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Green Event Planning

Whether you are hosting a birthday party for 20 kids, a seminar for 100 colleagues, or a wedding for 400 friends and family, the opportunities to reduce costs and promote sustainability are endless.

Printed Materials
Events need invitations, agendas, information packets, and more, but these necessary materials are also a primary source of event waste.  When creating a sustainable event, the first solution is to determine whether your guests can utilize electronic documents.  Thanks to rapidly evolving technology and the common use of smartphones and tablets, there are scores of mobile app providers that can create a unique app for your event.  Attendees can view the agenda, speaker bios, trade show maps, and even provide real-time feedback and commentary through the app.  Search for “conference apps” to get started.

For materials that must be printed, make an effort to seek out print shops that use advanced technology to reduce pollution and waste.  Recycled paper and vegetable-based inks are only the beginning.  Anyone who has walked into the copy room of an average office knows that the process emits odorous and toxic fumes, so imagine working in a commercial print shop with scores of machines pumping out hot, chemical-laced exhausts all day.  Ask about your printer’s technology and facility. It’s just as important as the materials themselves.

Location and Transportation
Assuming a virtual meeting (i.e., conference call or video conference) is not an option, choosing a location that minimizes travel logistics is a great opportunity to reduce the event’s environmental impact.  When using electronic invitations, allowing guests to see each other’s responses may enable them to arrange carpools.  Providing trolley or mini-bus transit from a central point, such as a hotel or remote parking lot, to your event can also reduce vehicle miles and may encourage greater attendance.  Choosing locations within walking distance of public transit also reduces the need for personal vehicles.

Water and Other Beverages
It is very convenient to grab a pack of bottled water for events, especially picnics and kid's parties, but with a little advanced planning, you can avoid this major source of waste and expense.  If your event is indoors, use pitchers and bring a beverage dispensing cooler filled with ice water from home during outdoor events.  In either case, provide cups or glasses (preferably reusable), and you can encourage guests to bring re-usable water bottles as well.  If your event is being catered, check with your caterer about renting glassware if you need extras.

Waste Management and Recycling
For events at home, make sure it is clear to guests where to dispose of landfill trash, recyclables and compost if you have a compost bin.  For events at other locations, review the waste disposal options and procedures before your event's date.  Work with the facility staff to ensure the event waste can be separated and disposed of properly.  Whether indoors or outside, in some cases, it may be necessary to transport your recyclables to a central disposal site after the event ends; reviewing the procedures before your event date will eliminate any last-minute surprises.

Catering and Floral 
The Chicagoland catering industry is well-versed in sustainable food, including sourcing from local farmers and vendors and selecting meats and produce that have been farmed organically and/or with low-impact practices.  The best way to ensure that the food you serve is sustainable is to ask.  Also, be sure to ask about how the food is presented – can your event use bulk displays rather than individually-prepared boxed lunches?  Can the caterer use re-usable trays rather than plastic?  Are re-usable or biodegradable serve ware available rather than plastic?

The floral industry worldwide is a tremendous source of pollution.  The fertilizer and herbicides used to grow flowers and chemicals used to keep them in bloom longer contaminate natural areas and create poor staff working conditions.  Many florists in the area know how to source beautiful flowers from sustainable and humane vendors.  As with catering, you need to ask about sustainability when interviewing potential vendors.

Goody Bags/Event Favors
Few parts of event planning are more fun than the goody bag!  It provides you or your organization a prime opportunity to shine and leave a great impression on your guests.  Staring with the bag or container itself. There are many ways to make the parting favor more sustainable.

  • Bag/Container – Consider items that your guests can re-use, such as a shopping tote, BPA-free water bottle or travel mug, or even a reusable lunch container.
  • Stuff – Think local, artisanal, and organic.  You can find any number of products in each of these categories, from soaps and candles to wine and honey, from t-shirts and ball caps to key chains and notebooks.  The opportunities abound.

Sustainable Event/Meeting Guide Resources