How to Create Sustainable Events | Only Successful Events Show

How to Plan a Sustainable Event

Have you ever planned or attended an event where unused food or decorations were simply discarded after the attendees leave? Do you wish there was a way to reduce waste during live events? If you answered "Yes" to either question, you are among the growing number of event planners who are focused on making sustainability a top priority. 

In today's episode, we'll cover:

  • Why a sustainable approach to event planning is so incredibly important
  • The #1 area where waste occurs at events
  • 10 simple tips to help you plan your next sustainable event

How A Sustainable Approach to Event Planning Can Transform Your Business

Today I talked to Adam Parry, Director of Event Tech Live and Co-Founder at Event Industry News (EIN). As one of the world's leading event-focused B2B magazines, Event Industry News has covered the latest news and stories in the event planning industry since 2008. 

Adam notes that a sustainable approach to event planning can have a profound impact on our environment while costing relatively little to implement. Recently, there has been a heightened focus on preventing waste during live events. In fact, some event producers are receiving industry recognition and awards for the positive impact they have on our environment.

The #1 Area Where Waste Occurs in Event Planning

Food waste is the single biggest sustainability challenge facing event planners. According to research by Lime Venue Portfolio, the average event wastes up to 20% of the food prepared for attendees. While efforts are increasing to find solutions to this problem, leftover food is often discarded at the end of events. This statistic is concerning to attendees and event planners alike, spurring an increased focus on sustainability in the event planning industry.

In addition to an overabundance of food at events, there are other sustainability pain points. Excessive use of paper, plastic, and energy are other top concerns for sustainability-minded event planners. Today's forward thinking event planning agencies are responding by building a culture of sustainability within their organizations.

10 Things Event Planners Can Do To Create Sustainable Events

Reducing the amount of waste produced during a live event requires some advance planning and a commitment to preserving our environment. From selecting environmentally conscious vendors to having a post-event strategy in place for unused items, here are some simple steps event planners can take to promote sustainability:

  1. Provide to-go boxes for attendees to reduce food waste
  2. Offer online platforms to let people in the community know if there is leftover food available
  3. Educate employees and temporary staff about the importance of conserving resources
  4. Establish a carbon offsetting program that allows attendees to make donations based upon their individual carbon footprint
  5. Work with a waste disposal company to ensure that recyclable items are collected and waste is properly disposed
  6. Donate decorations to a local nursing home or care facility after an event
  7. Check with suppliers to see if they have any special waste management programs or solutions
  8. Serve more plant-based meals as opposed to meat-based meals
  9. Use renewable energy sources to curb power usage
  10. Switch to LED lighting to reduce energy usage and extend the life of lights

Are you already creating sustainable events? 

Nominate yourself or another event producer for a sustainable event award!

The Sustainable Event Awards celebrate sustainable achievements from within the industry. Entries Open 24th March 2020. 

Green Background text that reads the Sustainable EventS Awards, also has a round logo for Recognizing Sustainable Events & Suppliers

Interested in planning a sustainable event?

Finally preventing waste during and leaving a "smaller footprint" behind is a desirable skill that will boost your value as an event planner. If you would like to connect with prospects, suppliers, and vendors who value sustainability, then Get Listed in the Only Successful Events™ Directory.

In addition to advertising your services, your directory listing will help you connect with prospective clients seeking your event planning expertise. 

> Full transcript of interview on sustainable events...

AI: (00:00)

Hello and welcome back to Only Successful Events show. I'm your host, April Amazone. Today we have on Adam Perry. Adam is the editor and founder of events industry news and also the co-founder of event technology awards. It was really important for me to have on Adam today because as I mentioned, he is the founder of Event Industry News. 

Event industry news really noticed that there was a lot of talk in the industry and a lot of awareness around sustainable events. Now they are really bringing it to the forefront and I wanted to have on Adam to give us a little bit of feedback. Before we jump into that can you tell us a little bit about you and your background?

AP: (00:40)

I suppose I've worked within the industry for around 20 years. My first foray into the sector was actually a publication focused on outdoor festivals, sports and agricultural events. Really looking at how those organizes put together those event spectaculars. From that, the idea for Event Industry News was born. 

We realize that by hunting those tools that we could reach a wider audience and you could use a digital platform. We could really use the tools to understand what people were looking at in order to direct our editorial features, culture contributions and the content we published. That actually led down to launch Event Tech Live and the Event technology Awards.

AP: (01:39)

From the technology concept that we were accomplishing, we could see a huge draw to our audience to that content. 

We realized that there was something there in terms of keen interest to learn more about what technology could do for events. Or an event organizer or event production company. So that’s how the event technology awards have been produced. 

Unofficially, I suppose we have been event organizers around seven years. Never done an event before that. We've learned a hell of a lot along the way. Luckily for me with my job and my role I can bring people up and ask them how they do it and hope for the best. So I’ve been lucky in that sense.

AI: (02:21)

Were you always previously on the publication side and not into the events?

AP: (02:27)

We came into the sector interviewing great organizers and writing about how they did things. It was a natural segway, we would always become event organizers. Ultimately we had all the tools, contacts suppliers, and the knowledge base to understand how to better deliver an event. Therefore, the ability to produce event industry news in order to create something, for them that they trusted themselves. Very, very lucky in terms of the position.

AI: (03:04)

I love that. Now, what made you want to talk about sustainable events?

AP: (03:10)

It's one of those things that for me as an individual, have been trying to learn more about my own personal impacts and my family's impacts. I just had a little son that was born six months ago, that was an alarm bell moment. Now I'm responsible for the future of somebody else. What does that look like going forward? Once you start to read into how much of an impact we as individuals have. 

The logical sidestep to that for me, as a journalist was, okay, so what does our industry do? Our industry essentially brings lots of people together. Sometimes in local places, sometimes in remote places. What's great about the sector is we can build on fantastic events and things that last a blink of an eye. Fortunately with that comes an impact. I believe as an industry we can lesson, we can have a positive impact on it. So that's kind of why we were looking.

AI: (04:27)

I believe that most people don't think that events could be sustainable or have an impact. 

Because they're usually one and done, or maybe it's an annual event. It's not something that people are thinking about. I'm really happy that you are bringing awareness to it. Where do you see a lot of waste? What things people should be thinking about that are not?

AP: (04:58)

I suppose a couple of things that come first and foremost to mind, especially with the contractors and organizers that we've spoken to recently at Event Industry News. Catering, for example, is making a change in terms of choices of meal options. Less meat-based more plant-based. That could have a positive impact on the whole carbon effect of producing food for that audience.

That food has to be fun and creative and obviously transport. Quite a lot more water and resources are going to make it available for us. For example, farming, vegetables, and funds, We are obviously an industry that wants to have an abundance. We never want people to be short. So we tend to have an oversupply, an over-demand of food at most of the events. It’s hard to give the caterers exact numbers.

AP: (06:27)

What I'm learning to do with the food that is leftover, as an event organizer to ensure a sustainable events

We can use tools and platforms to provide that food to homeless people or less fortunate people. In the UK we have an app that’s called too good. You can list things on there for free and that lets people in the local vicinity know that foods available to them. At least it's not wasted. 

We had a sustainable event breakfast briefing just last week in London, in the UK. Catered for our audience and there was overflow. We found a way for that food not to go to waste.  Just those small minor tweaks and steps we can do as individual organizers. If we all had the same standards then we will have such lasting impacts. We will massively reduce waste and things like that in the sector.

AI: (07:36)

So I owned a catering company for seven years, years ago. At the end of an event, everything would be tossed in the garbage because there wasn't really something you could do. Food banks in the US were not taking it because it was already prepared food. So it was just a waste of food.

Some of the servers would take it home at the end of the night. It really was such a waste. I love the idea of the app and honestly, I'm not sure if there is something like that in the US but I definitely want to check into that. That's amazing.

AP: (08:07)

There's an opportunity for some entrepreneurs within the sector to create sustainable events. 

What are the simple things that you don’t realize until you start talking to people? A simple change in, let's say chocolate brownies. Everybody loves the very fine cut square, perfect chocolate brownie dessert to serve up. Right? 

Obviously to do that they have to cut up all the edges and trim up. There's a lot of waste that goes into that, and that food doesn't get used. So if we can evolve and replace that with more of a homestyle presentation and didn’t have to have the extreme presentation. Then the waste again would not have to be created through lots of those design choices.

AI: (08:52)

That's a great tip. I love the home-style feel. You can dress that up on any buffet, any table or any plate as well. I love that idea. I believe one of the awards in the last few months, One of the big awards, the Emmys or the Golden Globes. They had their entire event vegan or plant-based meals. I can't remember which one it is, but I'll put it in the show notes to the article. It was pretty amazing. That just feeds to your point that it is becoming more top of mind.

AP: (09:30)

There’s also sponsorship opportunity with sustainable events

Sell the sponsor the opportunity to provide branded take away home boxes. Let your attendees take things home with them for their family or friends or for lunch tomorrow. Have a company have that branded and all of a sudden you have a revenue stream. It can be that simple.

AI: (09:53)

That's, that's a great tip! We have every way that you can make money with an event and every sponsorship possible. But that's one we never thought of. So that is definitely a great tip. Now, how do you encourage your suppliers and your attendees to be more sustainable?

AP: (10:09)

That’s an interesting one. Education is first and foremost. There is a great event. I'm sure some of your listeners, and you'd be aware of it called Climax. They have deep conversations with a number of their suppliers. They talk about the most sustainable options whether its materials or logistics. 

From that perspective, I think it comes down to the relationships and the contractors you work with. Sustainability as anything else in business should actually be an investment. A simple one with actual contractors could be some form of a carbon offset program. Now, carbon offset is not meant to be the way that we can buy ourselves out of these issues. Ultimately an offset is not prevention.

AP: (11:31)

Carbon offsetting can be a great way to engage with your suppliers and with your attendees.

I'll give you an example of Event Tech Live. Event Tech Live partnered with a charity here in the UK called the Energy Revolution. Through Energy Revolution, we were able to, and our contractors are able to calculate the carbon impact that they had by supplying our event. They could offset and make a donation to mitigate that. 

What we actually did for our attendees if they wanted to, it wasn’t compulsory. It was totally optional. We set up a donation station. Attendees could go to a specific area of the event, talk to our staff and calculate the impact they have had. That's was our first step into it. I think longer-term as an organizer, we would like to make all of those donations outsell from behalf of our attendees. 

AI: (12:41)

I'm going to interrupt you a bit because I know some of the people listening are probably little confused of what you just said. The attendee would go to a station and they would donate whatever their carbon footprint was on that event. They would donate that amount to a certain charity that you appoint or that they want to?  

AP: (13:10)

Energy Revolution  is a charity that's been set up by individuals in the events industry to help with sustainable events.


They help offset the carbon footprint of festivals and events. They have been super successful in the festival, and the outdoor market. So quite quickly you can go up to a couple of members of staff at this donation station. Attendees will be asked you where you have traveled from, by what means and they given a figure and  It's super low! 

For me particularly in the UK, from where I live in Manchester to London it's 300 miles or so. Going each way by train, for me it would be about $2. It's really cost-effective. If organizers can facilitate that then, that means the impact of that event is really low.

AI: (14:09)

I love that. It doesn't sound like that much money to the attendee, but that adds up throughout all of the attendees. That makes a huge difference. I love that idea.

AP: (14:19)

There is some research that the average attendee, attending an event within that home contract. So a conference or corporate event for example. That has the impact of about 15,000 tons of CO2 in one single go. That's travel accommodation, food and beverage and all that kind of stuff. So that times two and a half, 10,000 attendees, hundreds of events, thousands of events. It all adds up and we can offset that at the very least.

AI: (14:54)

Absolutely. I love all these different ideas that you're bringing to our listeners. It's stuff that is so simple to put in place and stuff we haven't thought about.

Any other ideas that you can share on how we can produce more sustainable events?

AP: (15:16)

One of the things I will direct your listeners to is Event Industry News has just brought out a free to access guide called the Sustainable Event Buyers Guide. Within that, there are huge amounts of resources on suppliers, supply options, product options and as well as some thought leadership content. We have caterers, organizes and other people within the sector that are bringing some of these ideas that I mentioned to the table. 

Funnily enough from a recycling company in the UK, one of the things that they told me about that didn't even register with me before, was using black bin bags. It might be different in the states but in the UK  there is a rule. Even if it's being recycled, it’s not safe enough to have somebody through that bag because they can't see what's inside it. That would go to incineration rather than recycling

AP: (16:21)

Swapping that black bin bag out for a clear bin bag means that they can clearly identify what's inside. Therefore you could be sure that they can safely recycle it.

That one little change can have a huge impact on how much is actually recycled versus going to incineration

Incineration is not the best option cause that still emits CO2. You are still going to buy it. It's no more expensive. Have a recycle program to start your event. If you can have a waste disposal company work with you on that, that could be a massive difference between how that waste is handled. 

AI: (17:05)

That's a good way to find out if you have any forks and knives thrown into the garbage as well.

AP: (17:11)

We've got a few people that have told us about iPods and things like that found in the bin to be thrown away.  So you can retrieve some valuables that way too.

AI: (17:17)

One of the simple things that you can do and we've always done is at the end of the events to make them more sustainable


You usually have so many different decorations, flowers or centerpieces, things like that. Some of the guests take them home and they end up sitting at an attendee's house. 

A lot of times we have somebody at a particular event that volunteers to take them to a nursing home or someplace that's going to make a real difference. Rather than just tossing them in the garbage or they are going to just sit on someone's counter. They could go to someone who would really appreciate that it's there to brighten their day.

AP: (18:01)

I think one of the easiest and simplest things for any organizer to do is engaged with all of their suppliers they are currently working with. Did they do anything to themselves?  Do they have any programs, policies, or any offsetting scheme? Where is their products and solutions from?

One of the easiest things that you can do is make a simple change or encourage your contractors to start to have those practices as part of that way of deliberate. Then by proxy you're event becomes more sustainable. So it's worth checking in with all of your regular contractors and anybody that you engage with. Just checking with them what they have

You might be surprised that the people you are already working with are actually making your event sustainable already. 

AI: (18:57)

I love that. One other thing that comes to the top of mind that a lot of us do in the industry anyway. You can also share a lot of resources. So again, usually, events are one and done but you have all of those extra resources, props or decorations. Sometimes you rent them but most of the time they're custom made. You can figure out a way to have a co-op and share those different events as long as there's a little twist to keep you separated from the other one. 

So that's a great idea too. I'm sure there's a lot more that you share in the guide. I'm going to also put the link to the guide in the show notes. 

Let's talk about how this could have a positive effect on our business. We talked about obviously it's going to have a positive effect on the environment and we want to make those changes for that reason. Making those changes can also have a positive effect on your business and positioning you as a leader and as a change-maker in the industry. So can you talk a little bit about that?

AP: (20:10)

It's interesting. At the sustainability event breakfast, this was actually quite a lot of actual conversation. 

What it boils down to is your audience and the decision process that they're going through when they're deciding which events to attend. Who to invest money in as an individual. Whether to buy a ticket to the event or tell their friends and colleagues about the event. 

I think we're going to see a shift in how sponsors determine the value with the position and the brand association they want to bring. It is super important to think about how your main revenue streams are making decisions on who to associate with them. An event that could be deemed as wasteful or not.

How many of these events might not get chosen over another due to one being a sustainable event.

AP: (21:08)

Especially when it comes down to individual.  Because individuals buy tickets to events. I know I look at what the organizers are doing and follow them on social media. Whenever they do something positive that's a positive affirmation to me as to why I want to be associated with them.

Maybe not right now, but I think over the coming years we will see it actually being a positive way to mark your event to attract a large audience, increase attendance, and attract bigger, better sponsorships values as well.

AI: (21:58)

Without a doubt! I also feel like in the future there will be different awards as far as contracts or government awards to the event producers that are making that bigger change. I love being one of the first.  It's not that there aren't people doing it out there, but there aren't enough people. 

So if you start now and make these little changes in your business that are going to make that bigger impact when you're producing your events, you're going to stand out when everybody else starts. You are going to be one of the first. So I love that.

Now is there any technology that you think could really build the sustainability of our events?

AP: (22:47)

There's lots of technology on the outdoor side of things or if you produce outdoor events. Especially when it comes to power and reusable power. Some of that's been around for a long time. One of the technologies that we're talking about quite a lot here in the UK is the use of platforms like this and virtual events, hybrid events or multi-local events. 

That's actually where an event is brought together on a local basis. So maybe your gathering people in the UK gathered the people in New York, and we gathered people in Dubai. We can join together with technology. You communicate and network with each other via technology all in the same day. Then they'll do their thing at their local event and network with local people. That way they don't have to travel to one destination altogether. You will actually get to spend more time with family and I don't have to do the airport.  Ultimately that kind of stuff

AI: (23:57)

It reduces their travel costs and everything else. 

AP: (24:01)

One of the areas that I would advise anybody to look at in terms of how powerful online events can be looked at E-Sports.

E-Sports has been created out of attendees behind computers in their own homes. The organizers of those events have found a great platform to bring those people together online and those communities have created live events off the back of it.

They can work really well together as a way to engage the audience all year round. To connect people without having to travel.  Then if you want it to if you've got a strong community online, bring them together and actually create live events that I could ever make sense. So I think we'll see better virtual event technology being utilized as part and parcel of how we deliver events. You can mix it up with the person, face to face events as well.

AI: (25:00)

I agree. Definitely. So I know that you guys just had a big announcement. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

AP: (25:07)

I suppose as Event Industry News, our main intent is to bring information news and knowledge to the sector. Our belief is that although from the outside, we may seem very wasteful as an industry.

We have quite a big impact when it comes to sustainability of events.

Our opinion is there are some great individuals, organizations, suppliers, and organizes doing amazing things. That information and knowledge needs to be shared.

So to that fact, this week we've just announced, hopefully when this podcast goes out. The Events Industry News is launching the Sustainable Event Awards. As a recognition platform that organizers, suppliers, and individuals can get for their practices. Their work, their policies. we'll be announcing a really high caliber judging lineup shortly.  I think he's going to create a place for people to turn to understand what other people are doing. Contractors that are doing great things. Talk to other organizers that doing great things.

AP: (26:25)

I know from my experience, I looked to awards as a point of call of who's doing the best stuff in the sector and who's doing the stuff I should be looking at right now. So we're going to do that. There’s going to be a portion of offsetting that we are going to do as part of the awards. We're looking into planting trees and things like that as part of it. 

Our awards will be made from sustainable materials. It's an exciting time. We can’t find anything like that at the moment. There is maybe one sustainable category within certain industry awards While it's absolutely fantastic, that's great.

We want to get people more excited about sustainable events.

Look at types of Events, sizes of events, types of suppliers and things like that. Tshat's a big announcement for us.

AI: (27:14)

I love that. And is it open to everybody or is it just UK based?

AP: (27:20)

It's open to everybody. It's a global event. We are actually going to look at harnessing virtual technology to host the award ceremony as well. So that for you, no matter where you are in the world, what event you’re from, you can get involved in the celebration. Get involved with the award winnings and all that kind of stuff as well. So we're going to utilize that. So no matter where you are you can get involved.

AI: (27:44)

I love it. Would it be okay if I put the link for more information in the show notes as well?

AP: (27:51)

Yeah, absolutely! We'll have a subscriber if you want to receive regular updates about the categories, judges, and entry process. So yeah, absolutely! And if anybody wants to reach out to me directly my contact information will be there as well.

AI: (28:13)

Perfect! Adam thank you so much for really bringing this out into the public's attention. It's something that people are working on behind the scenes, but nobody's really talking about it. So I really thank you and Event Industry News for really bringing out the awareness and thanks for being on today.

AP: (28:32)

No, thank you for having me here. It's been great.

AI: (28:34)

My pleasure.

Learn more about Adam Parry, Event Industry News, & The Sustainable Event Awards...

Adam Parry is the co-founder and editor of the event industry’s global online magazine, (EIN).

As an avid technology evangelist, Adam coupled his 10+ years’ experience in the event industry with his passion for the latest tech trends to co-create Event Tech Live, Europe’s only show dedicated to event technology. On top of this, Adam is also the co-organiser of the Event Technology Awards, a world-renowned awards scheme showcasing the very best in event technology.

EIN’s vast readership comprises organizers, promoters, event management and production companies, suppliers, experiential agencies, the corporate sector, local government and organizations that host exhibitions and conferences.

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