meats and dairy products. One idea that sounds too simple to work is just to switch the order in which you list options to put the vegetarian options up top and the meat option second. Just that one easy change can result in a much higher percentage taking the veggie option, reported one participant.

• Brainstorm with your chef. The venue’s culinary team knows what’s in season, what’s locally sourced, and what is going to be your best value menu proposition. Meet with them early on in the process to find out what the best, most sustainable options are for your group and your meeting dates.

• Right-size portions. While that giant pile of meat looks great on the plate, it usually goes at least partially uneaten. Again, talk with your culinary team about how much is enough to satisfy attendees’ appetites without resulting in a lot of food waste.

• Replace buffets with plated meals. This is another portion-reduction option that can be relatively painless — and invisible to attendees.

Travel Sustainability Tips

• Factor attendee departure cities and destination airlift into your site selection criteria.

• Talk with your venue and local destination marketing organization about public transportation options for airport transfers and travel to off-site events. Ask if there are electric vehicle shuttle options available in the area.

• Encourage people to take lower-carbon travel options, such as traveling by train, when possible.

• Consider offsetting carbon emissions. While you need to be careful in choosing a carbon offset partner, there are many credible organizations out there now that can help. One CVB representative shared that they planted a tree for each site visit, which groups could then see for themselves when they come for the event.


For more event sustainability ideas, check out these resources:

• The Time Is Now — Sustainability in the Business Events Industry, produced by the Professional Convention Management Association Foundation and the Singapore Tourism Board.

• Among the resources offered on the Event Industry Council (EIC)’s Center for Sustainability and Social Impact page are the Sustainable Event Professional Certificate Course, which is available in digital, in-person and hybrid formats; and the EIC’s Foundations Certificate, a newly launched program to help organizations launch sustainability and social impact programs; and the EIC Sustainable Events Standards.

• The IMEX Group’s recently released IMEX America Sustainable Event Report is a good roadmap of how one organization plans to reach net zero events through reducing emissions, offsetting what they can’t reduce by investing in vetted carbon-offsetting projects, and sharing what the organization is learning as it goes down its road to net zero events.


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