APWA-NC Sustainable Event Planning Considerations
Created by: APWA-NC Sustainability Committee
Date: November 10, 2021
APWA-NC members are welcome to take the following considerations into account while
planning their next event or conference to make the event more sustainable. Some of these
suggestions may represent a small shift from the current event planning approach while others
could be stretch goals that are more feasible for larger events.
Consider planning a conference session around the topic of sustainability. This can include a
range of topics, from green infrastructure to climate resilience, to moving the maintenance fleet
to go electric, to finding funds to implement a sustainable pilot project. Members of the
Sustainability Committee would be happy to volunteer to plan and/or moderate this session.
Alternatively, ask all presenters to highlight sustainable aspects of their projects, if any, during
their respective presentations.
Consider ways to reduce waste
- Consider going paperless and opt to use an app to share conference contents and
events with attendees. This option works particularly well for hybrid events.
- Reduce paper use if using an app is not an option. Planners can keep content in any
packets/handouts to a minimum to reduce waste. Explore alternative methods of sharing
additional information (monitors in the venue, announcements, etc.)
- Work with the venue to implement recycling options and “twinning the bin,” i.e., provide
side by side waste and recycling trash receptacles. Note that, during and post-pandemic,
it may be necessary to give special consideration for personal protective equipment
- Speak with the venue about the availability of sanitizer dispensers to reduce or eliminate
the need for individually bottled sanitizer.
- Speak with the venue and/or the caterer about composting food waste if you’re willing to
go the extra mile for waste reduction. This may include considerations for compostable
plastics and utensils and possible training for the venue staff.
- Speak with the venue and/or caterer about providing water dispensers for attendees to
refill water bottles instead of giving away bottled water. Note that many larger venues
often have water fountains and water bottle refilling stations, making bottled water
- Discuss with caterers the option to use reusable items, such as silverware and ceramic
mugs instead of disposable plastic utensils and cups.
- Incorporate a sustainability component into planning conference prizes, such as
durability and minimal use of plastic. Encourage sponsors/vendors to do the same with
Highlight the venue’s sustainable features
In conference welcome packets/apps, include information about any of the venue’s sustainable
features, e.g., LEED or Energy Star accreditation, energy or water use reduction, high indoor air
Additionally, select locations for social gatherings with sustainability in mind. For example,
planners may choose restaurants or bars that source food and beverages locally and are
located within walking distance of the conference venue. The latter decision also eliminates the
need to plan for transportation between venues.
Highlight sustainable aspects during the conference’s off-site trips
Consider incorporating locations that highlight sustainable practices as part of their operations.
For large events, quantify the reduction in your carbon footprint
The majority of emissions attributed to conferences are likely to come from travel to/from the
event. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many events to move to online only or
hybrid formats, and attendees of post-pandemic events are likely to expect the hybrid format to
continue to be an option. Using the hybrid option offers the opportunity to highlight the reduction
in the conference’s carbon footprint due to reduced travel by attendees. To engage members,
planners can offer an “in-kind” sponsorship opportunity to a company with technical expertise to
quantify the expected carbon reduction and for the result to be highlighted at the conference
Additional considerations with example products:
Note that the subsections below provide examples of products and services that may help event
planners achieve sustainability objectives. Please consider them as examples and not
recommendations by APWA NC Sustainability Committee.
Examples of Apps and how they contributed to waste reduction:
Pricing: $499- $3,500
This app can integrate both virtual and in-person elements of a conference and at its most
basic, allows attendees to build a schedule, use the app to access virtual conference elements,
and provides information on speakers, attendees, and sessions. In a conference for an
organization in NC, in 2021, of 191 attendees 100 utilized the app to its full potential and only 40
paper schedules were needed. It also allows for session feedback, reducing paper use further
as the conference previously created at least 5 feedback forms per session.
This app provides a lot of customer support, allows specific branding, and offers other elements
like games and exhibit hall information. It provides ample information about attendees,
presenters, and exhibitors and can link to external sites. For example, one large conference
only needed 150 copies of the program and reduced the program length from 30 pages to 16.
Example Disposal Options
There are many innovative solutions for waste diversion at conferences. One option is to utilize
boxes by TerraCycle https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/. This company will take back hard to
recycle items and will dispose of them appropriately. This includes items like PPE or food
Other disposal options include contracting with a compost hauler and collecting material in
separate lined containers like those included at the following link.
Example Methods to Reduce Waste in Giveaways
While working to reduce waste, encouraging vendors to give out reusable bottles and other
sustainable items can help reduce your waste footprint. While there are eco-friendly promotions
companies or product lines (like https://www.ecopromotionsonline.com/), it is important to note
that some eco-branded items can actually cause other ecological problems. For example,
seeded paper can include invasive species. Another way to have more sustainable giveaways is
to ask the supplier to reduce packaging to eliminate needless plastic bags and filler material.
Example Water Refill Options
If vendors/exhibitors are giving away items like reusable bottles, it can significantly reduce
waste to have water bottle refill stations to allow participants to reduce reliance on plastic cups.
Some venues can provide water stations next to coffee stations but if there is not infrastructure
in place at a venue for water availability, there are rental options for water stations. Simple
options like https://watermonster.us/ are easily monitored by volunteers and accomplish the goal
of available water. More expensive options like http://www.eventwatersolutions.com/ exist
specifically for events and offer a more aesthetic look.