In the current climate of environmental awareness, the need for sustainable practices in every sector is becoming increasingly important. Conferences typically use significant resources, from materials to human energy. These largescale events offer unique opportunities to implement eco-friendly practices.

Here are some ideas to plan and run an eco-friendly conference that not only reduces its environmental footprint, but also sets a sustainable precedent for future events.

Eco-friendly practice: Use apps
Photo by Whova

Go Paperless

Technology is at our fingertips… literally! Nearly 82 percent of Americans own a smartphone, and over 7 billion people worldwide use them. So opting to go paperless at your event may be easier than you think.

From digital invites and online registrations, to schedules and workshop materials, moving them onto a mobile app or web-based platform (like Whova or Cvent) can cut down on print materials and make the experience easier for attendees. Leveraging apps can also enhance attendee engagement and provide more opportunities for analytics, data collection, and access.

Choose an Eco-Friendly Building

When it comes to choosing a venue for your event, adding sustainability to your list is a must! Look for venues that use renewable energy sources, have efficient waste management systems, and are accessible by public transportation.

You can specifically look for buildings with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. LEED is the world’s most widely used green building rating system, providing a framework for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings that offer environmental, social, and governance benefits.

The Colorado Convention Center in Denver is one of the best examples of an eco-friendly venue. Sustainability practices include: a robust waste management program, energy and water conservation equipment and scheduling, and a 5,000-square-foot urban garden that produces more than 5,000 pounds of produce for catering every year. The venue offers plenty of resources and assistance for event planners. 

Use Eco-Friendly Materials

When physical materials are necessary, opt for eco-friendly options. This includes biodegradable name badges, recycled paper for any essential printing, and merchandise like reusable water bottles or tote bags made from sustainable materials. Ensuring that all event signage is reusable or recyclable is another step towards minimizing waste.

Eco-friendly practice: Recycle and compost
Photo by galinast from Getty Images

Implement Recycling and Composting Programs

Each year, just 5 percent of the 46 million tons of plastic waste generated in the United States is recycled. And according to Feeding America, people waste 92 billion pounds of food each year in the United States. Both of these statistics shed light on America’s system of consumption and disposal that results in the waste of precious resources and the generation of pollution that threatens our health, environment, and the global climate. 

To combat this, set up clearly labeled recycling and composting bins around the venue. Consider adding infographics to be clear about which items go in which bin. Additionally, plan to minimize food waste by accurately estimating attendance, choosing catering services that use locally-sourced food, and partnering with local food banks and homeless shelters to donate any surplus food.

Offer Carbon Offsetting

For many attendees, traveling to conferences can generate significant carbon emissions. To minimize this impact, offer attendees the option to pay a small fee to purchase carbon credits. This offsets their travel footprint and helps fund carbon reduction projects.

Additionally, choosing a location with plenty of public transportation options helps keep your local travel footprint low. You can also organize shared transportation options for attendees.

Educate Your Participants

An often-overlooked aspect of eco-friendly conferences is participant education. During the event, take the opportunity to educate attendees about the eco-friendly practices being implemented.

Workshops or seminars on sustainability in the industry can also inspire attendees to adopt similar practices in their personal and professional lives. Since attendees are already in a headspace for learning, taking home ideas for eco-friendly habits can truly change the world.


With these eco-friendly practices, conference organizers can significantly mitigate the environmental impact of their events. By prioritizing sustainability, you’re showing attendees that your organization is future-focused and in tune with the current state of the world.

Ultimately, the goal is to transition from merely organizing events to creating experiences that are both enriching and responsible, paving the way and inspiring your attendees to incorporate sustainability into their everyday lives. 

Kadi McDonald is a freelance writer, marketing strategist, and proud Cleveland sports fan.