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How conference creators can reduce their event’s environmental footprint

By Katie McPhee, head of marketing UK and Ireland, Eventbrite

Environmental issues from single-use plastics to weather extremes present a natural talking point – and that’s not just a British trait. If you’ve run a conference recently you’ll understand the need to be sustainable, as a long-term commitment to making the right choices, for both your delegates and the environment. 

Perhaps one of the easiest and most visible ways a conference organiser can make their event more sustainable is to choose a space that cares about the environment. A venue that is accredited, or certified, will have made key investments in areas like energy efficiency, water conservation, recycling and sustainable procurement.

There are also some great techniques that can help boost environmental concerns at your conference:

Cut down on paper use

Conferences and exhibitions are renowned for wasting paper. The rise in digital alternatives means it’s now possible to go completely paperless. You can use an event app, like Mobile Event Guide or Attendify to replace your printed programme. With tools like yellobox or Poken, delegates can virtually swap contact information and collect conference content that can be accessed online later. This can eliminate the need for exhibitors to supply printed materials. Digital solutions are, on the whole, more convenient for delegates. This is especially true for tickets, which can be delivered directly to their mobile device. Stored on phones, tickets are protected from loss, damage or theft.

Re-thinking conference swag

Rethinking giveaways is an opportunity to open a conversation with any exhibitors at the conference to ensure anything handed out on stands will have a life beyond the show. High quality items like stainless steel water bottles or travel mugs that delegates can use at the event and take home afterwards are a good idea. Upcycled items, like mouse mats made from old circuit boards or coasters made from tyres will get everyone talking and edible items – although they won’t serve as a lasting reminder – will always make a good impression. And rather than providing bags pre-filled with brochures and goodies, it’s better to allow delegates to select the items they actually want.

Environmentally Conscious Catering

More than one third of all food produced is never eaten – and conferences, with their tendency to over-cater, can be guilty of contributing to the problem. The first stage is to plan ahead as this will mean you aren’t tempted to over-order or add on last minute additions. If there are still leftovers, help is at hand with organisations like OLIO, who redistribute uneaten and unserved food to anyone in need, from students and pensioners through to struggling families. How you serve the food matters as well; above all give your guests real cups to drink their coffee. Takeaway cups are not recyclable and we throw some 2.5 billion of them away every year. 

Using only sustainable suppliers and practices may cost conferences a little more on their bottom line, but the payoff in terms of benefit to the environment and the broader community can be massive. 

Your conference will start to have an impact through the actions, conversations and ideas it inspires; it is possible to share the positives of the commitment you have demonstrated and start to use this an essential part of your conference’s story.