Sustainable conferencing – where to begin?

You would have had to have been living under a rock to not have heard that the 2020 buzz word in the events industry – and a fair few other industries too – is sustainability. It’s widely acknowledged that individuals and businesses need to take full responsibility for the impact their actions have on the planet in a real and timely fashion. So, what does that mean for conference organisers? Change is afoot, make sure you know what’s going to be expected of you in the following 12 months.

How to hold a sustainable event

The first thing to remember when trying to hold a sustainable event, is that sustainability doesn’t just simply happen. Conscious decisions need to be made at every turn to ensure you’re making planet-friendly choices. The path you take isn’t necessarily going to be harder to follow or more expensive, it might just mean making a little more effort and doing a little more research.

Planning an environmentally sustainable event

It’s important to share your vision of sustainability with all of your colleagues, suppliers, venues and guests. Being completely upfront and transparent gives everyone the chance to do their bit and to be honest about targets and ideals they might not be able to meet. If you’ve organised an event or conference before, you’re likely to have a list of usual suppliers. You’ll need to go back to basics and have conversations about the new goals for which you’re aiming.


Can you hold a zero waste event? This will take quite some thought and effort, but if you consider the following points, it’s absolutely achievable:


  • As a rule of thumb, think re-usable, rather than recyclable.
  • Serve all drinks in re-usable jugs with the drinks having been decanted from larger containers – not individually-portioned bottles – and ensure you don’t buy any drinks that come in plastic containers.
  • Use glasses – not plastic or disposable cups.
  • Serve tap water – never bottled.
  • Only ever used china crockery, glassware and re-usable cutlery. This can be hired if needs be.
  • Consider serving a large part of your menu to order using ‘live cooking’ food stations. Less pre-prepared food means less leftovers.
  • Source local produce suppliers who guarantee plastic-free, minimal packaging with their deliveries.
  • Partner up with a local charity who can find a good use for your leftover prepared food and ingredients that would otherwise end up in the bin.
  • Being sure of your numbers will help minimise waste, so do a last-minute check on your RSVPs so you can be as accurate as possible when you confirm details with the kitchen.


  • The closer your suppliers are to your venue, the lower their carbon emissions will be as they transport their produce to you. So, go local wherever possible. However, the question needs to be asked where they sourced the ingredients in the first place. Dealing directly with farmers and producers is often the best way around this issue.  
  • Researching all of your suppliers’ green credentials is also important. Never be afraid to ask questions and get details if the company’s statements seem a little vague. Remember, intentions don’t necessarily lead to results.
  • Flowers undoubtedly brighten up an event space, but the environmental impact of their production, transportation, disposal and packaging can be quite large. Consider hiring local potted plants and shrubs which as living, growing foliage actually help combat global warming, rather than contribute to it.

Correspondence and communication

  • With a lot of press focus on the evils of plastic at the moment, it’s often all too easy to forget that we still need to be sparing in our use of paper. Go digital with all of your communication to help take the pressure off the rainforests.
  • Encourage delegate to bring devices rather than paper notepads if they want to take notes in talks and insist speakers distribute any materials online.
  • Invest in sustainable event badges, which come in re-programable digital form. Ditching the traditional badge means you’ll be saving on plastic and paper and giving your attendees the chance to boost their networking capabilities, as many of the high-tech name badges allow guests to digitally exchange information.
  • Digital displays rather than printed graphics will save paper and money. Ask your venue about the opportunities in their spaces.


  • Many of the above points may be out of your control, but in the hands of your venue. This is why your choice is so important when attempting to hold a sustainable event.
  • Talk to your event planner at the venue about your sustainability targets and see what ideas they have.
  • It’s also worth asking them about their energy emissions and whether or not they have a Green Tourism Award or any other ‘green’ awards.
  • Choosing a space that is an appropriate size for your event (so not too big) means you’ll only be using the required amount of heating and lighting with none going to waste. If appropriate you could even look at taking your event outside as this would mean no heating, air conditioning or lighting at all.


  • How will your guests get to your meeting, conference or event? In a bid to discourage individuals driving (alone or with colleagues) to your event, source a venue with brilliant public transport links. Most people will take the easiest option when it comes to transport so you won’t even need to ask people to ditch their cars if you choose a well-connected venue.
  • A venue with storage for bicycles will also help attendees make a green transport choice.
  • You could even go so far as directly rewarding guests who have taken the most environmentally friendly route to your event – perhaps by reimbursing public transport travel expenses or goodie bags for anyone who cycles or walks.

Sustainable events at W12 Conferences

Here at W12 Conferences we’re proud of our efforts towards running a sustainable, central London events venue. We are constantly improving and updating our green goals, for the latest on what we do to minimise our environmental impact, contact our Events Team on 020 3313 1606.