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How to reduce the environmental impact of your events – Part 2: energy and F&B

In our previous article, we found out that, according to a study by MeetGreen and Event Manager Blog, travel is by far the primary problem area for the carbon footprint of a national event in the USA (84%). As such, it should be your primary target when it comes to improving the sustainability of your events. 

But, even if they don’t weigh as heavily, energy (12%) and food & beverage (3%) are still worth a look, especially as, in some ways, you might have more latitude to make changes in these two categories.

In this article, we are going to share some tactics to help you with both issues.

The impact of energy and F&B on sustainability in the events industry

Energy as a whole represents 12% of an attendee’s carbon footprint, with 8% being dedicated to energy for hotel accommodation, while 4% goes to the venue.

Food and beverage with 3% take third place for event waste and carbon footprint. The average conference participant produces each day 1.89 kg of discards, or waste, more than 60% of which is landfill, and food waste represents in some cases over 40% of an event waste stream.

While this might seem trivial compared to the overwhelming impact of travel and transportation, making changes in these two categories might be more manageable. Indeed, influencing the way people travel to events might be unattainable at times, while implementing sustainable policies for energy and F&B rests partially on the event planner’s shoulders.

Here is what you can do to put your event on a greener path.

Go hybrid if possible

We’ve touched on that subject in our previous article. In addition, a recent case study compared five different event models (single event site, hub and spoke, regional clusters, local clusters, and remote-only). Results show that streaming experiences can reduce total climate pollution from events by 60% in the case of regional clusters to 98% when the event is remote-only.

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Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

 

We are not advocating to have only full virtual events as we know they are not as satisfying for the guests as in-person events. But going hybrid can help you reduce the carbon footprint of your event by reducing the number of people who have to travel. And it also helps in terms of energy consumption and, of course, F&B (fewer people, less food needed).

Select your destination appropriately

More and more destinations these days are trying to attract environmentally conscious clients, so you should be able to take your pick from destinations that have elected to use renewable resources for their electricity production or focus on environmental initiatives. 

Two countries have already reached their net-zero carbon-neutral goals, Bhutan and Suriname. While not everybody can organize their events in these countries, other places are working on it, and some have even put it into law (Denmark, France, Hungary, New Zealand, Sweden, and the United Kingdom).

Costa Rica is another example and has set ambitious goals, such as an all-renewable power grid by 2030 and a zero-emissions transportation system by 2025.

Aside from countries, some cities are also taking steps, like Chicago

Choose eco-friendly venues and hotels 

Sometimes, you will have no choice in terms of destination, as some events always take place in the same city. But that shouldn’t prevent you from selecting a venue or hotel that has put in place eco-friendly policies. Some report on their sustainable actions, which should help you discern which ones are really invested in these policies vs. those that just try to surf on the green wave. Why not include a clause in your RFP, giving points in your assessment dedicated to sustainability?

Certifications such as LEED (green building certification program), ISO 20121 (specific to events), or 14001 (environmental management for any type of organization) are also an excellent way to ascertain that these venues have set objectives in terms of waste and carbon reduction, as well as water management. 

The good news is that hotels have made progress. According to Cornell Hotel Sustainability Benchmarking (CHSB) Index, carbon emissions per square meter of hotels worldwide have decreased by 10% since 2015

Hotels have quite a few choices when it comes to implementing green options, and it starts with the design of the building itself. Look for venues/hotels with green or reflective roofs, solar panels, rainwater harvesting, low-flow bathroom features, LED lighting, etc.

According to Greenview global benchmarking study, 21% of hotels already have on-site renewable energy, and 55% have installed smart irrigation.

 

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Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

 

Quite a few venues have also put sustainability front and center, like the Moscone Center in San Francisco or the Vancouver Convention Center.

Aside from building design improvements that can be tricky to implement in older buildings, green initiatives can be applied everywhere. As an event planner, don’t forget to look for these.

Indeed, instead of providing individual plastic containers for soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, etc., venues and hotels can use dispensers that can be refilled. Installing occupancy sensors to deactivate lights and climate control automatically when nobody uses the room can also help.

Embracing recycling helps hotels and venues manage their waste more efficiently. So look for places that have banned single-use plastic (31% of hotels have already done that), that have recycling bins around the site even in guests rooms, encourage guests to reuse towels and bedding if they stay a few days, provide bathroom papers made of recycled content fiber, etc.

Implement a zero-waste plan for your event 

The easiest way to make sure you can reduce the amount of waste ending up in the landfill is to reduce what you bring on-site for your event.

Suppliers and exhibitors can help you in that respect by taking steps to reduce their own waste. For example, exhibitors can eliminate give-aways that more often than not end up being thrown away. You can also encourage them to ditch brochures and printed materials if you provide an event app where the attendees can find all the information they need.

Talking about technology, you can make it easier to go paperless by sending email invitations or using digital ticketing. No more paper invitations or tickets! All relevant information can be made available online through the event website (agenda, list of exhibitors, information about conferences, etc.) and later on an event app.

Much of the food waste occurs when the guest count is off or because event organizers fear there won’t be enough food for their guests. Make sure you review your attendance history and update your orders accordingly. Remember, the excess will end up in waste, so don’t be afraid to reduce your surplus margins!

Partnering with local non-profits or charities that can safely transport and donate leftovers is another avenue to explore. Again, you can do this in collaboration with your caterer or the venue, which might already have programs for that, and organizations they work with on a regular basis.

 

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Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

 

Your venue or hotel might also have a waste recycling program or be actively composting their excess food. Checking with them during your selection phase will be worth it.

To eliminate packaging as much as possible, consider ordering in bulk.

Use water stations rather than bottled water or pitchers and glasses in meeting spaces.

Try to avoid anything disposable and choose recyclable materials, reusable or biodegradable cups, straws, etc. 

Finally, make it easy for your attendees to recycle, or they might not do it. For example, trash and recycling bins should be easily recognizable and distinguishable. No guesswork there for your guests!

At Totm exposition, as a designer and manufacturer of trade show booths, we recognize the impact our industry has on the environment and try to minimize our footprint by taking concrete steps to maximize the recycling of our materials.

Go local, organic, and seasonal

For your menus, partner with your caterer to choose produce that is locally grown, seasonal, or organic, whenever possible. Maybe your venue grows its own food on-site: the Green Lodging Trends Report showed that, in 2018, 43% of hotels in their panel were doing so. Maybe they can connect you with local food vendors that can help you with that. 

 

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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

 

You can also take advantage of people’s newfound love for special diets and offer more plant-based meals for your vegetarian and vegan attendees. That will help reduce the overall prevalence of beef in your menus, and this is a good thing for the environment, as studies have shown that producing a pound of beef requires 1,799 gallons of water and releases about 22 lbs of carbon.

In conclusion

Picking the right partners goes a long way in helping you with your goals, especially in making your events greener. Ask them from the start (selection process) what their procedures and practices are regarding sustainability. Also, perfection doesn’t exist, so don’t try to tackle all the issues at once. Instead, go step by step and keep track of your actions. You will see progress! 

As we’ve seen, you can make many choices during the event process that will help you reduce the impact of your event on the environment. But bear in mind that the COVID-19 pandemic has made recycling and waste reduction more complicated. Event planners have to deal with more waste than before in the form of face masks, cleaning wipes, disposable packaging for food, and service ware. Therefore, don’t rely too much on recycling, but more on reducing at the source.