Sustainable Event Marketing: 7 Easy Ways to Start Strong

1,284,000. That’s the total pounds of waste Coachella attendees generate over six days. And, as large as that number is, it isn’t as high as it should be. The annual event welcomes over 100,000 people, who on average will each produce almost four-and-a-half pounds of trash a day. This amount is near the same average the typical conference attendee amasses, per a MeetGreen report. Thus, one might wonder if Coachella’s Gen Z and millennial attendee base is that much more environmentally conscious than their predecessors. But it is their desire to do better by the planet that makes sustainable event marketing more important than ever.

Why Sustainable Event Marketing Has Never Been More Important

A cross-generational survey of Americans and Australians found that 93 percent of respondents are concerned about the environment. In fact, 77 percent want to “learn more about sustainable lifestyles” and are taking simple steps to “become more green”. But, 79 percent feel the responsibility lies with the government, while almost 75 percent think major corporations need to do their part to address pollution, too. These numbers are steep, and expect them to climb as Gen Z grows older.

Sixty percent of our youngest generation already want to ‘change the world’, and 64 percent identify as activists. Among their top four concerns is the environment, and influencers like Billie Eilish and Greta Thunberg set the bar high for action. This bar is also high for brands, with a whopping 94 percent of Gen Z expecting companies to address urgent issues. That makes now the time for brands to show a serious commitment to improve our environment as a way to secure their place in Gen Z’s future. It’s time to put in place measures for sustainable event marketing and prove their pledge in person.

How to Host Sustainable Events Now

A ‘green’ event won’t happen overnight. But there are small steps event marketers can take to get on the path to truly sustainable events.

1. Evolve your swag.

A Fast Company article highlights some of the environmental footprint of tote bags, from their production to shipping. And the same could be said for most promotional items. And, except for a few, whether standout ideas or swag from beloved brands, many items end up in the trash. This is even though consumers don’t necessarily mean for them to end up there. The article instead recommends gifting experiences rather than products. Another idea is to go digital and provide coupons or downloads consumers can access. In the process, you can get their email address and other details for marketing intelligence or to stay in touch.

 

Sustainable event marketing includes reusable swag

2. Ditch the paper and the plastic.

Going paperless is not a new movement, but for some, paper is still a hard thing from which to part. This is why paper and paperboard products make up the largest percentage of U.S. and U.K municipal solid waste. At marketing events, its use may be behind-the-scenes, when planning. Or, it may be consumer facing, such as in sending invitations, managing registrations, or handing out flyers. Yet, all these deliverables could be easily automated. And when you consider the cost that goes into production, the purchase of technology may fast rival those expenses.

Use of plastic may pose a bigger threat than paper. It’s predicted that in 30 years our oceans will consist of more plastic by weight than fish. This tragic image has prompted many brands like Sky and Corona to educate consumers on the damaging effects of plastic and to ban single use plastics at sustainable events. Whether badge holders, water bottles, or forks, there are more responsible options available. Encourage attendees to bring their own bottle or cup and provide a water filling station. Or, use biodegradable cutlery, as another example, to show support of the world’s oceans – and its future.

3. Choose partners with a sustainability commitment.

Sometimes, the sustainability efforts of others can lend itself to your brand’s marketing events, such as in the case of ‘green’ venues. These may be hotels with zero waste stations or restaurants with upcycled furnishings, for example. These details bolster your actions. And, you may learn other ways to host future sustainable events from these partners.

4. Encourage recycling.

While some events still forgo recycling, some brands with the best intentions will have recycling efforts fall short. Take Coachella for instance. Of all those tons of waste, only 20 percent is properly recycled. A safe assumption for the failure is lack of knowledge. For example, young U.K. citizens admit to trashing plastic because they do not know which types can be recycled. Conversely, a new study finds that 80% of people are more likely to recycle paper when they understand what it can make (e.g., more paper or even a guitar). Knowing 77 percent of people want to learn more about sustainability, help them via your recycling efforts. This may be through clear signage or via event staff who educate them at receptacles.

 

5. Be local, choose local.

The typical conference attendee produces near one-fifth of a metric ton of CO2e, calling attention to the need for reduced greenhouse gas emissions when planning sustainable events. One idea is to host marketing events in key locations to cut down on attendee travel. Choose areas with walkable neighborhoods, allowing people access to everything they need by foot. 

For these events and even one-time occasions, try to source needs in the local environment. These include food, which helps guarantee freshness, and even local event staff. In the case of the latter, you hire people with knowledge of the area, while saving money on their travel. 

6. Leave no food behind. 

Up to 40 percent of the world’s food supply – 1.3 billion tons – goes to waste every year. This not only misuses water – 25 percent in the U.S., but in the landfill, every ton produces 4.2 tons of CO2. Also, this food could have been used to feed the hungry, since the food waste in the U.S. and Europe “could feed the world 3 times over.” There are solutions to ensure your sustainable events don’t contribute to the problem.

One way is to start a composting program to turn your food waste to soil, keeping it out of the landfill. Or, food can be repurposed in a couple of ways. Bacardi gives us an example when it partnered with a venue to offer a cocktail masterclass and three-course meal that used “otherwise discarded” ingredients. The other is to seek out non-profit organizations that could use the food to feed the local community. 

7. Incentivize attendees to take part.

A Harvard Business Review article tells that brands which help consumers “take action to improve their surroundings” can build emotional connections. And, this matters more than customer satisfaction when maximizing customer value. At the same time, you can make it more fun and maximize participation with incentives. Coachella, for instance, gave away VIP tickets to lucky winners who gained entry to the contest by ride-sharing to the festival. At Lollapalooza, attendees can gather recyclable items and turn them in for a t-shirt and the chance to win a bike. While music festivals seem to lead the way in sustainable event marketing, any brand can repurpose them and partner with consumers to make the world a better place.

Let the Elevate team help you make a positive impact on the environment and with consumers. Our event staff have the skills you need to find success with sustainable event marketing.

Author: Kelly Springs-Kelley

Kelly Springs-Kelley is the Marketing Director at Elevate Staffing. When she's not creating content or pondering the future of in-person consumer engagement, Kelly can be found hiking the mountains of Arizona with her 2 kids and 3 dogs.

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