There are many ways — big and small — to make your next event more environmentally-friendly. With escalating ocean temperatures, increasing amounts of ocean plastics, and accelerating animal extinction rates, hosting sustainable meetings and events have never been more on trend — or more crucial. From choosing the venue to developing the programming to finalizing the centerpieces, the Ocean Wise team has come up with a list of tips and ideas to help green (and blue) your next event.
- Choose a space with benefits. When you’re sourcing venues, look for LEED® Certified buildings — like Vancouver Convention Centre and the Vancouver Aquarium, an Ocean Wise initiative — or those with sustainable practices. Also consider spaces where the rental fee supports their environment-focused mission.
- Source sustainable food. Give guests a taste of the local bounty and choose locally-sourced, sustainably-produced ingredients. If you are offering seafood, look for the Ocean Wise seafood symbol to ensure you are choosing ocean-friendly options. Further reduce the event’s carbon footprint by including vegetarian or vegan options too.
- Think about food waste. When food goes to waste all of the resources that went into producing it go to waste too. Aim to reduce waste by serving food on smaller platters and replenishing them more often or carefully monitoring attendee numbers and only producing enough food to feed them. When food waste is unavoidable, consider donating remaining nutritious food to a food bank, a shelter or another social service agency.
- Ask for bulk or reusable packaging. When it comes to events, packaging waste can really add up. Ask your suppliers to provide products in bulk or in reusable packaging rather than in individual disposable packages. Request reusable and returnable totes for produce, meat, and seafood and purchase tea bags and sugar in bulk rather than in individual pouches. Packaging waste is the second most common item littering Canadian shorelines year after year as found by the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. Fortunately, there are great alternatives out there.
- Shed ubiquitous single-use disposables. Single-use means additional garbage and wasted money. Reduce waste by taking inventory of event supplies that will be used once and then thrown away. Straws aren’t necessary. Neither are disposable plastic water bottles when you provide drinking water in dispensers or pitchers and reusable cups or bottles. Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup reports straws plastic bottles and straws are the 5th and 6th most commonly found items on Canadian shorelines, respectively.
- Serve up reusable or compostable. Use reusable dishes and utensils whenever possible; plan to use, clean, and repeat. Just one ceramic dish or metal fork will replace thousands of single-use plates or utensils over their lifetime. Compostable dishware is an alternative option. If you go this route, work with your waste hauler and your compostables supplier to make sure these items are processed correctly and end up in a place with the environmental condition that allows them to breakdown. Be sure to label waste bins so guests know how to sort their trash.
- Use centerpieces and decorations that can be eaten, planted, or reused. Consider fruit, plants, local flowers, or natural items like driftwood for centerpieces. Say no to balloons and confetti when it comes to decor. These decorations are notorious for ending up in the environment and doing harm to animals that mistake them for food.
- Re-think swag. Give experiences, make donations, or consider giveaways that will help guests lead more sustainable lives. Reusable produce bags, coffee cups, and metal straws are great gift alternatives. Symbolic adoptions – like Vancouver Aquarium’s Aquadopt Kits – fund research and conservation efforts for local species in need.
- Clean Green. We often rinse cleaning products down drains or flush them down toilets, and their harmful chemicals can end up in our waterways. Instead, use green-certified products like Ecologo or even go with the classic vinegar and water mix — it’s simple and effective.
- Provide greener transportation options. Single occupancy vehicles clog the roads and pollute the air. Encourage people to bike to your event by providing a bike valet and ample bike racks or collaborating with a local bike share program. Offer a discount to attendees who take public transit, or contract a larger vehicle to take attendees to and from event locations.
Bonus: Up the education ante. Educated citizens make better decisions. Look for ways to integrate environmental sustainability messaging in event programming, signage and electronic communications. Be sure to let guests know about the event’s sustainable elements and how they can contribute.
Alexis Esseltine-Scoon is the Sustainability Manager at Ocean Wise.