6 ways to reduce your event carbon footprint


Today’s event professionals are increasingly seeking out ways to create more sustainable experiences for their client base. From partnering with carbon-neutral venues to tapping into more considered production processes, reducing your event’s carbon footprint requires a strategic approach.

And with event attendees more enthusiastic than ever about sustainable business practice, getting into the habit of making sustainable choices now is not only a great move for the environment but for your business profile and prospects in general.

We understand that finding sustainable solutions for events can feel overwhelming, which is why we’ve put together a handy guide to get you started and hopefully make your next event your most sustainable one yet.

1. Improve energy efficiency

Powering your event can consume a lot of energy, from lighting and sound to technology and production. While lowering the energy consumption of an entire event might sound daunting, it’s often a great place to start. And luckily even seemingly small changes can have a cumulative positive impact on your energy footprint.

To increase energy efficiency, why not consider one or more of the following measures:

  • Choose energy efficient venues – look for venues that hold sustainability certifications (such as BREEAM), are using a 100% renewables tariff for electricity and/or are investing in on-site renewable energy generation
  • Switching to LED lighting – not only do LED lights use less electricity, they’re also much smaller than traditional event lighting and are easier to transport
  • Solar power – if you’re delivering an outdoor event, why not consider using portable generators powered by solar e.g. solar lanterns to light up trails?
  • Use ‘people power’ – from kinetic dance floors to bicycle generators, the right event can be elevated by involving attendees in energy generation
  • Pose the question: how do we measure the energy consumption of our events in order to inform future reductions?
  • Increase efforts to turn off on-site equipment when not in use

2.  Reduce waste

While waste management might not be what your event is remembered for, a lack of waste management facilities certainly might be.

Whether your event is held over one day, or several, it’s essential to:

  • Set up easily accessible recycling areas for attendees
  • Use reusable cutlery, plates and cups where possible
  • Encourage the use of on-site water refill stations (if your chosen venue has them), and encourage attendees to bring their own water bottles in advance
  • Ensure your inventory is being effectively managed to minimise over ordering. Can you give this responsibility to a dedicated person in your event-management team and use existing data-management tools such as Google Sheets to track and manage stock levels? 
  • Avoid excessive packaging (wherever possible), including for event swag
  • Switch from physical to digital event assets where possible (printed signage, guides, maps, leaflets etc)
  • Prioritise modular builds/set design to increase reusability. Where possible, avoid bespoke designs that would at best be recycled. Particularly assets with specific dates, years, locations etc.

3. Overhaul your catering

When it comes to event catering, it can feel risky to step outside of the box and let sustainability guide your catering decisions, for fear that new menu formats and ingredients may alienate some event attendees.

By viewing sustainable catering as an opportunity, rather than a challenge, you can encourage attendee buy-in with a fresh approach to menu options and produce. Consider celebrating local produce and serving food that would otherwise go to waste in inventive ways i.e. ‘root-to-stem’ menu options: think carrot-top pesto, fruit-peel jam, or even pickled watermelon rinds.

There are a number of ways to reduce the environmental impact of your event’s catering, including the below:

  • Using local suppliers, setting a target to source a fixed percentage of your ingredients within a set number of miles from your event venue
  • Using in-season produce wherever possible
  • Reducing food waste during preparation processes by pre-determining menu selections and offering a variety of portion sizes (this one works well at conference events and award ceremonies where these details can be gathered as part of an RSVP)
  • Offering more plant-based options (a great opportunity to get ahead of competitors with some inventive dishes), while reducing the volume of options with much higher environmental impacts – particularly beef and other red meats
  • Investing in good quality utensils, tableware, and dishware that can be used for years to come or hiring these in as an alternative
  • Examining how items such as table linen and dishes are washed (even the cleaning products you use can make a huge difference to your carbon footprint)
  • Increasing the number of cold/raw menu options to reduce energy-related cooking emissions
  • Considering edible and non-edible food waste separately e.g. donations for edible (where regulations allow) and composting provisions for non-edible – rather than sending to landfill/incineration
  • Measuring and demonstrating the difference in environmental impacts between different menu options – there remains a low awareness as to the true discrepancies between higher and lower emission ingredients

4. Examine audience and staff movement

As public awareness of the climate crisis rises, it’s important to remember that the expectation for sustainable solutions rises with it. With event attendees now expecting to find charging stations for their electric vehicles and staff requesting access to bikes they can rent – it’s time to evaluate how your company’s policy regarding sustainability stacks up.

Take a temperature check of where you’re currently at by asking yourself the following questions during event planning stages:

  • How are attendees likely to travel to and from your event?
  • How are staff likely to travel to, from, and around your event?
  • Are there more sustainable options for getting people where they need to be, and if not what can you do to put these in place?
  • Are we actively researching and recommending the best public transport options to guests and crew?
  • If your venue offers facilities such as EV charging, are these facilities being advertised through event comms?
  • Is there a way for your business to support carpooling for staff members (e.g., is there a place where staff who want to carpool can communicate with each other such as a dedicated company or event app?)
  • How can you collaborate with local authorities to make use of existing local sustainable transport options to and from your event?
  • How can you measure travel and transport emissions to and from your event?
  • What proportion of travel and transport to your event can be carbon-balanced via an offsetting scheme? Offsetting your own staff travel is relatively straightforward, but can we provide opportunities for guests to offset their own emissions? Do we have any budget to offset crew travel and/or trucking?

Did you know that the right approach to sustainable transport methods and staff movement can also help improve company culture? More employees than ever are requesting access to affordable and less damaging modes of transport to get to work. By prioritising this as part of your company-culture strategy, think the Cycle2Work Scheme or ‘carpool Fridays’, you’ll be even more attractive to a workforce that views sustainability as a core business value.

5. Think of the environment around your event

Staging your event outdoors? In an ideal world you would leave ‘no trace’ and once your temporary staging and structures were removed from an event location, there would be no visible dent on the surrounding environment. This can be more difficult to achieve in practice, but the following tips should certainly help.

  • Making an effort to preserve the natural habitat around your structures – this includes being mindful of vegetation and trees when erecting temporary structures and considering issues surrounding local air, water and soil quality
  • Use fencing around your event area to ensure that everything from litter to unknown materials don’t escape your site
  • Ensure you have engaged a commercial waste management company to process any waste you’ve generated and organise an informal litter pick to mop up anything else that may be left over
  • Consider leaving an environmental legacy — could you create a biodiversity-rich garden or similar that forms the centrepiece of your event and be left in place to enrich the environment and be enjoyed by the local community for years to come?
  • As part of your due diligence processes research any environmental issues and initiatives in your event location/wider region and determine how you will address these as part of your event planning

While this tip may not see immediate returns in terms of reducing your event carbon footprint, it will pay dividends for the environment in the long term.

6. Get your entire event planning team on board with your sustainability strategy

One of the most effective ways to reduce the environmental impact of your events is to ensure that all members of your team are on board with your events ‘going green’. Without company-wide commitment, your sustainability strategy will likely fail at the first hurdle.

Sustainability is a mindset that works so much better when there are as many people as possible involved. This is where data comes in. If you can highlight to your team that even small improvements can make a big difference, it becomes easier to communicate your strategy company-wide.

How TRACE by isla can help

As part of the TRACE platform, the topics mentioned above are just some of the areas you can track and improve as part of your approach to sustainability.

TRACE is the only dedicated events industry platform that measures and minimises carbon at live, hybrid and virtual events. Not only this, but with the data and metrics TRACE collects, our platform provides you with recommendations of actionable solutions to reduce your event’s environmental impact.

Because organisations can monitor the same event over several years, TRACE also helps you gauge improvements and showcase how your business is transforming its sustainability strategy. Ultimately, TRACE makes delivering sustainable events accessible and achievable, accelerating your progress towards your net-zero targets and overall ESG strategy.

If you’d like to know more about what TRACE has to offer, you can attend a live demo that provides an opportunity to ask questions about how TRACE can benefit your business.

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