Events have an impact; that is why we plan them. The Duluth-Superior Eco Rotary wants to add a positive impact on events in our area that reduces the negative impact on the environment. Our city hosts many great events and all share the wonderful opportunity to be a “Green Event” leaving our beautiful city even better. This guide is designed to lead hosts and planners in a direction that lessens the imprint of their event on our beautiful city while making a positive contribution to the community and planet while working with the Duluth Superior Eco Rotary group. Becoming green is a progression. We cannot expect sustainability with just one event; however, starting now will allow your event to pave the way and present more opportunities for continuous improvement. Each event can provide a learning experience for the event following it. Sustainable event design will grow with your events just as our education does.

The Duluth Superior Eco Rotary is a service organization committed to enhancing and preserving our region’s natural beauty and resources through hands-on service projects. In June 2015 the group created a “sustainable events coordinator position” after attending the Twin Ports Early Adopters Program and has created this guide to help event planners, venue managers, and caterers reduce environmental impacts, thus making events more sustainable. Whether you have already taken steps to make your event sustainable or are looking to take the first step, this guide is designed to help create a truly “green” event.

Why create a sustainable event? Sustainable events save resources and money. They create a positive reputation for your organization, improve the experience for participants, add value to the local economy and educates participants about the benefits of sustainability.


First and foremost, it is crucial to involve all of the stakeholders that play a role in the planning or producing of the event. Put your environmental statement for the event in writing and publicize it. Getting buy-in from the beginning from everyone involved in your event makes it much easier to reach your goal. Use your environmental statement in all of your materials and communication with sponsors, vendors, presenters, etc.

Written agreements help to ensure full cooperation with your suppliers and partners. Create a proposal with sustainability criteria. Send it to each venue, vendor, caterer, and other suppliers you are considering. Once you select the venue and such you can create a contract that restates your goals and plan of action for the event.


When planning a sustainable event, location is one of the most important factors. The facilities, amenities, practices and policies of the chosen venue will have a large impact on the environmental savings that can be realized for any event. Look for a venue that has already adopted sustainable policies and practices. A location that is already making an effort that is in line with your goals can only benefit you.

Identify locations that are easily accessible from public transportation. A location that is accessed by foot, bus or train will ease the strain on the environment cause by pollution. If your participants need to travel from one site to another providing a shuttle eases the environment impact and logistics for your participants. If using an indoor location, ask about using natural light or energy-efficient lighting to cut down electricity usage.


Ask for the use of reusable linens, china, and cutlery. Another option would be to purchase 100% biodegradable products, including utensils, plates, cups, to-go containers, soup containers, deli containers, straws, dome lids, flat lids, even garbage bags. These products typically break down within 30-60 days.

Offer bulk water dispensers or use pitchers of water or beverages.

If hotel occupancy is part of your event, look for bulk soap and shampoo dispensers. Ask about recycling or donation programs for unused toiletries, food, decorations and display materials.

Use media and technology whenever possible to cut down on paper usage. For example, electronic registration and confirmation, advertise using email or the web, encourage presenters to put their information online. If paper must be used choose at least 30% post-consumer content whenever possible. Expand margins and print double-sided.

Name badge holders can be reused from event to event. Ask your guests to return theirs at the end of the event and provide a receptacle for them.

Offer local or organic food choices. Organic food may increase your food and beverage costs, local food in season may be comparable in price. Work with the venue or caterer. Creative adjustments of the menu through portion control or substitution of less expensive items will help you manage your budget.

Recycle and compost. Ask what services are already provided at the facility and to what extent you will need to be involved. In some cases, you may work directly with the waste hauler, while in other situations, it may be handled for you. Your event should offer recycling for paper, cardboard, plastic, glass and metal. Bins should be placed in prominent locations with effective signage. Make announcements during the event reminding your guests to recycle and direct them. Volunteers stationed at the bins is usually the best strategy. Events should have at least one recycling bin for every trash bin. If composting, two compost bins for every trash bin. One station is needed for every 200-300 people, depending on the venue. Typically, waste stations should be no more than 150 feet apart to ensure adequate coverage. When composting, compostable products should not be mixed with recycling. They damage the recycling process if they get into a normal plastic recycling waste program. Provide clear, consistent signage at each station so attendees can learn about products being used and how waste is diverted from the landfill. Signage may be more effective with pictures rather than just words.

If you need to work with the waste hauler directly, establish that partnership early. Determine the level of involvement you will have with them. If you are interested in metrics of your event’s waste stream communicate closely with the hauler to help you capture weights for reporting purposes. Here are some questions that are helpful to ask your hauler to ensure sustainable success for your event:

• How many bins, dumpsters, or roll–offs will the event need?

• What is the cost for each?

• Where will bins/dumpsters be delivered?

• Who will place and empty the bins/dumpsters?

• Where will the dumpsters be located?

• How often will dumpsters be emptied? At what time?

• Who is responsible for emptying satellite collection containers?

• Does hauler pick up after business hours and/or on weekends? If so, are there additional charges?

• Does the hauler collect garbage, compostables, and/or recyclables?

• Should recyclables be mixed or separated?

• Does the hauler take waste to a materials recovery facility?

• Which recycling center will the recyclables be taken to and which plastics do they accept?

• Can the hauler pick up and deliver the compost material to the closest commercial compost facility in the area?

• If they cannot haul the compost, is there another company that can?

• Request reporting on weights for each waste stream after the event.

• Ask for references if you are unfamiliar with the company

Encourage public transportation and offer an incentive program for those who use it such as a free beverage or raffle prize to any attendee who turns in a receipt from public transportation. Take advantage of ride-share programs. Offer a secure place for bicyclists to park their bikes. An incentive should also be offered to those who ride a bike or walk to your event. Make transportation information available to attendees by putting the information on the web, radio, or any flyers you may be using.


Again, get cooperation from your vendors up front using your proposal that includes your environmental statement and then moving to a written contract. This can help them feel like they are part of the team. Help connect them with proper resources, if needed. Your guidelines could require that vendors bring only recyclable, reusable or compostable products to your event. It is critical to make sure vendors do not bring products made of Styrofoam or non-recyclable plastic or a 90% diversion rate will not be possible.

Make it easy for the vendors to properly dispose of their waste at the venue before they leave by providing information about bin location and posting signage.

Encourage food vendors to reduce food waste as much as possible. Typically, food vendors and catering companies overestimate to avoid running out of food for their guests. Verify local health inspection codes that may affect how you manage food donations. Make advance arrangements with a local food bank or shelter to pick up any surplus food. Consider arranging for extra food to be offered to the event staff and volunteers to enjoy after their shift.

Once you have made the steps to make your event more sustainable be sure to spread the word. Promote the success of your sustainability actions and be sure to send electronic thank you notes to those involved that help make your event a success!