June 12, 2020 Anna Yung

Sustainable Event Planning: Disrupting the Norm

Net Zero 2019 Zero Waste Company

Anna Yung is Verdical Group’s Marketing & Events Intern. She holds a BA in Economics and a Minor in Urban & Environmental Policy from Occidental College.

When Verdical Group was founded back in 2012, the firm’s primary focus was to provide green building consulting. As our team’s expanded and our collective knowledge and experience grew, we began hosting small events to share our expertise with clients and local sustainability professionals.

In 2014, Verdical Group’s Founder, Drew Shula, planned a small event to support industry, policymakers, and educators in the transition to a net zero future. The Verdical Group team was stunned when nearly two hundred showed up — it was clear that there was immense interest, and a lack of general knowledge, about this emerging trend. Today, many cities and states have mandates for net zero new construction and our Net Zero Conference is the world’s largest net zero building conference and expo with programming focusing on climate, carbon, energy, water, waste, and transit. 

As the conference grew over the years, we saw the event’s carbon footprint creep up and wondered what more we could do to “walk the walk.” This is where sustainable event planning comes into play. More than just reducing carbon emissions and our environmental footprint, sustainable event planning is about putting sustainability strategies into place, spreading knowledge, and inspiring others to take on the same tactics. By definition, producing events means creating a safe and healthy temporary environment. But temporary usually translates to wasteful when it comes to events — think single-use plastics, badges, lanyards, programs, etc. Our passion to achieve a net zero future has forced us to rethink the way that we go about putting on events like the Net Zero Conference, whether that’s working with vendors to re-work the catering system, asking exhibitors not to bring wrapped merchandise and pamphlets, providing a digital program, or purchasing carbon offsets for the event. As we continue to innovate and find creative ways to reduce waste and digitize various aspects of events, the goal is to ultimately be able to achieve carbon neutrality within the events industry. 

The prevalence of environmental issues in society has opened up the events market, allowing for sustainable event planning to succeed and serve as a long term replacement to traditional event planning. While our experience greening the Net Zero Conference seemed niche only several years ago, we’re now seeing interest and demand from mainstream event planners to make their events as environmentally responsible as possible. As these planners began reaching out to Verdical Group with questions and for support with increasing frequency, we decided to launch a new branch of our business, Verdical Events, focused specifically on sustainable event production.

Sustainable event planning speaks directly to the times and what is going on around us. Our desire to leave a positive legacy on cities, hosts, and the events themselves forces us to consider our footprint and how impactful it is on these places. A 2014 study found that the typical conference attendee produced on average 4 pounds of waste and 388 pounds of CO2 emissions per day of attendance. It no longer has to be this way: Recently, Verdical’s Senior Events Manager Karen Young presented to the Sustainable Event Alliance on the areas she hones in on during the planning process. When it comes to sustainable events, the most important areas of consideration are waste management, the venue, vendors, sponsors, catering options, participant engagement, partner hotels, transportation, marketing, and community outreach. Through these measures, we can reduce the carbon footprints of our events and conferences substantially. 

From the attendee perspective, sustainably produced events allow for greater convenience, connection, and often match up with personal ideals. Event planners are beginning to understand how greener events can ultimately help their organizations save money, attract new attendees, and improve long term success and profitability. 

I think we are moving away from a time in which events, whether it be conferences, concerts, or sporting events, have to be wasteful and unsustainable. In the end, change is about disruption — now more than ever, as we are currently in a moment of disrupting the norm. It’s important that as we re-build the events industry, we establish a new way of doing so. The goal is to put sustainability strategies, as well as climate action, at the forefront of everything we do, especially the work we take on in relation to event planning. Hopefully one day we can reach climate neutrality for ourselves and the client events we produce.