Event Design Series, Day 3: Sustainability

Continuing our discussion of event design (and please, make it a discussion by commenting)…

More about our Event Design Series here at Day 1, and where the questions came from

A low-landfill sustainable event coordinated by Portland event planning company EJP Events. This 2,000-attendee company picnic was planned so that all dishware was compostable and only recyclable drink containers were used. The small trash bag at the front left shows the entirety of landfill trash generated by the event. Photo: EJP Events

Day 3: Sustainability: Special events can be wasteful. What steps can planners take to make sure they are producing a sustainable event? And how can you use alternative materials in your design work?

I think you have to look at the event’s purpose and make sure you can align it with sustainability before you proceed. If you want to be known for sustainable events, yet promote events like Black Friday, you’re getting off on the wrong foot.

That out of the way, then you should take the event apart critique each element for the following: 1. Is this element creating waste — and can this waste be diverted or recycled? 2. Is this element using resources in an ethical way? (Ethical labor, ethical apportionment of food, water, energy)

Also, looking at the event as a whole: 3. What is the environmental legacy of the event? 4. What is the moral and ethical legacy of the event?

Alternative materials are everywhere. The last ISES Art of the Party event showed some great examples. I saw everything from Home Depot yard cloth used as table covering (which could be used in gardens after the event) to upcycled books (that would have been recycled anyway) being used as design materials. Catering is part of event design. Much has been covered regarding local and sustainable food sources. Lighting is part of event design. We have wonderful, low wattage light treatments available to us now. Look at every aspect you possibly can.

Event materials that are sustainable 1) do not draw heavily on, or entirely avoid, virgin resources such as cut trees or mined metals; 2) divert waste from landfills; 3) or can be reused, thus staying out of landfills; and 4) do not promote toxic chemical buildup through their use (e.g. batteries going in the trash)

You have a responsibility as a planner and a designer to explore alternative, sustainable sources first when creating your designs.

5 thoughts on “Event Design Series, Day 3: Sustainability

  1. This is a great topic! I agree that you have to look at the event itself and the purpose of that event to determine it makes sense to be sustainable. Our event company is based in Traverse City, MI, where eco-friendly evnets have really picked up. It is a very earth friendly community and this makes it easier to run a sustainable event because the participants buy into it.
    I also liked your suggestions of using recycled products for decorations and keeping in mind other changes that can be made throughout the event that are more eco-friendly. Often times we just think of recycling what we can and don't look further into what else we can do to make our events more sustainable.

  2. One new concept that I can share with your readers is to have an EOLP (end of life plan) for every element brought to the event. The thought of being proactive is a much more sustainable approach on the planning side versus dealing with waste and the "what to do with this" on the back side of events!

    Steve DeAngelo
    DeAngelo's Catering & Events

  3. Great Comment @Mark. The corporate group has their bbq on site at their workplace, and already encourages alternative transportation every day. I agree with reducing disposables and using real plateware whenever possible – it just wasn't a possibility in this case.

  4. Great topic and post. I agree, by the way… creating sustainable events is much more than just another theme. You have to walk the talk… and not just this once.

    When planning an event, we look at the following areas to guide our decisions.

    Footprint –

    We strive for zero waste events, and even though those "compostables" are typically made with either recycled, or renewable content… the fact of the matter is they travel FAR and WIDE to get here… and only last for a single use. We love to plan menus that are napkin only (great for cocktail parties). This cuts way back on the disposal even if it is compostable. If the ability to have adequate event staff is there, then we prefer to use real plate ware, silverware, and glassware.

    Consolidating trips, making tandem drop offs, etc.
    What about attendees? 2000 guests is quite a number. Is there alternative transportation available? Bus, Max, etc? How about plenty of bike parking? Carpooling? Consider giving extra incentives to attendees who do their part. http://www.drivelessconnect.com/

    – Mark Lopez
    Crave Catering

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.