Sustainability in face-to-face events has understandably taken a backseat over the last year. Most events have moved to a virtual environment, which has conversely shown an easy way for some events to be sustainable – gone are the days of flying to a different country for a meeting. Nevertheless, in-person events will return later this year and the need for sustainable practices will return with them.

Paul Harvey, journalist at M&IT recently spoke to key events industry figures on where they see sustainability fitting on the agenda post-pandemic. Many believe that events won’t return in exactly the same format and that Coronavirus has given the industry an opportunity to change.

Events both large and small can have a significant environmental impact, and as event professionals, there’s a huge opportunity to find new and innovative ways to make events more sustainable

But where to start? From festivals to exhibitions, we’ve pulled together 10 simple ways that you can start to reduce the environmental impact of your in-person events and make sustainability a priority when they return.

Assess your impact

Before you can decide where to make improvements, you need to assess the current environmental impact of your events. Firstly, think about the sustainability policies or schemes you already have in place, if any, and see how effective they are. Are they widely used or largely ignored? Are they clear, concise and easily actionable? If not, you’ve found your first task – change them. 

person holding a green plant
Photo by Akil Mazumder on

Think about the ways that you use disposable materials, how you manage power consumption, transport, food waste etc and then split these into relevant groups. This approach will help you to tackle one group at a time, making the whole process more manageable. 

Create a plan 

Managing successful sustainable events relies on careful planning. Your sustainable initiatives should be built into your event plan from the very beginning to ensure they are fully considered, costed and measurable. Decide on some realistic overall goals then split these into projects and decide who will be leading each one.  

The saying goes, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” There’s no point in putting in the hard work to improve your environmental impact if you can’t determine how successful your efforts were. So make sure you decide what success looks like for you. 

Go paperless 

Starting with something as simple as going paperless is an easy way to make an impact. Think about creating an event page, emailing invitations to your attendees instead of mailing physical ones and using a check-in app to manage attendance. 

These changes not only minimise your footprint but will also allow you to streamline communications with your attendees and staff in real-time. 

Going paperless has never been easier, but it sometimes takes a bit of getting used to for attendees. So, make it really easy by sending their tickets via email or providing a place where they can be easily downloaded. Use an event app that provides maps, essential information and extras that add value, this could be networking opportunities, ways to communicate with your company or opportunities to create their own agenda. 

Waste not

A big consideration for event professionals is reducing waste from food and drink. From cups and cutlery to leftover food, you should have a plan in place for how you’re going to reduce it, reuse it or recycle it. 

Try to plan your events so you can recycle or reuse everything used in the planning and execution of your event, whether it’s vinyl stickers or exhibition stands. During the event, make it really easy for your attendees to dispose of waste and recycle, perhaps using colour coded signs. And, if you can’t find a use for something again, try your best to donate it rather than throwing it away.

OLIO enables you to share food to prevent waste

When it comes to food waste, stay in touch with your guest list so you can estimate numbers as accurately as possible and keep your suppliers up to date. This will help you to keep waste to a minimum. Some wastage is unavoidable, so if you do end up with leftovers, consider donating it to those who need it. Try using apps such as Olio who connect those with surplus food to those who need or wish to consume it.

Ditch the plastic 

Follow the example of coffee shops by encouraging your attendees to bring their own reusable coffee cups and reward their efforts with discounts on their chosen hot drink. Where possible find a supplier that provides recyclable or compostable cups.

Encourage attendees to bring their own reusable water bottles too and ensure there are sufficient stations available for them to be refilled throughout the day. This means you can drastically reduce the amount of bottled water available at the event. 

close up photo of plastic bottle
Photo by Catherine Sheila on

There are some really easy ways to reduce plastic at events on top of encouraging the use of reusable coffee cups and water bottles. 

Some top tips:

  • Look to use paper straws or ditch straws entirely, and look for alternatives for plastic cutlery and packaging. 
  • Plastic badges can be replaced with a recyclable version, or you could encourage people to network more and ditch them altogether. 
  • A good rule of thumb here is to question whether you really need something made of single-use plastic and always look for a more sustainable alternative.

Be transport conscious 

The environmental impact of your attendees is something you should think about too. Is the location easily accessible by public transport? Are there incentive schemes in place for those who use it? Do you have a large contingent of international delegates? Can you offer hotel rooms nearby? All these questions need to be assessed when choosing your venue.

Consider virtual or hybrid

The last year has shown that many events can take place virtually, particularly meetings. Investment in technology has developed rapidly, making these events simple and engaging to run. So, consider whether your event needs to happen face-to-face. If you can achieve your objectives virtually then you’ll have reduced your carbon footprint enormously, and any travel stress for your attendees. Win-win.

person writing on notebook
Photo by Julia M Cameron on

You could also consider hosting a hybrid event if you have a large number of guests who are based internationally. This will reduce international travel dramatically whilst still supplying an engaging environment for both in-person and remote guests.

Offset your emissions 

There are some emissions that can’t be reduced or eliminated entirely. In these cases, it’s possible to offset emissions in other ways. This means you can compensate for your emissions by funding an equivalent carbon dioxide saving elsewhere, usually via carbon offset projects.

Carbon offsetting often reduces emissions much faster than an individual or company could and in many instances the projects provide much-needed employment, health improvement, biodiversity, reforestation and social benefits to communities.

Pick your partners 

Events have lots of moving parts and involve lots of different stakeholders, from suppliers to sponsors and of course the venue. The environmental considerations extend far beyond you, your organisation and your client, so it’s important to choose partners who align with your sustainability goals.

Working with local caterers or suppliers shortens the distance your food travels and reduces its carbon footprint, and as an added bonus you’ll be supporting the community in which you’re holding your event. It’s also a great idea to create menus that make the most of seasonal produce. Where possible you could join up with a local organisation to donate any leftover food to reduce waste too.

The Crystal

Choosing a venue for your event that is equally committed to your environmental efforts is really important too. That way you’ll be on the same page from the beginning and be able to carry out your sustainable initiatives with the full support of the venue team. You may even discover other ways to reduce, reuse and recycle that you hadn’t thought of yet. 

Finding the right partners will ensure your event is on a sustainable path from the very beginning, provide you with support and most importantly inspiration. 

Start Small 

Creating environmentally-friendly events takes time, money and a strong vision from you and your clients alike. There are a few easy ways to make sure you are being more sustainable in the day-to-day running of your events.

You could start by setting up an internal green committee to spread the workload and increase buy-in across your organisation, it will also provide a great opportunity to bounce ideas off each other. Small initiatives like recycling schemes or discounts for bringing your own coffee cup are a brilliant way to begin getting your sustainable message out there and don’t cost much to implement. 

Start small and take it step-by-step. By being patient, consistent and focusing on meeting your goals, you’re making sure you’re on the right path towards lowering your carbon footprint and helping to save the planet, one biodegradable cup at a time. 

Find your inspiration 

You don’t have to go it alone. There is a huge amount of inspiration and innovation out there to help. From zero-waste restaurants and bars to plastic-free festivals and apps that help you recycle and prevent food waste. 

Here are a few of our favourite examples: 

Nine Lives: This Bermondsey bar has a zero-waste ethos. All the furniture and even the sound system is reclaimed, the cocktails are created using ingredients from their own garden and any waste is composted or used to create something else – they even use the skin from fruit to make essential oils to use in liqueurs and hand soap.

Nine Lives, Bermondsey

Croissant Neuf: This Glastonbury Festival venue is legendary in its mission of delivering environmental concepts and ideas through workshops, music and more that are all completely run by solar power including production, communications and sound.

OLIO: Olio is a mobile app for food-sharing, aiming to reduce food waste. It does this by connecting those with surplus food to those who need or wish to consume it. Simple.

We hope these simple steps help you on your way to running more sustainable events when they return. 

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