Tips to Host a More Sustainable Conference

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In 2008, then-graduate student in geography at Queen’s University, Nathaniel Lewis compiled a list of suggestions with regard to “green and sustainable conferences.” Sixteen years later, practices of sustainability have changed greatly, as well as the technology and research surrounding the subject. Thus, in 2024, we have put together an updated page to build upon Lewis’ research in accordance with today’s standards and understandings of sustainability.


  • Try to select a venue that is accessible by public transit and includes nearby bike racks
    • In the registration packet, include the closest transit stations, routes, and bike racks
  • Outdoor venues are preferable, if indoors, try to use natural lighting
  • Host online or offer hybrid participation
    • Invite local speakers, or suggest non-local speakers participate virtually
  • When scheduling events, allow for ample time to accommodate for more sustainable travel like public transit or by foot
  • Look for venues with a clearly stated environmental policy

Food and Drink

  • Serve fresh, local, and seasonal produce
  • Serve mostly vegan or vegetarian food options when possible
    • At least half the menu items should be entirely plant-based, avoid any dishes that include beef
  • Use eco-certified labels to serve more sustainable foods – i.e. organic, free-range, fair trade, etc
  • Serve whole grains instead of refined grains
  • Coffee and tea should be fair trade, use large containers for milk and cream, rather than individually packaged
  • If single serve beverages are necessary, aim for drinks in returnable or recyclable bottles or cans, avoid juice boxes with plastic straws
  • Serve food and beverages buffet-style or family-style
  • Serve condiments in bulk rather than individual packets
  • Avoid offering individual bottles of water, and instead encourage participants to use water filling stations. In pre-event communications, ask participants to bring their own reusable bottle
  • Avoid single-use disposable utensils by serving handheld food
  • Ask your caterer to use reusable dishware, utensils, and linens rather than single-use disposable products
  • If disposable utensils and dishware are needed, look for those made of 100% recyclable material and let attendees know the proper disposal method
    • Avoid styrofoam
  • Require event registration as it will give an idea of how much food is needed, thus avoiding too much excess. Registration also gives participants the opportunity to share any dietary restrictions they may have
  • Encourage attendees to take home any leftover food and develop a food redistribution plan
    • Document the food consummation patterns for future reference


  • Provide or recommend local accommodations that minimize travel distance
  • Organize alternative transportation for attendees to travel to and from hotels and buildings, such as arranging for a bus =

Materials and Waste Reduction

  • Print consciously and with sustainable paper and, if possible, vegetable-based inks.
  • Ensure that any printed material is on 100% recycled content or FSC-certified paper, and avoid chlorine-bleached paper
  • Reduce paper use by using half/quarter sheets or print double sided if appropriate
  • Avoid laminating printed materials in order to recycle afterwards
  • Invest in reusable materials like banners and tablecloths and avoid using one-time dates or slogans
  • Choose cardboard, recyclable coroplast, or environmentally friendly materials instead of foam for signage
  • Eliminate the need for individual programs by encouraging participants to take photos of centralized programs, as well as offering an online platform with information accessible via QR code
    • Conference mobile apps are also a useful online tool that eliminate the need for excess printed materials
  • Use environmentally friendly name tags with recycled paper and reusable pins, magnets, or clips
  • Opt for dry erase boards rather than paper flip charts for presentations
  • Try to avoid vinyl and adhesive stickers on signage and other media
  • Use items that can be taken home or reused, e.g. local plants or candles, rather than disposable centerpieces on tables

Digital Consumption

While online tools are a valuable resource for sustainability efforts, they are not inconsequential to the environment. Concordia University’s Sustainable Event Guide lists some helpful tips to be mindful of this often-ignored toll:

  • High definition video streaming uses substantial data and energy, this can be reduced by asking attendees to reduce streaming quality and turn off their cameras while not speaking/presenting
  • For video conferencing, use a platform with low carbon impact. Zoho, Teams, Whereby, and Zoom are considered as such. 
  • Rather than using file attachments to send documents, use an event platform or cloud-based sharing.


  • Utilize digital (e.g. social media, digital newsletters) rather than print media to market your conference. 
  • If paper mail is necessary, send postcards rather than envelopes. Try to adhere to the same guidelines for paper products as listed under Materials 

Waste Management

  • Establish waste stations with separate bins and signage for compost, container recycling, paper recycling, and landfill
  • If possible, recruit volunteers to help with waste sorting
    • If not, simply ensure the signage in waste stations is clear and comprehensible to attendees, outlining what goes in each bin. 

“Swag” and Giveaways

  • Offering attendees the option to opt-out of giveaways can reduce what ultimately ends up in a landfill. 
  • Minimize material prizes. Instead, offer experiences, services, or gift certificates to local businesses
  • If material prizes are necessary, ensure they are durable, eco-certified, and ethically made
  • Giveaway bags should use fabric or natural tote bags that can be washed and reused. If unbranded, they may have a longer lifespan


Concordia University Sustainable Event Guide

Cornell University Sustainable Events Checklist

Équiterre Guide to Sustainable Promotional Products

Harvard University Sustainable Meetings and Event Guide

Stanford University Planning Sustainable Events

Stanford University Green Event Resource Library

University of Saskatchewan Sustainable Events Guide 

University of Windsor Sustainable Practices and Conferences

View NiCHE’s previous list of Sustainable Conference Resources from 2008

This page was researched and written by Lily Kumar.

Featured image “Tree Farm, Tree Leaves 12-8-12b” by inkknife_2000 (11.5 million views) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.