A Practical Guide for Hosting Sustainable Vegan Events
38 Ideas for Eco-Friendly Outreach
Posted on January 28, 2020 by Estella Ramirez
You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.
Do our small, everyday actions really matter? Can we make a difference in the global environmental crisis that we face? Most of us are rightfully frustrated when governments and large corporations that have large-scale impact don’t act with the urgency that this climate crisis demands. It would be easy to give up. But, as Dr. Jane Goodall suggests, we’re going to influence the world one way or another just by living in it. Our individual actions, no matter how small, do influence others and drive widespread change. So, it’s up to all of us to choose what difference we’re going to make.
We’ve collected 38 ideas for planning a sustainable vegan event. Whether you’re hosting a neighborhood food sampling or a conference, you can take meaningful actions to help the environment.
Talk about how switching to vegan food is the most sustainable choice
That’s right! You already know that by going vegan, you’ve made one of the most sustainable choices you can make for the environment. And, by introducing vegan foods to non-vegans, you multiply your impact. One bite at a time, you are making a difference, whether you host a food sampling event or provide vegan meals at a conference. Here are some ways to let your audience know about the eco-friendly power of plant-based foods.
1. Talk about the environmental impact of one vegan. By going vegan, one person can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5 tons a year. We save more water by not eating a pound of meat than we could by not taking a shower for six months! Include these facts from “Veganism & the Environment: By the Numbers” in any presentation you may give, your one-to-one interactions, or on small signs at your event.
2. Think big. Talk about how plant-based menus are sustainable. A report by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Catering to the Climate, shows that serving a plant-based menu at an event with 500 attendees can save 5 acres of habitat from animal agriculture, avoid greenhouse emissions equivalent to those created by driving a car 22,000 miles, prevent 17 tons of manure pollution, and conserve nearly 100,000 gallons of water from irrigation and food processing. So, make your attendees aware of the contribution they are making simply by participating in your plant-based meal. A vegan buffet table, for example, is a great place for a sign with facts about the environmental impact of the menu.
Leverage Technology to Minimize Paper Waste
Technology makes going paperless easier than ever. Here are some ideas for reducing paper waste in every aspect of your next event.
4. Promote your event online. You don’t need an enormous stack of flyers (which most people will immediately toss) to spread the news of your event. Limit (recycled) printed flyers to a few postings in key locations. List the details on Eventbrite, Meetup, a Facebook event page, or a custom event website. Share widely via your email list and on social media. You can publish your event on local news websites. Be creative, like environmental activist (and VegFund grantee) Joshua Borokinni, who leveraged the media channels popular with his community. Talk about your event on local radio and television or Instagram stories and podcasts. And, don’t forget that we can also list your event in our calendar!
6. Use event apps. Avoid the guilt of printing programs that become obsolete as soon as a speaker cancels or the date changes — and as soon as the event is over. Using an event app enables you to update information in real time. Eventbrite has curated a list of event apps by event category. Have volunteers on-site to help people get and use the app on their devices. You may need to provide some printed programs for attendees who need them. Make sure to print those on 100% recycled paper.
7. Go with paperless signage. Use digital, dry-erase, or chalkboard signs that can be reused for future events. If that’s not an option, create signs from recycled, recyclable, and reusable materials. For example, instead of vinyl and foam core, which do not break down in landfills, use recycled cardboard. Whenever possible, exclude the dates from the signs so that you can reuse for future and recurring events.
8. Try digital banners. If you or your venue have the capacity, consider using projecting screens instead of vinyl banners. For example, many conferences already have projectors in their conference rooms, so there’s no need to have banners made. If printed banners are a must, look for environmentally friendly material (100% recycled) as well as earth-friendly (nontoxic) inks.
9. Use electronic sign-ups. If you are asking people to sign up for a pledge or email list, use an electronic tablet rather than paper and a clipboard.
Minimize Plastic Waste
Each year, at least 8 million tons of plastic finds its way into our oceans, mostly from packaging. Plastic pollutes other waterways and forests, impacting ecosystems, animal life, and human health. Here’s how to minimize plastic waste at your next event.
10. Ban the bottle. Every minute, people purchase a million plastic bottles. Fewer than half of those are collected for recycling, and only 7 percent actually get recycled. It takes 400 years for a single plastic bottle to decompose. The solution? Instead of giving away bottled water, provide a water station with glass or ceramic pitchers and cups that are reusable, compostable, or recyclable. Encourage attendees to bring their own reusable bottles, which they can refill at the water station.
11. Choose ceramic, cloth, glassware, and silverware. Whenever possible, use reusable plates, cups, utensils, napkins, etc. (especially avoid foam plates and plastic straws). When resources are limited, provide some recyclable or compostable options and encourage attendees to bring their own reusable containers and utensils.
12. Minimize packaging. One way to reduce packaging is to buy in bulk. If possible, serve food and condiments from containers rather than in individual packets. In general, avoid individually wrapped items, and, when needed, choose items with packaging made from sustainable materials.
13. Have attendees RSVP (via your paperless invites or event page, of course) so that you can plan for the right amount of food and minimize leftovers.
14. Donate the extra food. Work with a food pantry, food bank, or food rescue organization. Here are some lists to get you started. Communicate with your chosen organization ahead of time to make sure that they can accept your donation.
Let’s be honest. The sad truth is that most of our items, even the ones we put in the recycling bin, don’t get recycled. So, avoiding the use of disposables is more important than recycling. However, to optimize your recycling (and composting) bins, make sure that you have a thoughtful and practical plan in place. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
15. Know the local rules. Different municipalities have different capabilities, systems, and rules around recycling, so research what and how you can recycle in your area.
16. Optimize bin placement. Place recycling and compost sorting bins together (if they are far apart, attendees tend to use whichever bin is most convenient rather than the appropriate one). Also, place bins in a convenient and visible location so that attendees can’t miss them.
17. Don’t expect attendees to know what to do. You did your homework. Now, take the opportunity to educate your audience. Have clearly marked sorting bins that people can understand at a glance (you can use graphics to overcome language barriers) and/or have volunteers stand near the bins to guide attendees.
Here are some ideas for minimizing transportation (and
carbon emissions) for both people and items.
18. Reduce in-person planning meetings. Consider reducing the number of commutes required for your staff and volunteers by incorporating at least some virtual meetings (Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, etc.) into your planning. Video or phone meetings are especially appropriate if your team members don’t live near one another.
19. Source your speakers, vendors, and materials locally when possible. Get to know the vegan-friendly vendors in your area and use their products. Walk or bike to your local farmers markets and food trucks to see what’s in your immediate area. Think local when researching speakers, vendors, and suppliers to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas effects — and, you’ll also probably save yourself some extra costs.
20. Encourage public transportation and carpooling. As an event organizer, you can shape and facilitate how attendees get to your events. Offer free parking and prizes to incentivize attendees who choose earth-friendly commutes (carpooling, public transportation, bicycles, electric vehicles). VegFund grantee Youth Troopers for Global Awareness (YTGA) hired a small school bus to bring refugee families in the community to their plant-based iftar.
Timing is everything
The timing of your event has the potential to reduce your
21. Pick the best time of year to minimize energy use. Keep in mind, especially for large events, that choosing the hottest or coldest time of the year may spike your energy usage indoors.
22. Take advantage of natural light. Have a daytime event, and you may just be able to skip artificial light altogether. As a bonus, having your event outside at the golden hour (around sunrise or sunset) means that your event photos will have that coveted ethereal glow to them.
Location, Location, Location
We may not
always have the luxury of choice when it comes to selecting a venue. However, if
you have a few possibilities, here’s how you can evaluate buildings for the
23. Look for LEED-certified buildings. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is the most widely used green building rating system in the world, focusing on energy-efficient, healthy, and sustainable projects.
Here are some tips inspired in part by Liberty Mulkani, Project Management Program Director for Animal Legal Defense Fund, which hosts the Animal Law Conference. Liberty gave a presentation on sustainable events at the 2019 Animal Rights Conference.
24. Sustainability packages. If you’re planning a conference and have more than one venue to choose from, choose the city and convention center with the best sustainability policies.
25. Public transportation options. When choosing a city and venue, keep in mind the availability of public transportation and/or the distance from overnight accommodations to the conference. Is it walkable? Can attendees stay at the hotel where the conference is being held?
26. Vendors and partners. Ask potential vendors and partners about their sustainability practices and make your choices accordingly.
27. Say ‘no’ to knick-knacks. Giveaways and swag are a conference tradition, but they aren’t required! If you are providing giveaways, avoid commissioning cheap plastic “stuff” that eventually ends up in the trash anyway.
28. Choose eco-friendly badges. You can have badges or name tags made from recycled/recyclable materials and soy-based inks. Avoid using plastic badge holders.
29. Conserve energy. Keep air conditioning and heating turned off as much as possible (while still keeping your attendees comfortable) at the venue, especially when not in use.
30. Research carbon credit and reforestation programs. Some conferences offer to offset travel emissions with the purchase of carbon credits or the support of reforestation programs. However, it’s important to research the ethics and effectiveness of these programs. Keep in mind that Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programs can be problematic. For example, they are criticized by Indigenous people for enabling corporations to violate their rights and destroy delicate ecosystems as long as they pay into these programs. Furthermore, some of these programs may cause more harm than good. Program administrators may not be thoughtful in their approach to the species of trees selected and where they are planted, creating something akin to monoculture farming of trees for commercial use instead of natural forest ecosystems for a healthy planet.
31. Consider holding a virtual conference — all or part. If it makes sense for your goals, make your whole conference virtual! Save environmentally and financially by cutting out the need for a venue, transportation, food, etc. — and avoid creating a whole lot of waste in the process. Or, consider a virtual option for your attendees. Online access increases accessibility for people with limited resources and/or mobility. Livestreaming one or more speakers is also becoming a common way to reduce conference-related travel.
Catering is a category on its own. Here are some more tips sparked from Liberty Mulkani’s experience organizing conferences.
32. Choosing your caterer. If you have more than one caterer to choose from, have them bid and see which offers the tastiest vegan menu. Good food is critical to convincing non-vegans to go plant-based for the environment. Consider that non-vegans may prefer familiar foods (like pasta dishes or veggie burgers).
33. Coaching a non-vegan caterer. Sometimes, you’ll be required to use a venue’s non-vegan caterer. Provide basic definitions (you’d be surprised how many people don’t really know what veganism is). To avoid misunderstandings, communicate directly with the chef rather than catering managers.
34. Make suggestions. Feel free to suggest specific brands (such as a particular brand of soy milk or a vegan cheese). Take the opportunity to select sustainable options, such as local brands or ones that use less water to produce.
35. Waste sorting. Plan ahead with the catering team to arrange for waste-sorting stations, such as recycling and composting bins. If the staff offers to sort the recycling, have bussing stations at the ready so that attendees don’t throw things away.
Sustainable Special Occasion Events
You may be planning a formal vegan outreach event. Here’s
how to make your special occasion earth-friendly, too.
36. Floral arrangements. Instead of traditional flowers, consider unique arrangements made with upcycled items, such as repurposed glass bottles and recycled fabric flowers.
37. Avoid floral foam. If you must have traditional flower arrangements, make sure that they are #floralfoamfree (floral foam does not disintegrate in the landfill).
38. Sustainable party favors and centerpieces. Choose reusable, eco-friendly items with minimal or no packaging.
Every detail of your event has an impact on the environment. There are countless ways to make a difference for our planet. What kind of difference will you make?
Inspired to host your own earth-friendly event? Share your eco-friendly event photos with us using #vegfund!
VegFund offers grants for Food Sampling, Paid-Per-View, Film Screenings, Festivals & Fairs, Learning Events (such as conferences), and more.