IEEE Event Sustainability Guide

Looking to create a sustainable event that your attendees will love? Learn how simple changes can make a big difference, find out how to get your partners on board, and get a handy checklist to keep you on track.

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What is Event Sustainability?

Event sustainability is a strategy to design, organize, and produce events in a way that considers the environmental, social, and economic responsibilities of the event. 

Producing sustainable events will help Organizers improve the attendee experience, provide cost savings to the event budget, and help inspire behavior changes in both attendees and suppliers to benefit both the environment and local communities. 

Why Is It Important for Events to Be Sustainable?

Event Organizers have the opportunity to lead the way when it comes to sustainability. Choices made during the event planning process can have a major impact on the event’s carbon footprint. The goal of sustainable events is to make the best use of resources and technology to have events that are more productive. 

  • Hosting a successful sustainable event can help build a stronger brand and event reputation.
  • Sponsors may be eager to get involved with your sustainability goals.
  • Implementing sustainable changes to an event can save money and reduce budget requirements. Sourcing local food and vendors will reduce costs as well as the event’s carbon footprint. 
  • Using digital programs and proceedings rather than printed copies can greatly reduce the carbon footprint of the event as well as reduce the budget for those items. 

Eight Ways Events Can Meet Sustainability Goals

Getting Your Event Partners Interested in Sustainability

  • Event Organizers need to understand the value of moving to a more sustainable event model. Although the primary benefit of driving sustainable events is a positive environmental impact, sustainability can also be a strategic decision for the event budget as well as reputation within the industry. The financial savings from your sustainable goals will allow the event to grow in other areas, and a reputation as a sustainable green event can attract sponsors and attendees whose opinions align with the sustainable model.
  • Start the conversation on sustainability goals early, and work to develop a shared action plan. Small sustainability goals are just as important as a 100% Sustainable event!
  • Consider using metrics or statistics from other successful sustainable events to convince skeptical committee members to undertake sustainable goals.
  • The Events Industry Council (EIC) has created a set of guidelines for Sustainable Event Standards. Venues that meet or exceed their standards for suitability are provided certification and are included on the EIC’s certified supplier list, which can be found at the following link: Events Industry Council
  • Check with local Convention & Visitor Bureaus (CVB) to see what sustainability guides and best practices they have available for their destination. For a list of CVBs visit the following site: CVENT
  • Many venues already have their own sustainability policies. Be sure to ask during the contracting process and incorporate those goals into the final contract. If there are specific Sustainability goals the committee expects from the venue, be sure to include those goals in the request for proposal and ensure they are incorporated into the contract prior to signing.
  • Select venues that are easily accessible for all attendees. Reducing travel for attendees is an easy way to make a huge impact on sustainability goals.
  • Venues that have already established sustainability goals internally may be able to provide data metrics once the event ends.
  • Work with the venue to find local vendors that share the event’s sustainability vision. The suppliers you select will help achieve the event’s green goals.
  • Ask questions such as how the vendor minimizes waste, do they use sustainable products, if they source food, goods, and services from local providers, etc. 
  • The sustainability goals of the event should be part of the event communications plan. Share your sustainability plan on the event website and during lead-up and post-event messaging.
  • Provide eco-friendly, reusable, and useful event “swag”, and provide opportunities for attendees to use it during the event. For instance, provide reusable water bottles and incorporate water filling stations throughout the venue to encourage water conservation.
  • Encourage attendees to use mobile apps for event programs and other event materials, and thank them for helping the event meet sustainability goals.
  • Provide success metrics to attendees after the event ends such as the amount of paper saved by switching to digital, how sustainability goals were met, total cost savings, etc.

Areas of Impact for Sustainable Events

  • Hotel Sleeping Rooms
    • Make sure the hotels where your guests are staying encourage a green initiative. Many hotels offer incentives for not having linens and towels washed daily on multi-day stays. Try working that into contracts and communicate these options to your attendees before the event.
  • Meals & Breaks
    • Remove pre-poured waters or iced tea from meals.
    • Provide water bubbler stations around the event space, and have pitchers of water in meeting rooms and meal spaces instead of bottled water.
  • Make sure the venue places recycling bins everywhere with clear labels.
  • Forget the paper handouts, go digital!
    • Limit the items and amount that you print.  If you have to print, print as they are needed rather than starting with a large stack.
  • Choose giveaways that people will actually use, or if you can try things like coupons or experiences rather than items that can be left behind.
    • Encourage exhibitors and sponsors to do the same!
  • Choose signage that is made from products that can be reused, recycled, or donated to local schools or daycare centers.
  • Do not pre-plate food at meals so food does not get wasted at unused seats or left untouched.
  • Encourage the venue to offer “portion serve” food at receptions and breaks, rather than buffet style “Grab your own.”
  • Order only what you need.  Require RSVPs for every meal event and try confirming with attendees when they check-in so you can adjust the count as needed.
  • Try to stay away from plastic or non-recyclable plates, cups, and utensils. Instead, use products that are biodegradable wherever possible. 
  • Stay away from pre-packaged food in plastic wrappers or containers.
  •  Request that the venue use ingredients that are sourced locally and utilize food items that are in season in your event location
  • Ask your venue about donating food that does not get consumed. This could be discussed during the contract phase or any time prior to arriving onsite. There are ways to do it without liability issues.
  • Help to limit transit emissions by providing alternate transportation options.
  • Choose venues in locations with good public transportation to get around the city and to/from major airports. Promote the use of public transportation to/from airport and train stations.
    • Provide detailed maps using public transportation to your attendees prior to the event. 
  • Encourage your attendees to carpool if they know other attendees.
  • Choose offsite venues that are within walking distance or accessible by public transportation. 
    • Be sure to provide digital walking directions for attendees who’d prefer walking.
  • Review the “lift” from the city you are considering to use as the event location. Is it easily accessible to all expected attendees? Consider how many flight transfers will be required for an average attendee to reach the event. 
  • Look for venues that utilize alternative energy sources like solar.
  • Ensure that vendors and venues are using energy-efficient devices.
  • Make sure that lights and equipment are turned off in rooms that are not in use during your event.
  • Encourage attendees to leave their devices turned off during the event so there is no need for extra charging (or distractions!).
  • Look for venues with lots of natural light and windows, to reduce energy consumption from artificial lights.
  • Help reduce the Event Carbon Footprint and support the local economy by hiring local labor.
  • Consider having signage and other event materials created or printed locally.
  • Request that local and seasonal food to be served.
  • Start early in the planning process.  Bring in all the stakeholders at the very beginning.
  • Managing food guarantees and not over-ordering can go a long way in reducing waste and help to realize significant cost savings. Reducing the paper output saves on two ends, less to recycle and less cost of items to order.
  • Order things like signage and giveaways that can be used for multiple years.
  • Reduce shipping costs by purchasing materials locally.

Event Checklist

  • Choose locations to send an RFP to that have good alternative transportation options and good access from the locations from which your attendees will travel.
  • Include your sustainability requirements in the RFP and ask for them to address those items in the proposal.
  • Choose offsite venues that are within walking distance or easily accessible by public transportation.
  • Plan with the venue to source local and in-season food options.
  • Have conversations with the venue about F&B waste reduction and donation during contract negotiations.
  • Confirm contracted hotels will let your attendees know of your sustainable initiatives and to reuse towels and linens and offer any incentives they offer.
  • Order reusable giveaways, hopefully from recyclable materials and not individually packed.
  • Plan for all event materials to be digital or print on demand for a fee.
  • Establish staff and volunteer travel policy for use of transportation to and from the event.
  • Send communications to attendees informing them of the sustainable initiatives with the conference and things that they can do to participate.
  • Communicate plans to exhibitors and encourage them to participate in the sustainability of the event (if applicable).
  • Make sure there are clearly labeled recycle bins throughout the venue.
  • Ensure lights and AV equipment are turned off in rooms that aren’t in use.
  • Confirm venue staff is aware of sustainable actions with water conservation, food, and recycling.
  • Monitor water usage during the event, ask for daily reports.
  • Collect name tag holders at the close of the event for reuse (if applicable).
  • Use sustainable signage.
  • Ensure that water stations and bubblers be used, instead of bottled water.
  • Do an online survey of attendees and focus on some of the sustainable changes.
  • Donate any extra food as has been discussed with the venue.
  • Properly dispose of any event waste.
  • If the venue offers it, ask for a post-event report on the sustainability of the event.
  • Compile “Best Practices”, and consider what worked or didn’t work with your event. 
  • Create a list of goals for the next event, and identify opportunities to continue to grow from your prior event’s successes.

5 Easy Ideas to Implement at Your Event

Replacing bottled water with bubblers

Doing digital proceedings and program books

Reduce shipping costs by purchasing materials locally

Order reusable signage

Make sure that lights and equipment are turned off in rooms that are not in use during your event

Additional Resources

List of Certified Venues/Cities

Got Ideas?

Share your event sustainability solutions, inspirations, and success stories. We would love to hear from you!

We Are Here to Help

If you have questions about creating a sustainable event, please contact the MCE Team.