Sustainable Conference Resources

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NiCHE is developing some ‘best practice’ suggestions with regard to Green and Sustainable Conferences. In the summer of 2008, Nathaniel Lewis, a graduate student in Geography at Queen’s, worked up a preliminary set of ‘best practices’ for conferences after surveying a number of organizations. With hopes for more ecologically sensitive transnational networking activity, here are the suggestions he put forth.

Best Practices for Green and Sustainable Conferences

Green Events

Organized electronically. Minimizes carbon emissions. Saves energy. Practices recycling. Adopts environmentally thoughtful practices wherever possible


Ensure that contracts with venues and caterers specify ‘greening elements’ (i.e., on-site recycling) (Government of Manitoba). Make sure that environmentally friendly products are labeled as such for educational purposes (e.g. 30% post-consumer content, ‘Forest Stewardship Council certified, etc.’) (Government of Manitoba). Issue press release on conference sustainability measures to the media, and an information sheet to participants (Government of Manitoba). Have the conference emcee integrate information on conference ecology into the conference proceedings (Government of Alberta)


Encourage third-party field trip providers and organizers to adhere to conference guidelines by using waste-free catering and recycled communications materials (Government of Alberta). Green Gym: Set up outdoor volunteer activities for participants (e.g. tree replanting, constructing dry stone walls, etc.) that they can do instead of going to the gym (Conference People UK). Create a ‘legacy’ program where participants can make corporate donations or fund-raised donations to a sustainable initiative in the area, such a wildlife conservation or school construction (Conference People UK).

Food and Catering

Condiments, beverages, and sugars can be provided in bulk instead of individually packaged and/or served in refillable dishes (Government of Manitoba, Environmentally Protection Agency). Choose food and beverages with minimal packaging (Government of Manitoba). Use reusable cutlery, dishware, linens and napkins. Alternately, use 100% biodegradable cups, cutlery, and dishware. Use colored tablecloths and napkin; white ones are usually bleached every time they are laundered (Government of Manitoba). Compost leftover food or donate food to a homeless shelter (Government of Manitoba, American Planning Association). Use environmentally friendly centerpieces like potted plants and flowers, preferably local or indigenous plants. The plants can then be donated to seniors’ homes or other charities (Government of Manitoba). Offer locally produced wine and beer (Government of Manitoba). Find opportunities to reuse decorations and displays, such as donation to a local summer camp or elementary school art program (Government of Manitoba). Minimize the use of bottled water where local water source is adequate (Government of Manitoba). Use Fair-trade and organic coffee, tea, cocoa and sugar (Conference People UK, Government of Manitoba). Have meals planned using seasonal local produce, incorporate local fish, meats, and free range chicken and eggs (Government of Manitoba). Plan snacks that are not individually packaged and ask for items that can be purchased in bulk (e.g., fruit, cheese, crackers, muffins, etc.) (Oregon Department of Environmental Quality)


Use recycled paper with 30-100% post-consumer content for banners, signage, promotional materials, schedules, booklets, etc. (Government of Manitoba, Government of Alberta). Makes banners and signage reusable by installing a removable panel for the year or date (Government of Alberta). Use electronic registration, scheduling, and communication if possible (Government of Manitoba). Print double-sided, use soy or vegetable based inks (Government of Manitoba, American Planning Association). Have volunteer note-takers to take notes electronically at each session and post the notes on the conference website for interested participants to download; or encourage participants to use PowerPoint and post the presentations online (Government of Manitoba, American Planning Association). Distribute USB keys rather than conference packets to each participant; set up a cyber cafe where participants can download necessary information, or simply provide presentation instructions, schedules, and conference packets for participants online (Government of Manitoba, American Planning Association, Conference People UK). Have signage on television or computer screens rather than poster boards (Government of Manitoba). Any post-conference surveys should also be web-based (American Planning Association). If possible, use waterless printing presses, which eliminate harmful chemicals normally used in the printing process (American Planning Association). To advertise the event, use telemarketing, newspaper ads, trade publications, posters, or organizational newsletters rather than direct mail campaigns (Oregon Department of Environmental Quality)

Speakers and Speaker Gifts

Provide local, consumable gifts (e.g., honey, jams, artwork, candles, soaps) (Government of Manitoba). Consider purchasing carbon offset certificates to counter the ecological impact of the speaker’s travel and participation (Government of Manitoba). Purchase a seedling in the speaker’s name for re-greening efforts, or an acre of rainforest for protection (Government of Alberta, Conference People UK). Consider having an environmentalist speak at the event to highlight conservation challenges and successes, particularly as they relate to leadership, management, and motivation (Conference People UK)

Exhibitions and Booths

Encourage exhibitors to use reusable stands, as well as design and graphics that can be used from year to year (Conference People UK) Discourage giveaways that are environmentally unsound (Conference People UK). Use low-energy lighting (Conference People UK). Set up a station for exhibitors to drop off unused items or giveaways at the end of the show (Environmental Protection Agency). Encourage bringing only smaller amounts of communication materials to avoid waste; have exhibitors e-mail their material to interested clients (Environmental Protection Agency)

Registration Materials

Use hemp or cotton bags without plastic liner (Government of Manitoba). Use lanyard badges that are 100% recycled content; collected badges at the end of the conference for reuse (Government of Manitoba). During the pre-registration process, encourage participants to bring their own reusable water bottles and coffee mugs (Government of Manitoba). Post conference program online (American Planning Association). Use an online registration process and send all correspondence via e-mail, including schedule, maps, and instructions (American Planning Association, Conference People UK)


Encourage participants to offset flight, automobile, or other travel emissions by purchasing credits or making a sustainable donation (e.g., energy-efficient light bulbs) for flights there and back; a good site to provide information on this (possibly linked to the conference site) is (Government of Manitoba, Conference People UK). Use hybrid vehicles to transport participants to and from the conference site (Government of Manitoba). Use walking maps and a centrally located venue to encourage walking to and from the conference site (Government of Manitoba). Provide free use of bicycles at the conference site to allow participants to tour the surrounding area (Conference People UK). If using a transportation provider, choose one that offers a carbon emission offsetting program, discloses the sources of their materials, manufacturing, and production, and where wastes are disposed (Environmental Protection Agency)

Location, Venue and Hotel Accommodations

Choose a hotel that is close to the venue (Government of Manitoba). Choose a hotel that has a linen reuse program and bulk dispensers for shampoo and soaps (Government of Manitoba, Government of Alberta). Provide recycling bins in all guest rooms and guest service areas and ensure they are placed in well traveled areas (Government of Alberta, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality). Choose a hotel or meeting facility that has a specific person or committee assigned to deal with environmental initiatives (Environmental Protection Agency). If possible, choose a cite explicitly connected with conservation concerns, like a botanical garden or wetlands center (Conference People UK). In terms of the general location of the conference, you can choose a place that is implementing green or sustainable policies (e.g., Sweden, which plans to become the world’s first oil-free economy by 2020) (Conference People UK, Environmental Protection Agency). Choose a location where all of the places involved; venue, airport, train station, etc. are accessible via public transportation (Environmental Protection Agency)

Water and Electricity Use

Make an agreement with a local green power provider to put on the local grid an amount of carbon-free power (e.g., produced by wind power) equal to the amount of electricity used over the course of the conference (Government of Alberta)

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