Events bring people together. They boost motivation, forge lasting connections and can even benefit the local economy but – there’s no getting away from it – in-person events inevitably have an environmental impact in terms of energy consumption, waste and emissions.
As UK businesses become more eco-conscious, the majority are increasingly prioritising sustainability when planning events. We know that responsibility and accountability should be at the heart of our organisational decision-making but when events have so many complicated moving parts (and inevitably tight deadlines), how can we make them more sustainable?
A good way to start is by looking at the overall potential environmental impact of your event. Factor in every different aspect from the venue and catering to the decoration, equipment hire, production and transportation, and consider how to make each element greener. You could use an online carbon calculation tool to work out how much CO2 your event is likely to produce and work on ways to reduce this. Make sure the responsibility is shared across the whole team from any in-house event planners to department heads and external agencies so that it’s not down to one person to wave the flag for sustainability.
Stay inspired by keeping up-to-date with developments in the industry and seeking out fresh case studies. You might not be organising a global music festival but it’s still heartening to know that all of Glastonbury’s power needs were met by renewable energy and renewable fuels in 2023. Generators were run on fuel made from waste cooking oil and the organisers provided reusable 100% stainless steel water bottles for visitors, along with multiple water refill points. At the Coachella festival in the US they have an “Energy Playground” complete with “Energy SeeSaws” that allow attendees to power energy sources like phone charging stations, while they play!
No matter how large or small your occasion, there are numerous ways that you can minimise your impact on the planet when running events, often in ways that make the event more fun, enjoyable and meaningful for your guests. Here are our top 10 ways to make your event more sustainable:
The venue: The venue sets the overall tone for the sustainability of your event so choose one with an environmental policy in place. Ask if they have an environmental management system or a Green Tourism certification if it’s a hotel. Consider the recycling facilities, accommodation and whether they use renewable energy. Larger venues, by definition, will use more power, so avoid booking somewhere that has more space than you need
Here in Oxfordshire, where Octopus Events is based, there are many fantastic venues with impressive eco-credentials. One of our favourites is Sheepdrove Organic Farm in Lambourn which has a Green Tourism Gold award. Wind turbines and solar panels generate energy for the venue which was built using eco-friendly construction techniques. The two-thousand-acre site is made up of green pastures, wildflower meadows and ancient woodland and the owners are pioneers for sustainable, organic farming and biodiversity. Its rural location just requires a bit of thinking ahead when it comes to transportation so consider car sharing or group travel to reduce emissions. Other great eco-friendly venues further afield include Wasing Park in Berkshire, Retreat East in Suffolk, Silchester Farm in Hampshire and the Swinton Estate in Yorkshire
Encourage recycling: If something feels like an effort, guests are unlikely to do it, so make recycling as easy as possible. If you’re having a festival-themed or informal outdoor event, incorporate brightly coloured bins designed to increase recycling throughout.
Water: Work with your venue to ensure there are water stations so you don’t need to provide bottled water, and ask all of your guests to bring their own bottles to refill onsite. Alternatively, you could provide a quality, branded stainless-steel bottle that can be reused time and time again.
Travel: Using an external venue obviously involves people travelling to get there, resulting in a significant carbon footprint. Choosing a venue close to where most people live will help, but if you have hundreds, or even thousands, of delegates travelling to your event, think about how to facilitate and encourage eco-friendly travel. This could be as simple as choosing a venue near a train or tube station, putting on coaches or introducing a car share system for guests who have no choice but to drive. You could even have a prize draw for delegates who car-shared or an award for the greenest mode of transport.
Use local suppliers & caterers: Wherever possible, work with recommended suppliers in order to support local economies, reduce costs and minimise the distance they need to travel to get to your event. Venues and regional event organisers like Octopus Events typically have bulging black books of trusted suppliers.
When it comes to catering, aim to serve organic, locally produced food and drink for a reduced environmental impact. Try not to over-cater but if it happens talk to your caterer in advance to find out what their policy is in avoiding food waste. Consider working with your caterer to create a vegan or vegetarian menu that has a lower carbon footprint and if you have to use disposable cutlery and cups, make sure they are biodegradable rather than plastic. We’ve got great relationships with many local caterers in Oxfordshire that we’d personally recommend including Elegant Cuisine, Oxford Fine Dining and Fingers and Forks to name a few.
Go plastic-free and paperless: The small elements and finer details all add up so think about how to go green by reducing, or eliminating, things like delegate badge holders, straws, plastic bottles and accommodation toiletries. Opt for e-tickets and, instead of handing out bursting delegate packs full of paper, why not create a slick event app alongside your event website. Not only is it better for the environment, it’s a lot more user-friendly for delegates who can simply whip out their phones for live updates. Resist the urge to include goody bags with unnecessary gifts that are likely to be used once or thrown away and if you want to send out a card invite in advance of the event, work with a local supplier who uses sustainable, recyclable materials. We’ve got several we can recommend in Oxfordshire, so drop us a line if you want some tips.
Production: Big conferences and awards ceremonies need the wow factor but that doesn’t necessarily need to involve physical set design. Consider projection mapping on the stage which can transform almost any surface into a display and is a fun and effective way to create a specific look or feel without producing one-off designs, weighty sets and props. Local app developer Element 6 and AV partner, That Event Company (TEC Oxford) are worth looking at. TEC Oxford have an excellent sustainability policy and only work on events within a certain radius of their Oxford based offices.
Lighting: Always choose a venue with LED lighting. Not only is it versatile for creating a variety of different looks, moods and atmospheres but with its green credentials, you can be confident your event will look good without negatively impacting on the environment.
Décor: The décor of an event can help to communicate the theme and create a lasting impression. Work with a florist that has green credentials and check that they are floral foam free and that their flower stock comes from British flower farmers. Once your event is over, consider donating any leftover flowers to local hospitals, hospices and charities or to your guests as small posies when they leave. If you use balloons, ensure that they’re biodegradable and made from natural latex (created using the sap of rubber trees). Many foil balloons can be used up to five times and are recyclable. Lastly, if you want to add some excitement to your guests’ arrival with a red carpet, make it a ‘green’ one instead, created using recycled materials!
Choose an event agency who shares your ethos! It’s important to choose an event management agency who understands your objectives and shares your environmental values. Here at Octopus Events, sustainability is at the core of each event we organise. Many of the events we plan and design take place here in Oxfordshire where we work with trusted local suppliers and donate or re-purpose as many of our event materials as possible.
Get in touch with Sarah today to talk about ways to make your next event more sustainable. We’re bursting with ideas, advice and recommendations.