A guide to sustainable events: Simple and effective ways to make your next event eco-friendly

Also featuring a selection of sustainable London venues

Updated on 09 September 2021

A guide to sustainable events: Simple and effective ways to make your next event eco-friendly

These days, sustainability is at the forefront of the public consciousness. The events industry is known for its ability to evolve and adapt (now so more than ever thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic), but in-person corporate events can still produce a lot of unnecessary waste.

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It is undeniable that the conversation around sustainability is louder than ever before, whether that be because of media coverage of environmental campaigners such as Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion or because more people are witnessing the real-time effects of global warming such as extreme weather.

In our day to day working lives, this might influence you to make changes such as purchasing a reusable water bottle or making more informed choices about where you buy your lunch from or what suppliers you use. However, you should also be thinking about sustainability on a larger scale, particularly when it comes to planning and hosting events.

Large-scale events can be detrimental to the environment around us, whether it be because of the use of non-recyclable materials or food wastage. While some level of waste is inevitable when planning events, there are several steps event planners can take to reduce waste and keep sustainability at the forefront of trade shows, conferences, office parties and all other manner of corporate functions.

To help you organise environmentally conscious events in the future, we have compiled a list of handy tips and tricks to help make your next event more sustainable. You can also scroll further down to discover a few of London’s most eco-friendly event venues, which are all available to hire. Read below to check out our full list of recommendations and make a mental note to yourself to start putting sustainability first when it comes to event planning - after all, we only have one earth.

How to make your event sustainable

There are a number of simple and easy steps that can be taken to make your event as sustainable as possible. From paperless invites to effective waste management, a little extra planning can go a long way towards pulling off an environmentally friendly and successful event.

Choose a sustainable venue

There is not much point in making your event eco-friendly if the venue you are hosting it at doesn’t follow sustainable practices. When venue sourcing, make sure to have conversations with prospective venues about their sustainable practises - do they have any sustainability accreditation? How does their in-house recycling system work? Do they use green gases and energy sources?

Other important factors to consider include whether the venue is close to accessible transport links and whether they have all the facilities you need to host an end-to-end event, to eliminate the need for commuting between various event venues. You can check out a few sustainable venues at the bottom of this article, or use SquareMeal’s free venue-finding concierge service to help you find a space that’s right for you.

Go paperless

This one might seem obvious, but to this day, there can still be a huge amount of paper waste at industry events. Going paperless is easily achievable and one of the smartest things to do is to create a dedicated website or app for your event, which can provide guests with important information and eliminates the need for paper materials such as promotional flyers, itineraries and programmes.

If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, there are more practical ways to reduce paper too. You can send out invites and updates to guest via email and also encourage the use of digital business cards at your event (now more commonplace since the pandemic).

Consider your guest’s transport options

When it comes to planning sustainable events, you don’t just need to think about what happens during the event - you also need to consider how people are travelling to and from your event. Transport can have a major impact on how sustainable your event actually is, particularly if the majority of your guest list are planning to travel in private vehicles.

When venue-sourcing, take into account whether your chosen venue is close by to accessible transport links and include suggested walking, bus or train routes in your digital invites. To incentivise attendees to take public transport, you can offer discount codes with brand partners or additional extras in goodie bags, if they can provide proof of travelling in an environmentally friendly way. You can also set up group chats to arrange walking buses or carpools, or provide shuttle buses to ferry groups to and from the venue.

Limit food waste

One of the biggest sources of waste at large events can be food, with extensive, buffet-style layouts often favoured by event planners in the pre-Covid world. These days though, with more concerns about hygiene and sustainability, it is best to instead plan your menu according to the number of attendees expected to attend (this is relatively simple for hosted events with confirmed guest lists). For events where guest lists are not guaranteed, such as trade shows, provide individual packed lunches for guests to limit food waste - just make sure to use recyclable or compostable packaging.

It is also important to consider your caterers. Try to pick local suppliers to limit food miles and choose catering companies which follow sustainable practises when it comes to sourcing and transporting their produce. Another simple way to provide environmentally conscious food is to cut down on the amount of meat used and offer plentiful vegetarian and vegan options.

Avoid single-use plastics

Everyone has seen or heard of the various documentaries and damning articles warning of the dangers of single-use plastics, so it makes sense to limit their use at your next event, or ban them entirely. Swap out plastic cutlery and plates for reusable or compostable alternatives, and provide refillable water stations to discourage people from using disposable water bottles and cups. It is also worth avoiding the use of plastic sachets for salt, sugar, condiments and the like, as these often end up being thrown in the bin without ever having been used.

Make sure to implement an effective waste management system

Cleaning up after a big event can be daunting and it’s easy to be tempted to just throw everything into black bags and dump them. With a little careful planning and organisation though, it is easy to divide up waste and help avoid sending everything to landfill.

Some steps you can take to ensure effective waste management include making sure there are clearly sign-posted recycling points dotted around your event, or working with local food banks and homeless shelters to ensure leftover food doesn’t go to waste. You can also limit the number of leaflets or brochures that exhibitors are allowed to hand out at the event and instead encourage exhibitors to provide digital slideshows or collect emails to send promotional materials.

Don’t forget goody bags

Freebies are often used as an incentive to encourage more people to attend corporate events - who doesn’t love some free sweets or a shiny new pen? While goody bags are an attractive option for event planners, it is important to not fill them with plastic tat which people will just end up throwing away. Instead, think about including sustainable goodies such as notebooks and journals made from recycled materials, canvas tote bags or miniature potted plants or seed packets.

Where to host your sustainable event

Now that you have considered all of the steps you will need to take host a sustainable event, it’s time to find a venue that will be perfectly suited both to your guests and your eco-friendly initiatives. Below, we have included a few sustainable event venues in London that we love, including the reasons they should be on your venue shortlist.

Church House Westminster

Why: Church House Westminster is a venue that takes sustainability seriously, having taken several steps to ensure that events held here are environmentally conscious. The venue uses ‘green’ electricity throughout, including energy efficient electrical devices, as well as making the most of seasonal produce in its kitchens wherever possible.
Where: Dean's Yard, SW1P 3NZ

15 Hatfields

Why: It is fair to say that 15Hatfields is leading the way when it comes to sustainable event venues in the UK. Just some of the steps 15Hatfields has taken to lower its carbon footprint include working with caterers who use local, responsibly sourced produce, replacing paper materials with digital versions where possible and ensuring that heavy duty equipment required for events is already available on site, lowering the need for excess carbon emissions caused by transporting equipment to and from the venue.
Where: South Bank, SE1 8DJ

Wellcome Collection

Why: Shortlisted for the ‘best sustainability initiative’ at the 2019 London Venue Awards, the Wellcome Collection knows a thing or two when it comes to sustainable venues. Wellcome has reduced its CO2 emissions by 7.7 tonnes after implementing an efficient food wastage system, as well as providing reusable glass bottles for events and converting non-recyclable waste into energy.
Where: 183 Euston Road, NW1 2BE

One way to limit your environmental impact is by changing your diet. To limit your meat intake, check out our pick of the best vegan restaurants in London.