How to Green an Event

From Bioneers to Your House Party

Original article date: November 15, 2007

compost stationEvery October, thousands of people descend upon the Marin Conference Center to attend Bioneers. Bioneers is a convergence of scientific and social innovators who come to share visionary and practical models for restoring the earth and communities. For the past several years, the Ecology Center has partnered with Bioneers to help them “green” their annual conference.

The Bioneers team is driven to make the event itself a model of environmentally responsible practices, and they perennially turn to the Ecology Center to guide them in this process. In years past, we have aided in the development of waste stations and arranged for the pickup and delivery of discarded materials to recycling centers and compost facilities. The Ecology Center has helped Bioneers to shift from using non-recyclable prepared lunch packaging and plastic utensils to compostable containers and utensils.

Last year, the makers of corn-based plastic bottles encouraged Bioneers to distribute their bottles as water containers. This year, the Ecology Center prompted Bioneers to not sell any bottled water at all at the event. Instead, they installed water stations where attendees could refill their reusable containers of choice with filtered water from local sources. This approach placed the focus back on ensuring quality municipal water systems, rather than diverting our resources into the bottling and marketing of untested water of unknown quality. The water stations doubled as education and outreach centers, where issues of water quality, the privatization of water, low recycling rates of plastic water bottles, and wasted energy and oil were highlighted. (Find out more about grassroots recyclers’ concerns with biodegradable bottles.)

Events are typically high-impact in terms of energy consumption and waste. But that is no reason not to throw fabulous events! Community and togetherness are vitally important. The challenge is to think through decisions, learn about alternatives, and enjoy modeling new practices.

Whether you are organizing a large conference or a small holiday party in your home, you can find supremely useful tips, alternatives, and vendors in the following resources.

Julia Butterfly Hill’s organization, Circle of Life, created a Green Events Guide. It contained practical tips on many aspects of event planning, including:

  • Buy recycled content toilet paper, and/or demand it from your port-a-potty vendor.
  • Arrange for a local biofuels group to take your post-event cooking oil rather than disposing of it.
  • Serve organic beers, organic and biodynamic wines, and other beverages from eco-friendly sources.
  • Offset your event’s energy footprint by purchasing carbon credits, or renting a biodiesel or solar generator.
  • Advertise public transportation systems in all event materials.
  • Minimize paper use by using email, listserves, websites, and phone banks.
  • Post flyers using transparent, biodegradable cellulose tape rather than acetate tape.

Tackling the greening of the largest-scale events such as the Olympics is ICLEI, also known as Local Governments for Sustainability. ICLEI is an association of local, national, and regional local government organizations that have made a commitment to sustainable development. ICLEI’s website features a comprehensive list of the overarching goals of greening events.

Proposing ideas for greening smaller events is the David Suzuki Foundation. Their website features a page about planning a “green, low-carbon wedding.” The tips on this site easily lend themselves to non-matrimonial events, as well. Another green wedding planning resource is the Terrain article MATCH: Marry Well.

Once you have set the intention to green an event, you may cultivate relationships with a whole array of new vendors. You will probably learn about a plethora of products that you never knew existed. (Green Earth Office Supply is a good place to start.) But you will also run into dead ends—vendors that say “no, we don’t do that” and “no, we don’t carry that.” These dead ends are great opportunities to make a positive impact. Once vendors are made aware of a demand for environmentally friendly products and services, they have the choice to adapt and grow their customer base. And you get to be a change agent, in addition to being an event planner!

Other useful sites:

Updated November 2008.