Sustainability in Conferences – Best Practice

Sustainability in Conferences

Sustainability in conferences has emerged as a central focus in contemporary conference planning, reflecting the growing recognition of environmental stewardship as a global imperative. In response to heightened awareness of climate change and resource depletion, conference organisers are increasingly embracing sustainable practices to minimise the ecological impact of their events.

By integrating sustainability principles into conference planning and execution organisers can not only reduce environmental harm but also enhance the overall attendee experience.

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1. Sustainability in Conference Venue Selection

Selecting a sustainable venue is paramount in aligning conference objectives with environmental responsibility. Sustainable venues integrate eco-friendly practices into their operations reducing carbon emissions, conserving resources, and minimising ecological footprint. When choosing a venue organisers should consider several factors to ensure sustainability:

  • Green Certifications:  Look for venues certified by recognised sustainability standards such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) or BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method – click the link for more details.)  These certifications demonstrate a commitment to environmentally friendly practices, including energy efficiency, water conservation, and waste management in sustainability in conferences.


  • Location and Accessibility:  One is advised to opt for venues located in accessible areas with well-developed public transportation infrastructure. Proximity to public transit options encourages attendees to choose eco-friendly transportation methods, reducing carbon emissions associated with travel.


  • Energy Efficiency:  Evaluate the venue’s energy efficiency measures, such as LED lighting, motion sensors, and energy-efficient HVAC systems. Energy-efficient buildings minimise energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to a lower environmental impact.


  • Water Conservation: Choose venues equipped with water-saving fixtures and technologies, such as low-flow toilets, faucets, and irrigation systems, to incorporate sustainability in conferences. Water-efficient practices help conserve this precious resource and reduce water consumption during the conference.


  • Waste Management:  Inquire about the venue’s waste management practices which include recycling and composting initiatives. Venues that prioritise waste diversion and recycling contribute to reducing landfill waste and promoting a circular economy.


  • Sustainable Procurement:  Assess the venue’s commitment to sustainable procurement practices such as sourcing local, organic, and Fair Trade products. Supporting local suppliers reduces transportation emissions and supports the local economy while promoting ethical and environmentally responsible practices.


  • Green Spaces:  Consider venues with green spaces or outdoor areas conducive to eco-friendly activities and networking opportunities. Green spaces provide attendees with opportunities to connect with nature and appreciate the importance of environmental conservation.


  • Community Engagement: Select venues that actively engage with the local community and support environmental initiatives to prioritise sustainability in conferences. Partnering with venues involved in community outreach programs and environmental education efforts demonstrates a commitment to social responsibility and sustainability.

Conferences and Sustainability - Waste Management


2. Sustainability in Conferences – Paperless Solutions

Expanding on the concept of paperless solutions in conference management involves delving deeper into the benefits and implementation strategies associated with digital technologies. Here’s a more detailed exploration:

  • Environmental Impact: The shift to paperless solutions significantly reduces the environmental impact of conferences by eliminating the need for paper-based materials. By reducing paper consumption, organisers can conserve natural resources, minimise deforestation, and decrease the carbon footprint associated with paper production and transportation.   Embracing paperless solutions is an essential aspect of sustainability in conferences promoting eco-friendly practices and reducing environmental harm.


  • Resource Conservation:  Embracing digital technologies for information dissemination conserves valuable resources such as water and energy, which are typically consumed in the paper manufacturing process. Additionally, digital platforms reduce the need for physical storage space, further contributing to resource conservation.


  • Cost Savings:  Adopting paperless solutions can lead to substantial cost savings for conference organizers. By eliminating expenses related to printing, shipping, and disposal of paper materials, organizers can allocate resources more efficiently and invest in other aspects of event planning and execution.


  • Enhanced Accessibility:  Digital platforms offer greater accessibility to event-related information allowing attendees to access content from anywhere at any time. Mobile event apps and online platforms provide a centralised hub for agendas, schedules, speaker profiles, and interactive maps empowering attendees to personalise their event experience and navigate the conference seamlessly.


  • Real-time Updates: Paperless solutions enable organisers to deliver real-time updates and announcements to attendees instantly. Whether it’s changes to session schedules, speaker line-up, or venue logistics, digital communication channels ensure that attendees stay informed and up-to-date throughout the event.


  • Interactivity and Engagement:  Digital platforms offer opportunities for interactive engagement, fostering collaboration and networking among attendees. Features such as live polling, Q&A sessions, and virtual discussion forums encourage active participation and enhance the overall attendee experience.


  • Analytics and Insights:  Digital event platforms provide organisers with valuable data and analytics to measure attendee engagement, track participation rates, and gather feedback for future improvement. Insights gleaned from digital interactions enable organisers to make data-driven decisions and optimize event strategies for greater success.


  • Sustainability Messaging:  Embracing paperless solutions allows conference organisers to align with sustainability goals and convey a strong environmental message to attendees and stakeholders. By demonstrating a commitment to eco-friendly practices organisers can inspire others to adopt sustainable behaviours and contribute to positive environmental change.

Conferences and Sustainability - Paperless Solutions


3. Sustainable Catering

Expanding on the concept of sustainable catering options for conferences involves exploring various strategies and considerations aimed at minimizing environmental impact while promoting healthier and more ethical food choices. Here’s a more detailed exploration:

  • Locally Sourced Ingredients:  Opting for locally sourced ingredients ensures freshness and reduces the carbon footprint associated with transportation emphasising sustainability in conferences.  By sourcing ingredients from local farmers and producers conference organisers support the local economy and minimise emissions generated during transportation.


  • Organic and Seasonal Menu Options:  Prioritizing organic and seasonal ingredients promotes environmental sustainability by reducing reliance on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Seasonal menu options also showcase the diversity of local produce and support sustainable farming practices.
  • Minimising Food Waste:  Sustainable catering providers employ practices to minimize food waste throughout the event lifecycle. This includes efficient planning to avoid overordering, portion control to reduce leftovers, and proper storage to maintain food quality. Additionally, surplus food can be donated to local charities or food banks to minimize waste and support community initiatives.


  • Vegetarian and Vegan Menu Choices: Offering vegetarian or vegan menu options reduces the environmental impact of meat production, this includes greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, and land degradation.  Plant-based menu choices also promote healthier eating habits and cater to attendees with dietary preferences or restrictions.


  • Eco-Friendly Beverage Options: Choosing beverages that are sustainably sourced and packaged to minimise environmental impact.  One should opt for locally roasted coffee, organic teas, and beverages served in recyclable or reusable containers.  Encourage attendees to use refillable water bottles to reduce single-use plastic waste.


  • Sustainable Catering Practices: Sustainable catering providers adhere to eco-friendly practices such as energy-efficient cooking methods composting food scraps and recycling packaging materials.  The venues may also participate in certification programs or adhere to sustainability standards to ensure transparency and accountability in their operations.


  • Educating Attendees:  Venues should take the opportunity to educate conference attendees about the importance of sustainable food choices and the environmental impact of their dietary decisions, emphasising sustainability in conferences.  Provide information about the benefits of choosing locally sourced organic, and plant-based foods, as well as tips for reducing food waste at home and in their communities.

Conferences and Sustainability - Sustainable Catering


4. Carbon Offsetting

  • Understand the Sources of EmissionsDespite efforts to minimise emissions, conferences inevitably generate carbon emissions from various sources,  this includes attendee travel, venue operations, and energy consumption.


  • Proactive MitigationCarbon offsetting offers a proactive solution to mitigate these emissions by investing in projects that remove or prevent an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.


  • Types of ProjectsProjects such as reforestation, renewable energy development and methane capture contribute to offsetting the conference’s carbon footprint thereby supporting climate change mitigation efforts and environmental conservation.


  • Verification:  When selecting carbon offset projects to support sustainability in conferences ensure they are verified by reputable organisations such as the Gold Standard or Verified Carbon Standard to guarantee their effectiveness and legitimacy.


  • Calculating EmissionsOrganisers can calculate the total carbon emissions of the conference using carbon footprint calculators and then purchase the appropriate number of carbon credits to offset these emissions.


  • Commitment to SustainabilityBy incorporating carbon offsetting into the conference planning process, organizers demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and inspire attendees to consider their environmental impact.


  • Promoting InitiativesPromoting these initiatives can enhance the conference’s reputation and appeal to environmentally conscious participants  further fostering a culture of sustainability within the industry.

Conferences and Sustainability - Carbon offsetting


5. Eco-Friendly Transportation

  • Encourage Sustainable TravelEncourage conference attendees to use environmentally friendly transportation options when traveling to and from the event venue.


  • Public Transportation InformationProvide information on public transportation routes, including schedules and nearest stops to make it easier for attendees to use buses or trains.


  • Bike-Sharing ProgramsHighlight local bike-sharing programs and provide details on bike rental locations and safe cycling routes to the venue.  Fingal County Council have a wonderful scheme check it out.


  • Carpooling OpportunitiesPromote carpooling opportunities by creating a carpool match service or using apps that facilitate ride-sharing among attendees.


  • Incentives for Sustainable ChoicesConsider offering incentives such as discounted registration fees, priority parking or special recognition for attendees who choose sustainable transportation options.


  • Electric Vehicle SupportProvide information about nearby charging stations for electric vehicles and if possible consider arranging for on-site charging facilities.


  • Environmental Impact:  By promoting eco-friendly transportation conference organisers can minimise the environmental impact of attendee travel and contribute to cleaner air and reduced traffic congestion in the local community, further supporting sustainability in conferences.
  • Community BenefitsSustainable transportation options not only benefit the environment but also support local initiatives for cleaner and more efficient urban mobility fostering a positive relationship with the host community.

Conferences and Sustainability - Eco-Friendly Transportation


6. Waste Reduction Strategies

  • Implement Comprehensive Recycling ProgramsSet up clearly labelled recycling stations throughout the conference venue to ensure proper disposal of paper, plastic, metal and glass.


  • Reduce Single-Use PlasticsEncourage attendees to bring reusable water bottles and provide water refill stations eliminating the need for single-use plastic bottles.


  • Digital DocumentationDistribute agendas, schedules and materials electronically to minimise paper usage.  Utilize mobile apps and online platforms for information sharing.


  • Sustainable Catering Practices:  In order to align with sustainability in conferences, one is advised to opt for catering services that prioritise minimal packaging and use compostable or reusable serving ware to reduce waste generation.


  • Encourage Responsible ConsumptionProvide clear signage and communication about waste reduction practices to encourage attendees to be mindful of their consumption and disposal habits.


  • Leftover Food ManagementPartner with local charities or food banks to donate leftover food, reducing food waste and benefiting the community.


  • Eco-Friendly GiveawaysChoose sustainable, reusable or edible giveaways instead of single-use promotional items to minimise waste and promote eco-conscious behaviour among attendees.


  • Track and Report Waste Reduction Efforts:  In a bid to reinforce the importance of sustainability in conferences, one is advised to monitor the success of waste reduction initiatives and report outcomes to attendees. 

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Conferences and Sustainability - Waste Reduction Strategies



Incorporating sustainability in conferences is essential for reducing environmental impact and promoting eco-friendly practices.  Key strategies include selecting energy-efficient venues transitioning to paperless solutions and offering sustainable catering options.   Carbon offsetting and encouraging eco-friendly transportation are other factors to consider.

By implementing these practices, conference organisers can significantly reduce their environmental footprint, promote ethical consumption, and inspire attendees to adopt greener habits all while enhancing the overall experience and reputation of their events.


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Related:  11 Conference venues in Dublin your guests won’t forget.

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