Zero Waste Tips for Event Venues

09/24/2018 | By Lori Tenny

Event centers are stepping up to the plate with pioneering zero waste strategies.Building occupants are increasingly concerned about working in buildings that are managed sustainably. But at the same time, it can be difficult to get a building full of people to participate in a recycling program or engage in other environmentally friendly behaviors where the impact isn’t immediately obvious.

That hurdle becomes even more challenging when you’re managing a public-facing building with a huge daily influx of visitors who don’t work there and have no investment in the building. 

That’s why event centers are stepping up to the plate with pioneering zero waste strategies that are fun for participants, profitable for facilities and most importantly, keep trash from taking up space in landfills.

Related: Tips to Move Your Building Toward Net Zero

“We’re in a different place than ever before, and it’s becoming a competitive advantage type of climate to save money and a desire to freshen things up and be more creative,” says Chance Thompson, SMG senior manager of sustainability and public relations at the Salt Palace Convention Center and chair of the Green Team Committee in Salt Lake City.

“It has become, ‘How can we do things smarter, different, more fun and more socially aware?’ Money always talks, especially in cases where you plan a triple bottom line approach, where you can save six figures,” he continues.

Thompson points to Oracle OpenWorld as an example. The San Francisco-based tech conference stopped using disposable water bottles, saving roughly $1 million and breaking new ground in Oracle’s goal to achieve zero waste to landfill status.

Related: Reusable Straws: Sipping Your Way to Sustainability (interiors + sources)

Setting a Sustainable Example for Others

Other facilities are now looking to adapt Salt Lake’s innovative strategies, Thompson explains. “Gaylord Opryland is a good example, as they are diving into sustainability pieces really strongly and have talked with us a lot about how to track waste, materials management and recycling,” he added.

Consider these successful sustainability strategies for your events center:

  • Look into the APEX/ASTM standards for sustainable meetings. They’re intended for use by planners and suppliers, but you can use them to anticipate what clients need.
     
  • Managing materials and food waste is key for a successful sustainability initiative at an event venue, Thompson explains. “For materials management, you want to always try to donate to a 501(c)3 or a faith-based organization,” he says.
     
  • Green sponsorships help offset the cost of your efforts, which in turn can make the initiative easier to justify financially. “We’re seeing a lot of clients look for creative ways to get green sponsors to help fund some of their efforts, which I think is key to impact because so many people look at sustainability as extra cost or more time spent,” Thompson says. “It can creatively fund itself and help tell the green story through good marketing material. It can be things like in-kind gifts or materials.”
     
  • Service projects are trending due to attendees’ desire for social impact. “At ASAE a couple of years ago in Salt Lake City, our staff did a canned and non-perishable food drive and took it a step further,” Thompson says. “Attendees went to the food bank and helped sort and inventory the food. Attendees also went to the Good Samaritan, where they made food and helped serve it to the homeless population.”
     
  • Food rescue initiatives are a great way to make use of food left over from event catering that would otherwise go to waste. Baltimore recently conducted a food rescue study to determine the best way to implement food waste rescue at its meeting venues. MGM Resorts International also includes this practice among its triple bottom line-focused initiatives.

Work with Clients to Eliminate Waste

Make it easier for meeting planners and other event center clients to do the right thing by offering innovative solutions from the start. Tracy Stuckrath, founder and chief connecting officer of Thrive Meetings and Events, remembers a recent event where planners donated 700 bags to local organizations.

Food waste is another area you can cut down on by carefully monitoring past attendance and asking planners of annual events for numbers from past years.

“The whole point is we should not have waste in the first place,” Stuckrath says. “Knowing the history of your events is key, and you must track numbers very carefully. Ask people, ‘Are you coming to this event? We can make sure we have food for you and not over order food.”

Read also: 4 Duty of Care Obligations for Building Owners

If you do still end up with leftovers, “make sure someone gets fed with your overage,” adds Nancy Zavada, founder and president of MeetGreen

Work with your catering service to incorporate more local food sourcing. Start by going through your current standards and looking for ways you can make them more sustainable by ordering from suppliers that are closer to you or switching to biodegradable or compostable containers and utensils.

Event centers are stepping up to the plate with pioneering zero waste strategies that are fun for participants, profitable for facilities and most importantly, keep trash from taking up space in landfills.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get food and beverage partners to participate,” Stuckrath said. “Go through current standards and try make them more sustainable. For example, ask your partners, ‘What percentage do you order that’s local, where do you source your beef and lettuce?”

Take Initial Steps

You don’t have to switch to zero-waste overnight.

Look at simple steps you can take when you order supplies, like ditching plastic in favor of glasses and utensils that are either reusable or compostable. Offer recyclable paper straws instead of single-use plastic ones.

Let your clients know that you're ready to help them achieve their goals for a sustainable event.

Zero waste, a combination of not using things at all and recycling anything that needs to be used, involves an entire creative thought process that is best realized with an enthusiastic, green-minded team, Zavada adds.

Be that enthusiastic green team. Let it pay off for you, your clients and the environment.

Lori Tenny, director of strategic content of Meetings Today (BUILDINGS' sister publication)

Janelle Penny, senior writer for BUILDINGS, contributed to this article.


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