Sustainable Event Planning


Azul Stengel Co-founder of Lienzo

Photo by Phil Desforges

What is the carbon footprint of an email? Not much, in retrospective, but what is the carbon footprint of a thousand emails, ten thousand? When organizing an event, how many emails are sent out in the form of invitations, save the date, reminders and even welcoming them. Events and planning events often take an unnecessary environmental toll, involving large amounts of energy, transportation, water, and waste. This is why, when organizing an event, companies should consider it as an opportunity to further the implementation of sustainable practices. From site selection, invitations, transportation, services, accessibility, to waste management, companies can reduce the social and environmental impact of their events if they put their minds to it.

The following article aims to explain several easy and effective ways in which events can be planned so that it has a lower negative impact on the planet. If planned properly, a successful event can create opportunities to generate positive and regenerative impact, so we urge companies to take these suggestions into consideration for their next fashion show, dinner, or party.

1. Aim for zero waste

While this title seems self-explanatory, aiming for zero waste is indeed the first step. To plan the whole event from the start with zero waste as an underlying objective will allow companies to have a low-impact event. By putting forward a core value like zero waste, the rest of the elements will follow this directive, this will ensure that the planning revolves around this objective before others. In doing so, what comes first is the reduction, or elimination of waste, and the rest comes after. This is a great example of how companies can integrate sustainability within their brand DNA, setting these types of goals above visibility or notoriety, they will be enforcing change in a way that has a positive impact across the board. This does not mean that companies need to be “low-key”, not at all! It means that how they achieve brand awareness does not compromise the environment as a result.

But how can this be achieved? While zero waste sounds overwhelming, there are ways to break it down into effective policies that are easy to implement. Zero waste means that none of the waste generated at the vent goes to landfill but is recyclable or compostable. Therefore, the first step is to choose electronic over paper, and paper over plastic. Whenever possible, events should use materials that already exist, either rented or used in the past. Companies can use a very minimalist base that can then be reused and repurposed through the years. These changes can be implemented at varying stages of the event, including cutlery, floors, chairs, tables, plates and glasses!

Another type of waste is pollution. Pollution not only ends up in landfills, it contaminates our water and air, our earth and even our food. As a result, companies should avoid the use of chemicals and other products that harm people, animals or the environment. While cleaning before, during, and after, only non-polluting products should be used. Today the market is filled with clean alternatives that can be made available to the venue if they do not already have them. Talking about the importance of water, using tap water instead of bottled water is an easy way to reduce non-recyclable packaging waste!

2. Work and source local

There are obvious positive environmental results when dealing at a local level for the sourcing of produce, services and labor. Choosing responsible vendors that are closer to the venue will allow the event to have a lower carbon footprint since the distance to the event will be smaller. Reducing transportation distances is a very direct way in which companies can reduce the use of fossil and non-renewable fuels. Furthermore, by sourcing at a local level, companies can have a positive impact within the local community. By providing a source of labor that is closer to where people live, workers will have less commute and better working conditions as less hours of their free, or non-remunerated, time is spent coming to and from the venue.

3. Use less & cleaner energy

The first step is always reduction, so, whenever possible, companies should reduce the use of energy (both clean and fossil-fuel). Having an event close to public transportation can reduce fuel use by shortening commuting and providing an alternative to private, and less efficient, forms of transportation. Promoting low-impact modes of transportation can also be a way in which companies can reduce the use of fossil fuels. If the venue is far away from public transportation, hiring a company bus, encouraging alternative transportation such as biking or carpooling can be a great way to reduce the impact and break the ice.

Another way in which companies can reduce their energy use is relying less on electricity for the event, and this is easier to do than it sounds: having a social gathering during the day rather than at night will reduce the electrical bill as there are natural light sources and, usually, it is less cold. The digital footprint should also be reduced. This can be easily done by reducing the amount of emails sent out to the guests. We are used to receiving a confirmation email, a save the date email, a welcoming email, a reminder email, and a thank you email. The BBC carried out a survey and found out that,in a year, an average person in the developed world adds 136kg of CO2 to their carbon footprint from the emails they send and receive. This is equivalent to an extra 320km driven in a car. Globally, the world's email usage generates as much CO2 as having an extra seven million cars on the roads.” (1)

We propose that companies reduce the amount of emails sent to the guests, not only does it simplify the life of said guests, since all of the information is synthesized in one email, but it also reduces the carbon footprint generated by each email. Switching to clean sources of energy can also generate a positive impact in reducing the carbon footprint of an event. This can easily be done by talking to local energy providers.

4. Plan in advance

This cannot be stressed enough. In order to properly implement these changes, events must be planned with time and consideration for the people that are working to make it happen. Avoiding last-minute planning will ensure that events do not have inhumane working hours, rushed air shipping, and irresponsible sourcing.

Planning in advance also allows companies to follow through on their goals and objectives. While integrating sustainability as a long-term value, companies need to implement sustainable practices in all aspects of their development. Companies that plan in advance can take the time to weigh options, analyze alternatives and achieve better results.

Now, while these practices are great ways in which companies can reduce the environmental and social impact of their events, it is not enough. Companies need to be ready to measure and analyze the impact they create so that they can learn from their mistakes and evolve in the future. Finally, companies should add a regenerative element to their events. It is no longer enough to reduce impact, companies need to have an active role in generating a positive outcome for society and the environment. Events can be a great opportunity to create awareness, raise funds, or even implement long-lasting changes within company structures to establish a regenerative agenda.

(1) The thought experiment: What is the carbon footprint of an email, BBC Science Focus Magazine, last updated 23/01/2023.