We're entering the time of year when events abound--back-to-school nights, tailgates, fund-raisers, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and December holiday parties, even smaller get-togethers like book clubs and church or synagogue coffees. Whether your event is casual or formal, requires a lot or a little planning, taking a few easy steps to reduce the event's environmental impact will have positive and lasting benefits.
Educate your invitees by letting them know about the sustainable aspects of your event, and encourage them to embrace and participate in the "green" aspects of it all.
Selecting a place and time should incorporate energy and transportation considerations. If possible, hold the event in a location that's easily accessible by walking, by public transportation, or lends itself well to carpooling. Daytime activities, which can take advantage of natural lighting or can be held outdoors, will reduce energy use.
Reduce waste and promote recycling by having enough well-labeled recycling receptacles in place for cans, bottles and mixed paper. If you are running a large event, consider setting up “stations,” each with separate color-coded and well-marked bins: one for trash, one for food scraps to be composted, and one (or more) for recycling. You might be surprised at how willing people are to recycle, as long as the instructions are clear, and the bins are conveniently located. For smaller outdoor events at home or schools, try collapsible recycling containers, which can be easily stored for subsequent events.
Coordinate with a local food bank or soup kitchen to donate leftover food, and compost leftover food scraps.
Go paperless. Between websites, Facebook, Twitter and email, you can promote your event and post information, programs, and handouts without ever printing a thing. If you must print some materials, be sure to print on 100% post-consumer paper, double-sided, using a vegetable-based ink. For recurring or annual events, avoid printing dates and on signs, posters, and banners so that they may be easily reused. Reduce paper trash with plastic nametag holders you can reuse, or recycle paper nametags at the end of the event.
Food and food serving materials offer excellent opportunities to be sustainable. To the greatest extent possible, serve locally grown foods. If food is provided from local farms, place small cards in front of the food indicating what it is, what farms provided the ingredients, and where the farms are located. If the food is organic, note that as well.
Only serve fair trade coffees and teas. Use large containers for beverages, condiments, and skip altogether the individually wrapped condiments, plastic coffee stirrers and straws. Another good tip for outdoor school events is to purchase a hose filter so you can get drinking water directly from outside faucets.
Instead of using disposable dishes and cutlery, rent "real" dishes from a local store like Taylor Rental, or maintain a cache of reusable dishes, glasses and cutlery. Think about sharing those among a number of groups so the initial cost is manageable for everyone. Include in your collection reusable linens such as cloth tablecloths and napkins as well.
Be creative about table centerpieces. Think about natural choices such as potted plants, local flowers, cut tree branches, candles, or fruits that guests can take home.
If you’re having a buffet, use smaller than dinner-sized plates for the food to reduce the possibility of too much leftover food that would go to waste.
Any event can be enhanced by considering sustainability. All it takes is vision and planning. Your enthusiasm and commitment will help conserve resources and add value to the local economy, as well as setting an example for all those in attendance.
By Beth Lovejoy on behalf of the Summit Environmental Commission