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Eco-friendly events: it’s actually easy being green!

Caroline Voyer is on a mission.

As the Director of both the Réseau des femmes en environnement, a women’s organization to promote sustainable development and protect the environment, and the Sustainable Events Council (Conseil québecois des événements), she is working tirelessly to encourage eco-friendly and sustainable practices in the event industry.

Eco-friendly events: it’s actually easy being green!

Organizing green events has been gaining momentum over the past few years. More and more conference and convention planners are looking for creative ways to reduce their events’ ecological footprint. We sat down with Ms. Voyer to get her top tips for going green for an upcoming event. 

“First, green event planning is not an all-or-nothing affair. Every step, big or small, plays a significant role in helping the environment. Don’t beat yourself up if you can only implement a few green initiatives. At least you are going greener.”

How green is the host city?

When researching for a host city, keep in mind some important things to look for to determine if a location is committed to helping the environment. “Go past the tourist brochures and websites, and ask host city representatives about accessibility between your event’s venues. Is the city walkable? How viable is the public transit system? Are there different shuttle options you can choose from to transport delegates to and from different places? These are questions you need answered from the get-go,” said Ms. Voyer. “This can make a huge different on your event’s carbon footprint.”

Another, seemingly simple yet major factor to consider: does the city provide means for its citizens to recycle in public places or even compost? “There are still many major metropolitan cities that don’t even encourage their residents to recycle or compost at home, and recycle items when they are about town. That says a lot about a city’s commitment to the environment.”

How green is the venue?

Québec City Convention Centre  | Credit:  Québec City Convention Centre. Photo: Emmanuel Coveney
Credit: Québec City Convention Centre. Photo: Emmanuel Coveney

Ms. Voyer says that any venue that is committed to the environment normally promotes it on a website or, at the very least, has documented its sustainability policies and procedures. She also recommends asking about the type of certifications the venue has, such as LEED or BOMA.

“Let’s take a few venues in Québec City, for example,” she said. The Québec City Convention Centre has an impressive list of efforts they have made to be a leader in sustainable development.” 

How green are your food and beverage partners?

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Whether you are directly working with a venue or third-party food partner, Ms. Voyer indicates that one of the biggest impacts a planner can have on the environment is by focusing on the F&B side of an event.

“Food is such a low hanging fruit when it comes to creating a greener event. Find out the chef’s values: does he or she favour local producers and organic fare? Can the meals you select be free from meat to further reduce your carbon footprint? Will the fish options be created using sustainable fishing practices?”

And the list of questions for your dining selection continue. Ms. Voyer suggests finding out if you can offer fair-trade coffee and have meals be served on real—rather than disposable—dishware.

Another aspect to F&B that should be front and centre in your planning: determine what to do with food surpluses. Can they be systematically donated to charity, frozen and used later on for members of the local community in need, or given to employees. “Everything and anything is better than wasting food,” Ms. Voyer said.

“And the most important part of all? Make sure you get your delegate numbers in check so that you only order what you really need.” She even points out that some restaurants are starting to charge fees for ordering too much food.

How green are your other partners?

Ms. Voyer is always amazed when she speaks to AV suppliers. “Very few of them ever get asked if they have any energy efficient equipment! The “worst” part is…most of them do! Ask, and you shall receive!” Interestingly enough, most energy-efficient AV equipment is as affordable or even more affordable than their energy-sapping counterparts.

If event planners work with a communications committee or outside agency, Ms. Voyer says there are a lot of gains to be made to diminish waste and help the environment in the event marketing side of things. “You want to reduce paper waste, say, by providing an online attendee guide or only digital version of conference presentations. However, don’t choose an even worse alternative, such as USB drives, which are major pollutants,” she explained.

Some event planners are leery of doing away with “physical” event material altogether so as not to be perceived as being cheap. In these cases, Ms. Voyer says that transparent communication is the only way to go. “Tell attendees, sponsors and speakers why you are transitioning to new, greener methods. They will probably be thrilled at your commitment to the environment.”

“Tell attendees, sponsors and speakers why you are transitioning to new, greener methods. They will probably be thrilled at your commitment to the environment.”

Ms. Voyer’s final recommendations? “First, green event planning is not an all-or-nothing affair. Every step, big or small, plays a significant role in helping the environment. Don’t beat yourself up if you can only implement a few green initiatives. At least you are going greener.”

And don’t forget to promote the sustainability of your event. “I am surprised, when discussing with event planners, how much effort they have put into being green, yet nobody knows about it. Show your event stakeholders what you are doing. You are likely to score major green points with them."

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