Go Green: Events & Sustainability

shutterstock_434567419The events industry has often been criticized for being solely recreational, which is clearly invalidated by philanthropic and corporate events, but also for its supposedly unnecessary use of valuable resources. One way event professionals combat this stigma is through adding major sustainability factors to their events, otherwise known as “going green” and lesser known as “event greening.” There is no doubt that planning and execution of events require an abundance of energy and materials, but what many scientists and environmentalists want to know is, “Is the outcome worth the impact?”

An increase of sustainable events was not only demanded by this question, but also by a call for compliance with renewed environmental protection policies. Typically, sustainability is categorized in three ways: social, economic and environmental.

Social sustainability – An effort to prevent an increase in the interpersonal gap between the upper social classes and lower social classes. Economic Sustainability – An effort to prevent a decrease in the stability or quality of a firm or organization’s total funds or the nation’s economy as a whole. Environmental Sustainability – An effort to support the physical environment’s capacity to allow all inhabitants to viably survive on its resources in the present and future.

An event is most commonly made socially sustainable by being philanthropic in a person-to-person context, uniting those who can share their wealth and resources with those lacking them. However, for the other types of events, there is job creation, skills training, community development, charging little to no admission cost, encouraging diversity among attendees or simply stimulating an increase in civic pride. Certain aspects or actions within your event can be socially sustainable, too.

Economic sustainability in an event context can relate to oneself or an entity. Either can achieve it through couponing and bargain shopping or finding raw or alternative materials to create your finished product instead of buying it at retail cost. (We love DIY!) Although, the most common method of economic sustainability is acquiring sponsorship and fundraising.

Event organizers can create environmentally-friendly events through waste reduction; recycling and repurposing décor and props; digital displays and workspaces; shuttle transportation and noise control, among many other methods.

Case Study

Let’s take a look at how we can take a wedding and make it sustainable in any or all of the three ways. Consider your venue, stationery, flowers and catering, apparel and favors.

Method 1: Go Natural

Farms, meadows, botanical gardens, hilltops and many other outdoor venues can create especially romantic atmospheres and don’t require the lighting, heating and cooling energy or running water that indoor venues do. Though weather and access to modern comforts become key concerns when choosing an outdoor wedding venue, preventative planning methods can calm these concerns.

If you insist on an indoor venue, combine the ceremony and reception to lessen air and transportation pollution. Rent a daytime wedding venue with lots of windows to utilize beautiful natural light, or even sustainable hotel venues can be discovered, such as those listed on GreenHotels.com.

Method 2: Go Digital

Stationery that reduces forest destruction and paper production is prominent in weddings with a “go-green” theme. Using e-vites and wedding websites as an alternative to paper invitations or even using single envelopes instead of placing an extra one inside the invitation package can save lots of trees!

Too informal? Many stationery vendors offer an 100% recycled paper option for programs, table numbers and place or escort cards. Some lesser known supplements also include cotton and bamboo.

Method 3: Go Local

In any wedding, breathtaking floral arrangements can easily become the center of attention, but a few downsides to traditional flowers can include pesticides and expensive shipping that uses fuel and causes pollution. A better option is only using flowers that are in-season and in-state. Maybe ask a relative or friend to pick them up? If you’re not a choosy about real flowers, very visually interesting centerpieces can be fashioned from alternate, reusable materials instead. A popular trend in potted blooms or succulents has emerged—a charming touch to a backyard wedding—and brooch bouquets are really starting to… “blossom!” Some couples are even eliminating boutonnieres and corsages altogether.

The second part to going local is in your catering. Food production and consumption is historically one of the largest contributors to resource depletion. Since sustainability can be found so easily in other aspects, applying it to your food makes your wedding unique! Serving organic foods would certainly benefit the environment, but it can be pricey, which would not be economically sustainable for you! Therefore, catering with locally-grown and seasonal produce is a great alternative. (Locally harvested eggs and milk can even be used for the wedding cake!)

Method 4: Careful Apparel

This method proves difficult for many couples to adopt (understandably!), so if you’re open to it, kudos! Traditional wedding gowns and bridesmaids dresses require much excess material, man-made fabrics and are more often than not a “one-time wear.” For brides, there are several options to rightfully justify substituting the more intricate and expensive gown(s):

  • Reuse! Brides seeking a vintage look can search for gowns in consignment dress shops in upscale areas. Just think of how many stories of love and devotion lie in the layers of your gown… it’s even possible that you are only the second person to put it on!
  • Renew! Mothers keep their wedding gowns after many, many years in hopes that their daughters will ask to wear them in their own weddings someday. Having a seamstress or tailor re-work the style of Mom’s gown is both sustainable and sentimental.
  • Recycle! If you stick to the traditional route, have your gown do good on its own. Take plenty of pictures of that baby before donating it to underprivileged brides through a non-profit organization, like Adorned in Grace that benefits victims of sex trafficking or Brides Across America so a military wife can look just as beautiful on her wedding day.
  • A seamstress or dressmaker can also collaborate with the bride to make a custom gown from scratch with natural fabric. If a sustainable-minded bride prefers her own design, all she needs to do is find a designer who uses organic cotton, silk, hemp or other natural fabrics.
  • Allow your bridal party to wear their own dresses, but still specify a color or length to fit with the scheme.

Method 5: Savor Your Favors
Favors for guests and gifts for wedding parties that avoid plastics, metals and fabrics are crucial for that “go-green” theme. Some neat favors on the sustainable market consist of locally-jarred honey or jam, flower or vegetable seed packets or small potted plants or succulents.

Bonus: Get Triple Sustainability Points

Hit all three forms of sustainability by substituting your wedding favors with a donation on your guests’ behalf to a charity of your choice. Not only will you save money by making a flat donation in leiu of favors, but also make your guests feel good about themselves and prevent a significant group of people from depleting resources used to manufacture gift items. Just be sure to let all your guests know ahead of time through an insert in your invitation or your wedding website!

There you have it! That sounds like one of the most sustainable weddings ever, to us.
Did you know? There are many organizations and movements assisting companies, event planners or individuals to successfully integrate sustainability into their efforts, like the Sustainable Event Alliance (SEA) and ISO 20121.