5 Tips for Conference Organizers Who Want to Go “Green” for Sustainability

The Sustainable Brands conference, SB18, in Vancouver, Canada provided a wealth of valuable content and recommendations around the latest tips and trends for planning green conferences.  Speakers included Paul Salinger, Sustainability Champion at Oracle, Virginie Helias, Vice President, Global Sustainability at Procter & Gamble, Mary Wroten, Associate Director, Global Sustainability, Environment & Safety Engineering at Ford Motor Company and Jennifer Silberman, Vice President, Corporate Responsibility at Target.

Here’s what they had to say and our favorite 5 tips for planning “green” sustainable conferences and corporate events…

  1. Follow a proactive plan
  2. Use the event to educate
  3. Use “food for thought”
  4. Leverage transportation options
  5. Waste not


Paul Salinger from Oracle had a great series of suggestions for creating a formal plan for making the company’s many trade, customer and employee events sustainable. At Oracle, he needed to create a business case for moving in this direction to the executive team which focused on increased efficiencies, cost savings and creating new brand building opportunities for different event stakeholders. Included in this pitch was setting realistic program goals which started more modestly and scaled over time. Adding requirements for sustainability into the company’s business plan was essential for buy-in across departments and a shared sense of accountability. He cautioned that iterative, progressive steps toward sustainability (waste management, incentives that resonate with employees, charitable corporate work, entertaining options such as “meatless Monday”) work best, rather than overly ambitious, huge “leaps”. Finally, like all plans, you need to measure success. Choose your metrics and report out successes.


Ned Bell from Oceanwise hit on a second “ah ha” around making events more sustainable. He advocated using events as educational tools to spread the awareness about both the need for resource conservation as well as the benefits of “going green”. Creating an event template which mandates certain sustainability requirements for events (no single use plastics, onsite recycling and composting, using certified green cleaning products, sustainable seafood only on menus) is one way to publicize company efforts toward sustainability. A speaker from FLOSS relayed their company criteria “fair, local, organic, seasonal and smart” where they look not just at their carbon footprint but also their water footprint when planning events. Educating employees about the sustainability of farming methods (from agricultural to fish farms) is another way to help increase understanding among employees about the importance of conservation of natural resources.


Naturally, planning the menu for an event creates opportunities to infuse sustainability into recipes and purchasing of food ingredients by caterers. Planning menus that inherently minimize waste, encourage donations of leftover food, minimize unrecyclable packaging and use of plastics, and being transparent about the carbon footprint associated with the production of the meal you are serving, are all ways to be more sustainable. Some companies are even producing cookbooks centered around sustainable cooking habits for their employees to drive home this concept and impact employee attitudes toward sustainability.


Sam Arons from Lyft laid out some company initiatives that have made Lyft a sustainability leader in the transportation sector. Lyft was one of the first companies to join the We Are Still In movement to pledge its commitment to the Paris Climate Accord. All Lyft rides are carbon neutral (since April 2018), and the longer-term goals of the company address using alternative energy sources (going electric, minimizing gas, etc.). The company is expecting to purchase carbon offsets for over a million metric tons of carbon, equivalent to planting at least 35 million trees over the next year. Offering a carbon offset option to event attendees is clearly a no-brainer to share with corporate hosts if they don’t already offer these.


Speakers at SB18 had a lot of suggested strategies for recycling and repurposing of the waste created at corporate events. From salvaging food to later serve up at a “Salvage Supper” lunch for employees to consolidating shipments, streamlining recipe production to minimize waste in menu production, there were lots of tips for more efficient, mindful and proactive waste management. Some companies such as TerraCycle have even used strategies such as gamification to come up with new recycling approaches, harnessing employee ideas about how to minimize waste at company events. Love that!

What tactics are you using to create more sustainable and “green” corporate events? Tell us on Facebook!