By Cheryl Stern
With Earth Day 2019 coming up in less than a week, it’s a great time to reflect on how we, as event professionals, can do our part to keep our events as green as possible. At Event 360, our motto while we’re out in the field has always been, “Leave it better than we found it.” And while it’s true that no one likes a litterbug, environmentally-friendly event processes can go so much further than that.
Here are a few examples and tips to get you thinking about how to make your events a bit gentler on the planet.
Start Small: Reduce Your Paper Needs
It seems like there is no end to the documents needed to thoroughly plan and execute an event. And while there will always be some printed materials that are vital to an event running smoothly (e.g., paper reports as a back-up in case of a computer malfunction or spotty wi-fi), one of the simplest ways to help green your event is to look long and hard at what truly needs to be printed versus what might be just as effective (or more effective!) in digital form.
Just as GPS has seamlessly replaced the need for route cues that rivaled “War and Peace” in length, there’s continual progress that can be made in this realm:
- Create a dedicated webpage for on-event instructions for volunteers. Now that everyone has a smart phone in their pocket, this is an easy way to share instructions without wasting paper. (Paper that will inevitably litter your event site by the end of the day.)
- Make sure your staff is on the same page (pun intended) about who is printing your needed documents to avoid unnecessary duplicates.
- Encourage participants to show their registration or fundraising confirmation on their phones if needed for check-in, rather than printing documentation to bring with them.
Rein in the SWAG
Just as it’s important to assess the amount of printed materials needed on event, carefully assessing your needed inventory of SWAG such as t-shirts and goodie bags from year-to-year can make a big impact. Smaller batches of leftover items are often easier to donate to local organizations after the event than larger quantities. (And your budget will thank you for not wasting money on unnecessary stock.) It’s also wise to leave the year off of as many items as possible, enabling you to reuse or repurpose any leftovers in the future.
You can also likely make some improvements in your packaging waste:
- Ask vendors to reduce individual packaging and consolidate whenever possible. Request that items be bundled together in one large box, rather than individually packaged.
- Buy event supplies in bulk to reduce shipping waste.
- Have a plan for recycling cardboard boxes after the event.
Planes, Trains, or Automobiles?
One significant way to lessen your event’s impact on the environment is through the reduction of vehicle emissions. Obviously, any event will involve a good deal of transportation needs, as equipment, supplies, and people all need to travel to the site. However, some thoughtful planning can help decrease this impact:
- Plan ahead! Providing more time for shipping your supplies will likely lead to lower-carbon shipping methods (i.e., ground versus air).
- For an event series, reduce the quantity of bulky items you carry with you to the bare minimum to reduce your carbon footprint. To successfully produce the Susan G. Komen 3-Day® it takes a sizeable amount of gear; however, over the years we’ve managed to reduce the number of semi-trucks needed from four to two. In this case, careful planning and packing cut our emissions out on the road in half.
- Reduce your rental vehicle fleet as much as possible and opt for smaller vehicles. Swapping buses for smaller shuttle vans, or large pit stop trucks for smaller pick-ups can make a difference.
- Utilize local staff whenever possible to limit the number of airplane flights needed.
- Encourage participants to carpool or take public transportation to the event. This will help with any parking requirements as well.
Specialized Recycling Programs
There are all kinds of wonderful recycling or donation programs that can be utilized to meet your event’s needs. With just a bit of research, you can likely find a program that fits the bill for reducing your environmental impact. Here are a couple of examples from our events:
- When thousands of muddy participants finish our MuckFest® mud and obstacle run, most are happy to leave their dirty shoes behind. Rather than disposing of a mountain of mucky shoes, we are proud to partner with Funds2Orgs to repurpose them and provide economic opportunity for micro-entrepreneurs in developing nations.
- On the 2018 Komen 3-Day series, we partnered with Mohawk who donated cushioned mats for our walkers to use in their tents and at lunch throughout the weekend. At the end of the event, Mohawk picked up the used and unused mats for recycling. (Fun fact: Mohawk operates two recycling facilities: one that recycles 3 billion plastic bottles per year which are converted into carpet, and another that recycles carpet fiber into nylon and polypropylene pellets for the automotive parts and furniture industries.)
Thinking Globally Begins Locally
Always be sure to work together with your local jurisdiction to ensure that you meet or exceed their environmental requirements. Follow jurisdictional guidelines for recycling and composting and make it clear that you intend to leave no trace of your event behind when you depart. Bonus: this helps ensure a positive relationship and collaborative partnership with local authorities.
On each of our events, we’re careful to follow local rules and guidelines when it comes to our environmental impact. Here’s one of our more adorable examples:
- Did you know that the Florida coast is the second most popular nesting area in the world for Loggerhead Turtles? It’s also where we produce the Florida AIDS Walk & Music Festival each spring. Since artificial lighting near beaches can distract and confuse mother turtles and hatchlings, we are careful to adjust our set-up and tear-down timelines so as not to interfere with their nesting, and to comply with state regulations protecting sea turtle habitats.
We hope we’ve provided some food for thought for how you can further green your upcoming events. We’d love to hear about your favorite green tips! Visit us on Facebook or Instagram to share your own best practices for clean and green events.
When not playing the role of participant in everything from 5Ks to marathons, Cheryl works as the Brand Manager for MuckFest®, helping to deliver a meaningful event experience to others.