How to Host a Sustainable Work Conference or Event

Many businesses look forward to annual or semi-annual conferences as an opportunity to meet with remote staff, rally the troops for another cycle of growth and collaborate actively as a team. However, such gatherings often take a high environmental toll. From traveling to the center itself to the need for lighting, food and hotel stays while there, conferences use lots of energy and resources.

Sustainable Work Conference
Credit: Christina Morillo, Pexels

How can we make such events more sustainable? Industry leaders can do much, from selecting a greener venue to helping staff travel in a manner with the least environmental impact. Here are seven ideas for how to make your next conference more sustainable, whether you’re the event organizer or a team member.

1. Choose Your Venue with Care

If you’re an industry leader, you can select a venue which pays attention to sustainability. Look for the following features in a hotel or conference center for multi-day events:

  • Low-flow water. Does the hotel or center use low-flow toilets, shower heads and faucets? Do faucets have automatic shutoff switches to prevent the spread of germs and save water while users lather?
  • Master switches in rooms. Does the venue use devices which automatically turn off lights and TVs when participants leave their room? Do they use LED lighting or more energy-intense florescent lights?
  • Ceiling fans. Ceiling fans can keep you warmer in winter and cooler in summer without using as much energy as traditional HVAC systems. Does the facility have an adequate number in conference and guest rooms?

2. Serve Locally Sourced Foods

When food is shipped over long distances, trucks use an enormous amount of fuel in transport. This results in more carbon emissions in the air. When hiring a caterer, seek one who does business with local farmers instead of shipping everything frozen. Not using a catering service? Partner with a mom-and-pop restaurant who serves locally sourced produce and other foods. As a bonus, staff enjoy fresher meals, too.

3. Embrace Paperless Technology

Think back to all the charts, graphs and printed copies of PDF presentations you receive at the typical conference. Did you put it in a binder? Do you refer to it weekly or monthly? Chances are, unless you’re an overachiever, probably not.

Embrace paperless technology. Allow participants to use devices during conferences for note-taking purposes instead of paper (unless doing so could spread proprietary secrets). Survey staff ahead of time to determine who, if anyone, suffers a visual impairment requiring them to have a print-out of presentations, etc. Otherwise, use your projector screen and work on making the presentation so engaging, employees can’t help but learn.

4. Suggest Non-Stop Flights

If you’re paying for staff to attend your event, suggest they take non-stop flights whenever possible. Unless a particular employee suffers from a disability which makes long flights difficult without a break, most staff prefer non-stop as they waste less time on travel. Airplanes use the most fuel during take-off, so flying non-stop is friendlier to the environment than multiple layovers. For local workers less than 300 miles away from the venue, offer an incentive to drive.

5. Book Speakers Who Align with Your Vision

You may run the most sustainable business imaginable, but if you hire speakers who don’t align with your values, how credible will staff find your commitment? Only hire speakers who share similar eco-friendly sentiments as your company, such as those who work in science or environmental fields. This is one way you can make sure your money only supports people who are committed to the same values as you and your company.

6. Rethink Favors for Attendees

In an attempt to save money, many business leaders head to dollar and discount stores to stock up on trinkets featuring the “Made in…” label. However, these items cost a fortune to transport over air and land, and often utilize sweatshop labor in manufacturing.

Instead, think of gifting environmentally friendly gifts such as reusable, not single-use, water bottles with your company logo. If you want to create gift bags for attendees, patronize local merchants for items. You’ll build solid public relations in the region by shopping locally and stimulating the economy in the area where you travel.

7. Consider Dedicating Part of Your Event to Sustainability

Most employees — especially the younger workforce nowadays — sit at their desks for far too many hours of the day according to researchers. So, why not make part of your conference service-oriented? You can meet while participating in a local highway cleanup for part of an afternoon, for example. This gets blood flowing to participants’ bodies, making them more able to focus on what’s being said. Plus, you give back to the planet in the bargain — imagine the boost in likes your organization will receive on social media when you post how part of your conference was dedicated to saving the earth — literally.

Making Your Conference More Sustainable

Conferences can take a toll on the environment. However, by implementing measures such as those above, you can make your next big meeting less damaging — and even beneficial to — the planet we share.