The EPA has called out the meetings and events industry as one of the most wasteful today.
Research backs it up. The typical conference attendee will throw away over 4 pounds of waste per day, according to Event Manager Blog. For a small three-day industry conference of approximately 1,000 attendees, that translates into over 12,500 pounds of discards — about the same as four compact cars producing 530 metric ton equivalents of CO2. Those CO2 levels themselves are higher than what's produced after using 1,233 barrels of oil. Factor in other carbon footprint variables such as attendee air and car travel, hotel room energy expenditures, venue energy expenditures and discarded food, and you begin to see where the EPA is coming from.
Mobile apps have the potential to change the industry's bad environmental rep by eliminating waste and informing better planning and management decisions — both before guests arrive and while they're enjoying your event.
What Is Green Event Planning?
Green event planning seeks to integrate greener, sustainable operations across the entire event-planning lifecycle. It is a growing movement in the industry to reduce small and large event carbon footprints while in many ways trimming traditional event costs and structures.
Green event planning is often discussed side by side with green meetings, which are smaller, singular events coordinated with the same environmental awareness strategies. Many green meeting and event planners also organize charitable causes into their work, supporting drives or donations whose proceeds go back into bettering the community.
While exact stages and operations will vary, green event planning tenets cover:
- Food, beverages and catering
- Event marketing and promotion
- Meeting and event venues
- Guest and attendee amenities
How Can I Use Conference Apps and Technology for Greener Event Planning?
From paperless events to live-streamed virtual gatherings, event-planning apps lead the way in changing the industry's environmental reputation. See how you can join the movement by incorporating sustainable conference apps and technology across your event planning stages.
1. Host Online Registration and Check-In
Online registration and day-of check-ins save a tremendous amount of paper products — and time, allowing guests to bypass those long queues during their first moments at your conference.
The most dynamic systems work with your app to create one central profile for event registrants. From there, guests can keep track of conference or event updates without cumbersome, paper-based pamphlets or materials picked out individually. They'll even receive an e-notice — typically via email or push notification — that it's time to check-in a few days before the event.
Online check-ins are quicker, greener and more convenient. What's more, most people are familiar with these systems since they mirror the online check-ins at places like airports, with "paperless" tickets and registrant identification materials all stored inside the app.
2. Communicate Digitally
Event apps serve as your central communication portal. All major guest touchpoints can be worked into the system, including:
- Invitations: Share event invitations digitally, or encourage current guests to share an event with their own networks.
- Registration: Online app registration is quick, cost-effective and paperless.
- Handouts: Swap those printed event programs and booklets for comprehensive, paperless e-programs.
- Presentations: Use your app to house speaker or panel presentations for guests to consult later.
- Vendor information: Attendees can keep up-to-date on the latest vendors, experts and brands registered for the event, then plan schedules accordingly.
- Post-event surveys: Send paperless surveys to hear vital attendee feedback on the success of your event.
- General updates: Any miscellaneous communications can be relayed via email or text-based push notifications, offering an instant alert and modern way to keep in touch during the event.
3. Use QR Codes Instead of Badges
Traditional event badges need to be printed and laminated beforehand. Badges then need to be placed and arranged at registration tables with enough room for your staff to easily find, ensuring minimal wait times and frustrated guests in line.
With an event app, you eliminate this cumbersome and resource-intensive check-in process. Instead of using paper-based name badges, guests receive a unique QR code on the app containing all relevant personal information, such as their name, company, title and social media profiles. Guests then scan each other's QR codes to exchange information, much like swapping a business card. You save paper, guests save time, and no one needs to re-print erroneous names or deal with piles of thrown-away badges post-event.
4. Let Vendors Create Unique App Content
In traditional expos, booth vendors hand out folders, pamphlets and packet after packet of materials detailing their products and services. These printed materials are useful, yet are one of the largest contributors to event paper waste.
Instead, encourage vendors to use your app to create engaging e-content and promotional materials. Think videos and multimedia clips, downloadable white papers, product spec sheets, case studies, tutorials and more. With digital content, vendors can share far more information plus save tremendously on one-and-done printing costs.
5. Support App-Hosted Transportation Maps and Perks
Event apps can be a game-changer, reducing the carbon footprint of event-related transportation expenditures. At its most basic, you can use the app to relay transportation logistics to registered guests, such as a new shuttle service or nearest bus line taking registrants from the airport to the conference. That same app can also send real-time updates if shuttle stops are expanded, say to include rides to and from guest hotels or to house maps of other public transportation routes around the event's host city.
Event guests will appreciate the attention to detail making their conference or expo attendance easier while you take your green event planning to the next level.
6. Offer Live Streaming and "Virtual" Sessions
Live-streamed events are gaining traction, particularly for specific kinds of activities, such as special certification courses and industry trainings. These "virtual" events reduce the carbon footprints of nearly every event-planning logistic from transportation and catering to venue and hotel energy usage, and they create a value-add on long after an event officially ends.
Live-stream recordings can be housed on an event app alongside a speaker's training materials and presentations. Registrants can log on and reference the sessions and related collateral at their convenience, giving the event a second life, all while reducing the event's total footprint on a per-attendee rate.
7. Offer a Digital Venue Floor Plan
Reduce paper even further by uploading the event venue's layout onto your app. Guests consult the digital "blueprint" to find whatever room, session or vendor they're looking for — as well as places like bathrooms or lounges. You can even build the digital floor plan to contain advanced exhibitor listings and information, such as wayfinding alerts helping people navigate around a sprawling expo floor, or to create detailed augmented reality venue tours.
8. Aggregate Guest Data
Attendee data housed on your app is instrumental in making smarter logistics arrangements at event venues.
For example, attendance gleaned from QR codes scanned while checking into a panel session can reveal popular topics that pack rooms, as well as those with smaller draws. You can use that data to arrange savvier room assignments and even book more pertinent venues altogether, ones that more efficiently fit the bill. Similar tracking or RFID methods can be used to determine popular meals, happy hour attendances and preferences on served versus buffet-style catering, again, reducing your waste for next year.
9. Have a Little Fun
Event apps open new possibilities to surprise and delight your guests. Consider many of the emerging ways event planners are using apps to provide a superior overall attendance experience, one that uses less paper, less energy and — best of all — wows people en masse.
- Gamified content: From digital scavenger hunts to networking points earned to event narratives completed for conference cred.
- Interactive content: With guests using their apps to answer live questions or surveys during individual speeches, presentations or panel sessions
- Social media integration: Offering a quick, one-and-done way to connect with new professional contacts.
- Tailored push notifications and individualized content: Automatically triggered when a guest checks into special events or interacts with a vendor via the app.
Green Event Planning Tips and Resources
Searching for even more sustainable event ideas? Consider these leading green event-management tips and practices divided across the industry's top carbon footprint contributors.
Air travel alone is responsible for 70% of an event's negative environmental impact, according to Event Manager Blog. For mid- and large-sized national conferences or tradeshows with 5,000 attendees minimum, those percentages run even higher.
Here are some ways you can help make transportation greener:
- Set up ridesharing programs: Especially to and from transportation hubs like airports or train stations. Guests will be impressed and enjoy the peace-of-mind brought by these transportation arrangements, which can be as simple as an Uber or Lyft discount code for guests who choose the carpooling option.
- Create public transportation guides for your app: Show out-of-town guests the quickest and most convenient bus or subway routes to and from your venue.
- Hire a guest shuttle: Large conferences expecting national attendees can consider setting up a shuttle service transporting groups from the airport to the venue or hotel, reducing individual and ad-hoc car usage.
Greener accommodations gets off on the right foot by selecting hotels with a stated commitment to energy and emissions reduction. Many participate in green energy purchasing programs with local municipalities while maintaining sustainability operations and practices within their walls.
- Find LEED-certified accommodations: Vet hotels and lodging near your venue with silver, gold or platinum LEED certificates for their energy usage practices and environmentally-minded design.
- Ask about hotel recycling programs: Inquire about a hotel's recycling amenities, including recycling bins located in guest rooms and lounge areas.
- Consider room energy efficiency: Consider supporting hotels or lodging venues that use energy-efficient lighting and HVAC units in guest rooms, among other energy-efficient systems.
- Check water usage and sourcing: Some hotels collect rainwater, choose sustainably sourced local water, use low-flow toilets and more to improve their water stewardship. Others have stated commitments not to install decorative water features on their properties to further preserve local water resources.
3. Food, Beverages and Catering
In 2017, pilot programs sponsored in part by the American Hotel and Lodging Association sought to reduce food waste at over half a dozen major hospitality and hotel brands, such as Hilton Hotels & Resorts and Marriott International. After the 12-week program, sites saw a minimum of 10% decrease in food waste as well as a 3% minimum cost-savings on food sourcing and procurement.
You, too, can play a major role in lowering food and beverage waste during industry and private events.
- Reduce or eliminate single-use plastics: Instead, seek reusable food service ware for catered meals.
- Cut down on buffets: Buffets produce the highest rates of leftovers, most of which are thrown out post-service.
- Go meatless: Serve meatless options for a handful of catered meals or event snacks. Just one day of vegetarian eating per person per week saves greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to driving 1,160 miles.
- Get savvy with leftovers: For multi-day events with many catered meals, consider dishes that can incorporate leftovers from the previous days. Think stir-fries, soups, smoothie bars, frittatas and omelets, stuffed meats and more.
- Source locally and seasonally: Locally-sourced foods and drinks further reduce carbon emissions, since food items aren't transported hundreds of miles before arriving at your venue.
4. Event Marketing and Promotion
Cut down on paper and plastic waste by turning to technology for event marketing and guest touchpoints alongside these other green promotional tips.
- Prioritize digital communications: Use emails, app programs, text alerts and other e-messaging mediums as the primary modes of communication with guests, as well as electronic-first materials distribution.
- Mention sustainability as a venue priority: Indicate the upcoming event's commitment to sustainability initiatives in attendee emails and push notifications.
- Employ reusable signage: Research eco-friendly reusable sign templates and design studios. If using digital signage, make sure displays come equipped with LED bulbs and similar energy-saving features.
- Convert to e-invites only: Plus let guests register and check-in online.
5. Meeting and Event Venues
Similar to scouting environmentally sustainable guest accommodations, pick greener event venues by bearing in mind the following.
- Pick venues with a LEED certification: Conference and exhibition centers can also be awarded silver, gold and platinum LEED certificates for environmental sustainability.
- Venues near transportation centers: Seek out viable venues near major transportation centers. Bonus points if venues are accessible via mass transit, or close enough to set up any of the greener ride-sharing methods mentioned in the earlier transportation tips.
- Ask about energy and water conservation initiatives: Just as you did with hotels and guest accommodations, inquire about a host venue's own energy-saving practices across utilities. This also includes its recycling, composting and other waste-management procedures.
- Decorate with plants over flowers: Plants — especially locally grown, indigenous varieties — make a far greener choice for venue decor over cut flower arrangements and table pieces.
6. Attendee Amenities
Last but not least, consider the smaller details providing attendees that wow experience — but without the typical environmental toll.
- Create reusable badge systems — or go badge-less: Convert over to QR badges or similar ID systems housed in your app to save printing time and paper.
- Eliminate plastic water bottles: Consider reusable water-bottle filling stations instead. You may also have water bottles available on request, rather than automatically handing out bottles to guests every day.
- Guest favors and takeaway merchandise from local vendors will stand out in the proverbial sea of conference-branded water bottles, T-shirts and keychains. Better yet, event attendees will probably thank you for breaking from the typical gift mold into something more creative.
- Donate leftovers: Leftover decorations, office supplies, plants, paper products, food and beverage make great donations for community nonprofits, including schools, nursing homes, shelters and more.
Make Your Event Planning Greener
Turn to an all-in-one event-management platform leader. Expo Logic is Community Brands' comprehensive suite of event technology solutions, with programs that make coordinating event operations easier — and greener.
Explore Expo Logic's range of applications to see how you can incorporate green processes and technology into your event planning today.
About the Author
Katie has a passion for marketing and writing. She enjoys learning about all aspects of events and sharing this knowledge through the Expo Logic Blog.