This post is written by Beth Rees of Rees Company

Do you know a five-day conference with 2,500 attendees will use 62,500 plates, 87,500 napkins, 75,000 cups and 90,000 cans or bottles? (Source MeetGreen)  It’s staggering when you think about it! But, the good news is you’re in a position to change this and it’s not as difficult as you might think.

Designing greener and more sustainable meetings and conferences is important to planners and exhibitors. In honor of the 45th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22nd, let’s look at how you can shrink your event’s ecological footprint and reduce the impact on the environment.  


Calculating your carbon footprint is a great way to measure your event’s impact. MeetGreen, a leader in sustainable events, partnered with TerraPass to create a Carbon Calculator that will calculate your event’s footprint. This gives planners a simple way to understand the climate impact and develop a baseline.  

Responsible Digs

We’re all pretty familiar with the “please conserve water” signs placed in the bathroom of a hotel room. And most have incorporated some sort of green practices such as recycling in guest rooms and linen reuse programs. But these days, commercial hotels are doing even more to conserve energy and resources.

Find out if the hotel uses biodegradable detergents, green-cleaning products and if they have eco-friendly bath amenities for guests. Look for hotels with energy efficient building management practices like motion sensors for lighting in their meeting spaces, along with energy and water efficient mechanical systems. If possible, choose a hotel that is LEED certified or Green Seal certified.  

Sustenance and Sustainability 

The Green Meeting Industry Council estimates $12,000 is saved when water is served in pitchers instead of water bottles during a three-day conference. This simple switch will reduce your footprint and your costs. Request organic, local grown food. Synthetic fertilizers or chemicals derived from fossils fuels, are not used on organic foods. Plus it’s better for your health. Bonus!

Paper and Premiums

Instead of using reams of paper to copy countless handouts, programs and agendas, provide attendees with USBs already loaded with materials. Buy premiums, or promotional items like pens, shirts and bags, made from recycled material. Check out Eco Promotional Products, Inc.

Some Ideas

  • If you can’t go 100% electronic, print two-sided handouts on recycled paper.  Avoid shipping and print on-site at the business center, or a local FedEx Kinkos.
  • Use mobile meeting apps to inform and engage like QuickMoble and EventMobi.
  • Use social networks, blogs and your event website to give visibility to your sustainability initiatives and create awareness.

Earthy Exhibits

Exhibitions can have the biggest impact on meetings. Provide exhibitors with guidance on sustainable design and construction. Have a program to recognize exhibitors who implement sustainability practices. Be sure to tell your exhibitors about the meeting’s green strategy well in advance and tell them how they can reduce their impact.

Skinny Shipping

Shipping is the most ecologically unfriendly aspect of exhibiting. So watch your weight! The heavier your exhibit, the more carbon is emitted during shipping. Use modular, lightweight exhibit structures with fabric elements and recyclable materials like aluminum.

Rent and Refurbish

Given the mantra of reduce, reuse and recycle, consider renting. Renting exhibit components as opposed to buying, is a no brainer way to be greener. By renting items from suppliers within the show city, you’re also saving on carbon emissions. Keep exhibits as long as possible. Refurbish and repurpose your exhibit!

More Ideas

  • Pad-wrap your shipment. This will eliminate the extra weight of heavy shipping crates.
  • Reduce the amount of nonrenewable materials from your exhibit, especially PVC (graphics, hint-hint).
  • Try consumable giveaways such as iTunes downloads, food, or coffee-shop gift cards. They’re less likely to end up in landfill.

Don’t Greenwash

Tout your green initiatives, but don’t over do it. Greenwashing is the practice of using potentially deceptive information, to make something appear more earth friendly than it is. Greenwashing can damage your event, brand, trust and goodwill. Avoid overstating your claims and go for messaging that promotes your eco-friendly actions as greener than the status quo.

Get Your Green On

It’s easier than ever before to add a little green to your meeting. Do some research. Most hotels and venues will talk about green practices on their websites. And if they’re certified, it’ll be front and center.  

Ask the Convention and Visitors Bureau for a list of venues and suppliers with environmental practices in place. Tell your vendors, exhibitors and attendees, that having an eco-conscious meeting is important.

Did your meeting leave a smaller footprint? Let everyone know! Just don’t inflate your accomplishments. Hot air can get you into some hot water.