How to host a sustainable event

16 January 2023

Want to lower the carbon footprint at your next function? The UQ Sustainable Events Guide shows you how to turn your event into a sustainability showcase, inspiring attendees to seek environmentally friendly solutions in waste, transport, energy and more.

UQ Sustainability first developed the guide in 2019 and it has been enthusiastically adopted throughout the University since, with more than 600 downloads to date by event organisers.

Principal Program Officer, Chrstine McCallum, says the guide was created to educate organisers on a range of sustainable practices they can incorporate into event planning and execution.

“People increasingly think about single-use plastic consumption, which is fantastic, but there are so many more great ideas to explore – and they extend far beyond waste and recyclables,” Christine explains.

The UQ Sustainable Events Guide offers tips in numerous areas including venue selection, catering, communication, transport, energy use, decorations and waste disposal, driving positive and practical change among students, staff, suppliers and the local community.

The biggest impacts

You might be surprised, but the biggest contributing factor to an event’s environmental impact often does not take place at the event itself – but on the way there, Christine explains.

“Keep distance and transport in mind when planning events,” she urges. 

“This might mean considering whether you need to host a physical event at all – or whether an online event would do – but it’s also about trying to choose venues that enable multiple sustainable transport options, informing attendees of these options, and motivating people to make a difference through their own choices.”

Another significant area of event waste is leftover food, Christine says. According to food waste charity, OzHarvest, Australia wastes 7.6 million tonnes of food each year, in both households and commercial environments. So demonstrating leadership in food waste reduction is critical.

“You can request event registration to make it easier to estimate accurate catering numbers,” Christine says. 

“At UQ, you can also order organic bins for your events to ensure any food leftovers that can’t be shared are composted, rather than ending up in landfill.”

“Easier than you think”

A leader in the sustainability space has been the School of Communication and Arts, where Head of School, Professor Bronwyn Lea, made it a priority for the School to host all its events sustainably in 2022.

The School used the Sustainable Event Checklist to guide its event planning throughout the year, qualifying to use the UQ Sustainable Event Certification Logo at each of its major functions.

Olivia Brown, Communication and Events Coordinator at the School, says the checklist was extremely useful and allowed them to immediately see all the different ways they could make their events greener.

“For example, we stopped providing plastic water bottles, opted for 100% digital signage and advertising, and selected only caterers who had signed up to the UQ Unwrapped plastic reduction program.

“We also provided all of our guests with information on public transport and encouraged them to use buses, ferries or even active transport wherever possible to attend our events.

“Implementing sustainable practices is easier than you might think. It’s definitely worth the effort, and many of the changes soon become second nature,” she says.

Flow-on effect

One of Olivia’s biggest personal satisfactions has been seeing how events hosted by the School of Communication and Arts have encouraged others to adopt similar practices.

“Since hosting our first sustainable event, I’ve had many conversations with colleagues from across the University on how we accomplished this. They are now running their own sustainable events, and it is a good feeling to know that the School has been part of championing that change,” she says.

Indeed, Bianca Millroy, who organised events for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in 2022, says she first spotted the sustainable events logo at a seminar she attended, prompting her to seek out the checklist for her own events, too.

“I also found the process much easier than expected, and companies were enthusiastic to cater for this request,” she notes.

“We would consistently receive positive feedback about our vegetarian catering, and how fresh and delicious it was. And not having to throw away dozens – or hundreds – of disposable cups after an event is a huge benefit.

“People notice behaviours in action and hosting sustainable events is a great way to promote environmentally friendly solutions, where attendees and suppliers can genuinely see and experience the difference,” Bianca says.

From little things …

Both Olivia and Bianca emphasise the benefits of just ‘getting started’ when it comes to running more sustainable events.

“You don’t have to be perfect,” Olivia says. “Every small change you make makes a difference, so just get started!”

“It’s the little things that count,” Bianca agrees. “No matter how small, your changes can accumulate and have a big impact in the long-term.”

Want to know more? 

Check out the UQ Sustainability sustainable catering and events hub, including the following resources: