Written by Allison Rocca, CMP | Program Manager
The Events Industry Council defines event sustainability as “taking action towards preserving our natural environment; promoting a healthy, inclusive society; and supporting a thriving economy.” We continue to hear buzzwords like “green” and “sustainable.” The best news? This is anything but a trend! We are beginning to see change and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Small tweaks during the planning stage and on-site execution at meetings can make a huge impact.
Considering the below statistics, meeting planners and hoteliers have the power to make going green the norm for every event—big or small, domestic or international, champagne or beer budget. How? Well, this industry is full of creative minds, powerful voices and people who welcome change. And, there is no sign of us slowing down.
- There are 190,000 hotels globally, representing more than 17.5 million guest rooms (data hotel provider, STR.)
- In 2018, the Events Industry Council’s Meeting Significance Survey revealed that the meetings industry generates $330 billion annually in the USA, a $50 billion increase from 2014.
- $54 billion: amount meeting planners spend on food and beverage each year, yet $22 billion is wasted. That’s 41%; a lot of food that could have gone to good use.
Here are some creative tips and tricks on ways to plan events with green in mind.
Plastic is old news. There is no need for any single-use plastic on buffets.
- Water bottles = replace with still and fruit infused water stations with reusable glasses.
- Straws = replace with wood stir sticks for coffee and cocktails.
- If hosting an outdoor event, it is essential to ask the venue about what type of cutlery is being used. Are they using plastic or bamboo? Compostable, recyclable or trash?
- Instead of the standard individual juice boxes, create a colorful juice shot or carafe station with smoothie and juice options. This is also brain food and will get your attendees more engaged.
- To-go meals: ask about insulated coolers! This is a great option to keep items cold when on-the-go and they are reusable.
“Meat-Free Day.” Vegetables are bigger than ever and plant-based is in.
- Go meatless. 31% of consumers practice a no-meat day, and more people identify as vegan or vegetarian than in the past. Chefs love to get creative and this is just one way to showcase their talent.
- Try new things and ideas — your attendees are naturally curious.
- Save money and the environment by using plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, and tofu seitan.
A Play on Color! Our parents always told us not to play with our food, but why not? Colorful is appealing to the eye, and food is fun to create. Food that can be mixed-and-matched provides opportunities for conversation and creativity.
- Think tapas. Not every meal has to be huge. Smaller, colorful food items deliver more variety and less waste.
- Create a crostini station with a variety of toppings instead of the standard deli sandwich. Crostini’s are more bite-sized, and this allows attendees to try multiple without adding to the waste.
- Think sweet and savory: banana and Nutella, cream cheese and fruit, lox and salmon, avocado and sriracha.
- Use food, herbs, and plants as décor on buffet stations and plated meals.
- Create a food wall so guests can put what they want on their plate.
Know Your Audience. According to former Executive Chef Wardynski, at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, communication can reduce waste. If you have a group of 300, but know not all will eat crudité, guarantee 150. Boxed lunches and to-go meals often have a lower consumption and Chef Wardynski would rather make an additional 10% boxed lunches on the fly than throw them away.
- Collect dietary restrictions and preferences during the registration phase.
- Understand your demographics. The chocolate cake won’t appeal to a fitness group, but cocoa and peanut butter protein bites will hit the spot.
- Monitor consumption for the food and beverage component of the meeting.
- What percentage of your group attends the Welcome Reception?
- Determine how many meals were provided for breakfast versus how many attendees showed?
- What were the popular items on the buffet versus the items that didn’t move at all?
Donate Whenever and Whatever You Can. Cooked food, if time and temperature-controlled and does not leave the back of the house can still be donated.
- Discuss with your CVBs, conference service managers and chefs where the local food banks are located.
- Review the World Wildlife website for a back of house guide and online toolkit.
Rethink Meeting Space. It’s time we start thinking outside the box (literally.)
- Set up beach chairs, bring your breakfast in an insulated cooler, and discuss your topics with your toes in the sand.
- Take a hike! Use this as a teambuilding activity to promote healthy lifestyles and enjoy the natural beauty.
- Transform the ballroom or lawn into a yoga lounge. Instead of tables and chairs, use yoga mats – they’re mobile and you can move them whenever needed.
Use less AV and Save Energy. AV consumes 16% or more of your overall budget and requires tons of energy and labor. What can be done to preserve our natural environments and promote healthy lifestyles? The options are endless!
- PowerPoints are a great resource to relay information to an audience, but not every event requires this. Some events require brainstorming, and creative, natural environments will assist in coming up with ideas.
- Create a general session space to come together as one group but take a break from technology during the breakouts and immerse yourself in the elements. Less set-up, labor energy, and money.
- Incorporate natural elements as your décor. If you’re hosting a meeting in Florida, ask about driftwood or seashells that can be used for décor. This will add an outside element when you can’t be there.
- Recycle your lanyards and name badges. Many companies have a standard badge type or size they buy year after year, so why throw them away? Set out a bin outside the meeting space for lanyards and badge holders.
- Printing large pamphlets for each attendee is unnecessary. On average, attendees carry 2-3 devices, and most likely have the information needed! Don’t waste time, money and resources on items that will be left in the meeting space after the event concludes. The less paper at an event, the better.
We may just be getting started, but when the entire industry bands together, we’ll make a huge impact on the future of events.
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