How to host an eco-friendly conference - The Canvas Riversands

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How to host an eco-friendly conference

Sustainability is a key buzzword right now and holding a sustainable event doesn’t only offer great bragging rights – it also helps the environment, making it a win all round. Keep reading to learn how you can plan and host an environmentally friendly conference – it’s easier than you think.

These days everyone is looking for ways to be greener and reduce their impact on the environment. Sustainability isn’t going anywhere. If anything, this trend is growing as we all become more aware of the effects our actions have on the planet.

Firstly, hosting a sustainable event means changing the way you do things to avoid the depletion of natural resources. It’s all about looking at ways you can help maintain the environment.

If you’re feeling ambitious, try hosting a zero-waste event. Simply put, this means no waste ends up in the landfills, as everything should be completely recycled or composted. Landfills are necessary but they’re big environmental polluters as they produce large volumes of methane gas, which builds up under the surface of decomposing materials. Methane is one of the causes of global warming.

Consider this scary statistic from meetgreen.com, “The typical conference attendee produces 1.89KG of waste per day and from this, 1.16KG will go directly to a landfill. For a 1000 attendee event over three days you get 5670KG of waste, the equivalent of four compact cars, and from that total 3480KG ends up in a landfill.”

Hosting and creating a sustainable event is key to being a responsible event planner. Not only are you making a positive impact on the environment but you’re always creating new ways for your business to operate. Here’s how you can up your sustainability street cred while lowering your event’s carbon footprint.

border triangle Lose the paper trail


We’re smack in the middle of the tech age so take advantage and leverage technology to eliminate your need for using paper. Going paperless is so simple but can have a big impact on your carbon footprint. Create an event page, app or email subscription for your attendees and set up digital ticketing. This is a great way to minimise your footprint and offers a bonus of real-time communication with attendees and staff. It’s also easier to communicate last-minute changes, as you won’t have to send out individual emails, instead one simple post keeps everyone in the loop. Posting your event information on your website or social media channels is also more convenient for your attendees as they know exactly where to find all the necessary information and it’s easily available on smartphones. And even better it’s a great way to build your audience reach and increase engagement with attendees.

Purp triangle Choose the right partners


Once you’ve committed to hosting a sustainable event, opt for service providers who share your vision. It’s easier to reach your sustainability goals if you work with other environmentally-conscious partners. If you don’t want to switch from your established suppliers, maybe try starting a conversation with them around what you’re trying to do – and they could meet you halfway.

Try as much as possible to use venues that have already committed to some environmentally friendly initiatives. Fundi Kumalo, events manager at The Canvas Riversands shares some sustainable practices that The Canvas Riversands has already put in place.

“We try as much as possible to host sustainable events and have implemented in-house green initiatives, like starting an onsite organic garden at our agrihub and we use some of this produce in our catering. We offer conference bags made from recyclable materials and use upcycled billboards. We’ve got recycling procedures in place and ensure our conference waste is separated and recycled. At the request of a client, we can swap out water bottles for jugs and offer electronic displays instead of conference printing. Because we’re a business incubator, we offer conferences hosted at our venue a chance to support small business development through their conference procurement – this includes shuttle services, bar services, sound and AV as well as gifts to your attendees.”

Come together


Try to offer an eco-friendly transportation option by arranging shuttles to transport delegates to the venue as this is an easy way to lower your carbon footprint. This could also be quite convenient for big corporates as delegates won’t have to stress about traffic.

border triangle Purchase or rent sustainable supplies


Think Marie Kondo and ask yourself, “Do you really need this?” before making any purchases. This is a great way to cut costs and save resources. Most conference venues will have the equipment you need, but if you want something specific, especially in terms of décor, consider renting rather than buying. If purchasing works out to be more cost-effective, opt for banners and generic decorations that can be reused. You can keep sustainability in mind when purchasing by:

  • Choosing items with recycled contents and/or reduced packaging;
  • Try wherever possible to support socially responsible companies or local businesses;
  • Buy from local farmers or food supplier so your food doesn’t have to travel too far.

Purp triangle Don’t over-cater


Food is an important aspect of all events and while you never want to run out of food – over catering is a common mistake at events. Meegan Jones, author of Sustainable Event Management: A Practical Guide says, “Food into landfill is a major cause of landfill methane emissions, a global greenhouse gas emissions contributor. Food waste at events also contributes to startling global food waste statistics, an estimated one-third of all food produced is being lost or wasted.”

Jones’ advice is to accurately estimate the amount of food needed by taking into account the number of delegates, the type of event, the number of breaks and activities as well as dietary requirements. Also, all uneaten food needs to be handled correctly so it can be donated.

Opt for reusables


If your event has an outside component –you don’t have to rough it. Stay as far away as you can from disposable single-use items like serviettes, plastic crockery or paper plates. Rather use cloth napkins, compostable paper plates, and eco-friendly bamboo disposable cutlery. There’s also a plethora of options when it comes to outside dining and they’re fancier than you think – so you don’t have to compromise on style or quality.

border triangle Recycling for the win


In the eventing space, recycling comes in various forms.

  • Donate unused materials: If you don’t need the vinyl signs and poster boards you made for the event – please donate them instead.
  • Make it easy for attendees to recycle: ensure there are recycling bins next to trash cans so guests can easily dispose of their recyclables.
Purp triangle Keep spreading sustainability

Give conference attendees sustainable gifts at the end of the conference that they’ll love. Think glass or stainless steel straws in cute carry cases – not only are they environmentally a winner but it’s also a great branding opportunity. Or consider branded reusable coffee mugs or water bottles and you can pack these goodies up in a branded reusable shopping bag.

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