Sustainable Events

It’s been a very busy few weeks, with all manner of events to attend. One on B Corps, one called climate cocktails, one on business opportunities in the circular economy.  If you’re involved with organising events there a few simple ways to make it environmentally lighter. I’ve previously written articles on hosting a sustainable wedding, a sustainable barbeque and a sustainable party, so now here are some tips for more formal gatherings.

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Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash


  • Choose a venue close to public transport and give discounts or access to limited events to those who use public transport
  • If there’s not public transport available consider putting a coach on for attendees and give discounts or access to limited events to those who use it. Glastonbury’s Green Traveller programme rewards people for travelling by public transport or bicycle with a special Green Traveller lanyard. This provides them with discount vouchers for food and merchandise, exclusive solar showers and access to compost toilets. Glastonbury also offers 15,000 coach + ticket packages in advance of general sale, rewarding green travellers with the chance to be the first to secure their tickets.
  • Facilitate car pooling for those who can’t use public transport and give free car-parking and parking close to entrance to those who carpool.
  • Use contractors that don’t have to travel far too.
  • Encourage companies sending delegates to allow staff to take more sustainable forms of travel, i.e. train over planes where possible. Climate Perks is one such organisation helping companies to do this.

Food & Water

  • Offer a high percentage of vegetarian and vegan options
  • Use local caters and local food.
  • Ensure that caters are using as much fairtrade organic coffee, tea and chocolate as the budget allows
  • Organise to have waste food donated to charities. Food Cloud matches food suppliers to charities in Ireland and the UK. While Olio is an app based sharing platform for individuals.
  • Avoid food waste from over ordering of food. Record the food waste at the end of the event to allow for better planning next year.
  • Have a water refill station or have signs out saying venue happy to refill
  • If it’s an outdoor event Irish based non-profit Refill provide a reusable cup service and a mobile refill station that you can hire.
  • Use jugs of water and reusable glasses instead of disposables.
  • Avoid single-use paper coasters unless completely necessary.
  • Use ceramic cups instead of disposables. If that’s not possible encourage attendees to bring their own reusable bottles and coffee cups.
  • Use ceramic tableware and metal cutlery.
  • If you can’t avoid disposables you or your caterer can get very well priced compostable paper plateware from Klee Paper in Dublin 8 or palm leaf and sugarcane tableware from Down to Earth or Zeus Packaging.  Be sure to explain to your guests and any catering staff that your cups and plates are compostable and should go into the brown bin and not the recycling bin.
  • Opt for fabric napkins if appropriate, if not limit the number of napkins left out for guest to take. A small pile of napkins regularly replenished will encourage modest use than a huge pile.
  • If you’re using tablecloths ask for them to be reusable fabric and not single-use and if single-use paper and not plastic.
  • Only provide paper straws on request.
  • Prevent hidden disposables like toothpicks and cocktail sticks by asking the hotel/caterer ahead about how things will be served / presented. If some toothpicks / cocktail sticks are essential, ask that they be wood, from managed forests (FSC certified) and composted with the food waste.
  • It might also be possible to serve soft drinks and mixers by way of a soda gun instead of bottles, which would cut down waste even more.
  • Aim to serve wine, beer and cider from the largest container appropriate. If they must be in single-servings then aim for cans over plastic or glass bottles.


  • Provide segregated bins and use clear signage to explain what goes where. In Ireland I’d suggest one for
    • food waste and compostable tableware & napkins
    • glass
    • recyclable paper & plastic
    • landfill or don’t have anything that needs to go into a black bin and leave it out!
  • If you’re having a large outdoor event considering using one of the following to encourage people to pick up litter
    • a reverse-vending machine
    • a drink / food / money in return for a bucket of litter
    • a deposit-return scheme for packaging

Signage & Literature

  • Paperless post lets you create funky digital flyers and invites to events.
  • Use digital tickets instead of printed ones.
  • Avoid single-use signage with dates etc or use reusable plasma screen instead.
  • It’s best if you can completely avoid single-use items like wristbands but if you must have them Brandelity in the UK offer plantable seedpaper wrist bands
  • Avoid laminating paper and using plastic lined leaflets / brochures. Ensure that all printed material is done on uncoated or starch-based coated paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and printed with water-based ink.


  • Offer video conferencing or online viewing to reduce the number of people who have to travel for the event.
  • Reusable name badges are much more sustainable than single-use ones, unless people don’t return them. Consider using a deposit-return scheme to encourage return. Otherwise use recyclable stickers or cardboard badges instead. If you want to avoid plastic ones consider these bamboo and chalkboard reusable namebadges
  • Email notes instead of printing them out.

Sporting Events

  • Provide bananas for fuel instead of packaged items, fairtrade organic of course.
  • Notpla are edible pods of water made in the UK.
  • For races use reusable timing chips and use a deposit-return scheme to encourage their return for reprogramming at the end of the race.
  • Avoid merchandise and donate money to charity instead. Make sure to explain to attendees why you’re doing this.
  • If you do need merchandise consider t-shirts from circular business Teemill in Wales, or customised organic socks from Kingly socks , or  custom-printed 100% organic fairtrade carbon neutral t-shirts from Neutral in Denmark.
  • If you need an award for your event consider commissioning one made from sustainable materials. Grant Design make boat sculpture from offcuts from the joinery industry and metal.


  • If you’re organising an event then contact Native Events in Dublin 1. They design, construct and run sustainable events. They may also be interested in any props that you no longer need.

Outdoor Events

  • Irish company Happenings use solar powered generator to run outdoor cinema events
  • Use solar powered lighting where possible
  • Use energy-efficient LED’s throughout.
  • A green alternative is a no-flush, compost toilet, such as those made by Thunderbox or Natural Event. Not only do compost toilets not require water, they are chemical free, odour free and reduce transportable waste by up to 90%. Compost toilets also produce an end product that is beneficial to the land, helping tackle the problem of soil infertility. Loowatt for example, works with utility companies to turn waste.
  • Wayward Plants rehome unwanted plants at the end of gardening festivals. They’re based in the UK.
  • Avoid all balloons and glitter, even the biodegradable kind. Balloon wise these still take up to 2 years to degrade and most organic waste companies don’t want it in their brown bins. Instead, consider something like this these shaped bubble clouds by Smile Cloud. They’re based in the US but may open a Europe base if there’s enough interest.
  • Music Declares is an uniting organisation for anyone involved in the music industry that cares about climate change
  • Green Deal Circular Festivals has a whole host of guides for anyone running a festival
  • Here is a fabulous cool alternative to fireworks; synchronised drones!


  • I made this category especially for RHP Events who organise hands-on energy workshops like making a smoothie by bike!

A lot of these tips I gleamed from the lovely people in the Zero Waste Facebook group. If you’ve any more to add do please let me know below.


PS – In previous years I published

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

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