5 Ways to Paint Your Next Event Green


From digital to drinks, let’s take a look at methods for hosting memorable, environmentally friendly meetings.


Producing green events is easier than ever. As the world gets smaller and more connected, clients are placing a greater emphasis on leaving smaller footprints with their events. With this shift in mindset, event planners are constantly on the lookout for creative tips and ideas to address this new state of event planning.

We offer 5 current thoughts on keeping your events top-notch and eco-friendly:

1. Digital Signage

Print has its place, but it should complement digital.

The life cycle of a printed sign looks something like this: It goes to print and comes back on foam-core, and if it’s a very lucky sign it remains accurate throughout the meeting. Sure, cut-out arrows can be flipped around, but custom signage needs updating—and reprinting—when spaces, presentations, and timing inevitably change.

Also, foam-core coated in plastic-coated paper isn’t exactly recyclable. You can sometimes donate foam signs to schools to get a second life as art projects, but it’s far from an ideal material (not to mention the time spent figuring out where to donate the foam signs). Five days’ worth of signs for a week-long event is a lot of foam. We say go with digital signage.

Here’s why:

  • Less Reprinting – Digital signage is adaptable. When breakouts change from Hall H to Hall J (and it will), it takes minutes to update the asset and change the digital sign. No 8.5×11 sheets taped to the original, redirecting attendees to the correct location (which may or may not match the agenda—more on that later).
  • Less Left Over – And when you finish: the screens return to the vendor, with no waste. Clean and ready to be reused at the next event.
  • Less Energy Used – Digital signage might sound like you’re trading electrical consumption for polystyrene, but that isn’t the case. In addition to a greater prevalence of solar power, LCD and LED televisions consume significantly less electricity than their giant, boxy ancestors.

2. Event App

 Want to shrink the paper mountain? An app can do that!

“A typical event produces a lot of stuff,” says Mark Mallchok, Brella’s executive meeting producer. “Printed agendas, books, handouts, brochures, literature…It gets picked up and thrown out. It’s not unusual for an agenda, for example, to be changed and reprinted several times before an event—or even reprinted and redistributed in the middle of one.” We say, go with an event app.

Here’s why:

  • All-in-One Access – Attendees appreciate having all their meeting information in one place. “Everyone has their mobile devices with them all the time anyway,” Mark says, “so an app just makes sense.”
  • The Power of Choice – Attendees don’t always want everything clients are handing out and hate toting around heavy bags. They would much rather choose what they want to take away from an event. For example, an expo booth can distribute everything as electronic PDFs or links, saving tons of paper, and also allow for downloading of video, audio, or interactive documents. Cool technology like beacons can take things a step further in engagement, providing a personalized experience both at the event and into the future. So instead of receiving a stack of words they may never look at, the attendee can download only the content that is relevant to them, with a richer experience than a simple brochure.
  • Easy Updates, Happy Clients – Clients always have changes. This is where an event app is especially helpful for you. A database holds all the event documents, so that any event updates are pushed to attendees’ phones automatically, saving you the time, labor, and stress of trying to reprint materials at the last minute. Apps even save on diesel and jet fuel, because you no longer need to ship print materials domestically or overseas. That saves the earth and your client’s money. Remember the last time you needed to reprint an agenda your client changed the day you left for an overseas meeting? Remember expedited print, packaging, and shipping international express to France? So do we. That doesn’t happen with an app. Your client has peace of mind knowing that their event information is always up-to-date and you never again have to face the 7 a.m. frustration of banging on the doors of customs in a foreign country that are holding your print materials hostage.

3. Eco-Friendly and Useful Gifts

Eco-friendly doesn’t mean useless.

It’s trendy these days (and very eco-friendly) to replace individual, tiny plastic bottles of water with large water stations—sadly they are often accompanied by tiny non-recyclable wax-covered paper or plastic cups. This is better, but not great. We say, go with a gift that is both eco-friendly and useful. For example:

  • Reusable Aluminum Water Bottles – Brella has included reusable aluminum water bottles with our events’ gift bags since 2011. “For only a few dollars, you’re giving the attendees something branded and useful,” says Cary Williams, event operations manager.
  • USB Drives – It may no longer be cutting edge, but they’re practical. Everyone still uses USB drives. Also, with the right planning, USB drives can be used in place of an event app or beacons if you don’t have the time or budget to build a full app. “Everyone wants to give away something. Give away something that people want to take home and reuse, rather than toss,” suggests Cary. “Just be sure to go with a size or two over what you think you’ll need,” Mark adds. “A 1 GB USB—who needs that today?”

4. In-Event Travel Logistics

Some details can have a sizeable impact.

Paradoxically, it’s easier to be greener per person with a larger event than a smaller one. One five-hundred person event has one venue and one opening and closing ceremony—anything that happens once per meeting happens once. With five, one-hundred person meetings, everything happens five times. This is especially true when it comes to travel for your attendees during your event. We say, don’t overlook your in-event travel logistics.

Here are a few areas to keep an eye on when planning:

  • Arrivals and Departures – Work with your travel management company, so that they pick up/drop off groups (10-15 attendees) for the same flight in one minibus, instead of ten or fifteen separate cars.
  • Public Transit Factor – Depending on your situation, choosing a venue close to public transit might be worth a look. Some attendees will be comfortable using this option and even appreciate that it’s been included.
  • Off-Site Events – Select off-site event venues closer to the main hotel rather than farther away. For example, if you’re hosting an event at a downtown Chicago hotel, go with someplace like the Shedd Aquarium (two miles from downtown) versus the Chicago Botanic Garden (a beautiful place, but fifty miles roundtrip from downtown).


5. Recycling Everyone Can Help

 It starts with the Ask.

You have to ask about the venue’s sustainability practices, because some are better than others. You can’t assume that green practices will appear without discussing them in advance. While these practices are more common now than ever, they still aren’t the default at most venues. The same goes with your attendees. Unless you ask, attendees may not know how or where they can recycle. We say, make a point of asking everyone to help make your event more eco-friendly by recycling.

Here are a couple of sustainability starters:

  • Ask Your Venue – Talk to your venue about how they recycle and notify your attendees. If they have separate recycling bins, make sure the venue puts out more than normal. Also think about putting recycling bins at strategic places, like near the exits for the closing ceremony. That way, materials can go in without a second thought and not into a trash can at home.
  • Ask Your Catering Vendors – When setting your menu, ask about local, seasonal options. Not only will they taste better, but they will showcase the area’s unique agricultural and cultural flavor. Think about a local Boeuf Bourguignon made with a Sonoma Valley red in San Francisco or sea scallops for a meeting in Halifax. “Celebrate pork in Iowa!” Mark laughs.
  • Ask Yourself – What you can recycle for your next meeting.  Don’t over order, but if you do, think about what to do with those extra materials.  Maybe you can use them at your next meeting, or donate all of those extra markers and easel pads to a local school. Also think about placing a reuse bin at the exits for the closing ceremony and requesting attendees put their badges and lanyards into them on the way out.  This way, you get to recycle something that your guests may not have even known could be reused.
  • Ask Your Attendees – Don’t forget to ask your attendees to recycle. An occasional reminder that there’s a place for recyclables to go will go a long way.

It’s not significantly harder to host a green event today—it just takes a little more forethought and planning. “Don’t take it for granted,” Mark says. “Push the venues and the vendors to do the right thing, so that they see it’s important. You can reinforce the demand for green services in your buying habits.”

The Brella Blog is just the beginning and so is Events. If your company is interested in having a more in-depth conversation about developing your next event, video, programming, or design project, contact Brella.