Sustainable meeting strategies are just another filter for decision-making—strategies that can save you valuable time, money and human resources. Purchasing is at the heart of your ability to successfully produce a green meeting that will save you money, so using the framework of rethink, reduce, reuse and recycle in a methodical approach will maximize results. Let’s take a look at each of what I call the “4 R’s.”


1. Rethink
Haven’t we all been rethinking our events lately? We still need to connect, educate and inform our participants—but what is the best way given current economic, societal and environmental considerations? Whether or not you have been using green meeting practices, you have most likely been very strategic in your development of meetings. Rethinking is key because if there is a way to eliminate it from the beginning there will be no need to reduce, reuse or recycle it!

Each of the line items of your conference or event budget can be put through this filter by asking a series of questions. (See my checklist at for more info). The answers to these questions may lead you to decide if the best strategy is to reduce, reuse or recycle—or the answer may be, you really don’t need it anymore. Times have changed, participants have changed, expectations of key stakeholders have changed and your organization has changed.


Example: Eliminate specific branding. Think of all of the signage and promotional products that are imprinted with either the year or branding specific to one event. Typically, the vital information is the sponsoring organization and title of the conference.

For example, the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) has produced room signs from sustainable material with a header and border featuring the title of the conference, “Sustainable Meetings Conference,” and the GMIC logo. There is an area to slip in room session signs made from standard paper. These signs don’t have the date or year on them and can (and are) reused each year.

Determine your savings by multiplying the number of signs you use each year by the cost of producing one, and then multiply that number by the number of years you will use them in the future. Even for small meetings, there is a significant savings.


2. Reduce
When you reduce, the savings are always economic as well as environmental. Using less resources saves money, and it is amazing how much can be saved by reducing without impacting the quality of the event. Always look to reduction before reuse and recycling in your planning process.


Example: Reduce or eliminate conference bags and promotional items. Before you think of all of the reasons you cannot eliminate conference bags, think of their cost—purchasing, shipping, stuffing and distributing, to name a few. What if you could eliminate that from your budget?

During the registration phase event planners have started asking if participants will need a conference bag. This allows them to decrease the number ordered. One group offered an extra drink ticket for the reception instead of a conference bag. Fifty percent wanted that additional beverage more than a conference bag.


3. Reuse
When you are planning a strategy based on reuse, remember it goes both ways. Are the goods and equipment you are using already available for rental and don’t have to be made? Are products you are purchasing made from recycled content? Likewise, after the event, are you donating all these products so that they may continue to be reused? Never buy new what already exists. You would be amazed at what is available.


Example:  Rent equipment and recycled carpet. The exhibit show floor after an event can be a mountain of waste ready to go to the landfill or the items left behind can be reused, donated and returned. Look to your general services contractor for the most eco-friendly options available. Promote those options to all exhibitors in their kits and pre-event information. Remember that conference and event organizers are traditionally charged for the waste hauling fees by the venue. This can amount to a significant cost savings depending upon the scope of your event.


4. Recycle
Recycling is the final option before the landfill and one that can still have an impact on your economic bottom line. It is essential to the environmental bottom line and cannot be stressed enough. It is also becoming one of the easiest to request and implement.


Example: Use volunteers to maximize recycling efforts. Managing the waste stream to dispose of an item can be complex for the participant in a hurry, especially if there is a composting stream available. One way to significantly increase your recycling numbers is to use “green angels” stationed by the recycling stations to assist people with selecting the right bin. Statistics and experience show the positive impact. Economically, this should also be looked at as a sponsorship opportunity. Sponsors like to create a good image and sponsoring the green volunteers allows them to do just that. They can sponsor in cash, which you can use to purchase t-shirts and equipment for recycling efforts.


Reducing costs through green meeting practices is practical, easy and essential to both your event budget and the environment. It is also fun, creative and forward-thinking. These ideas are just the start to what can be accomplished with the commitment of your organization and help of other passionate individuals.


Nancy J. Zavada, CMP, has co-authored her second book, Simple Steps to Saving Green by Going Green, which is scheduled for publication in summer 2011. It will discuss in depth the "4 R’s," and includes worksheets, tables, resources and case studies.