How to Go Green With Silv: Green Event Planning by Silvia Milanova, April 11 2011, 0 Comments

Photo courtesy of Tina Villarreal via Flickr.

There are many ways you can help preserve the environment; from making big purchases such as buying a hybrid car, to smaller tasks such as composting, being green is becoming easier every day.

But have you ever thought about what environmental impact your special events might have? Hundreds of invitations, plastic cups/utensils/plates, napkins, one-time-use decorations and food go in the trash during just one event. What a waste! The impact from just one event, especially large gatherings, can be pretty significant.

What if you could do it better? What if you could make it greener? Well, if you are interested in practicing your environmentally friendly skills on something more than recycling at home or at your office, here is a guide to organizing an event that both guests and the Earth will enjoy.

Step One: Finding a Venue/Entertainment (depending on event)

When planning for your event, whether it's at home or at a larger venue, make it easy for guests to get there. Choose a location close to public transportation stops or ask guests who live close to each other to carpool. This will eliminate both carbon emissions and the need for extra parking spaces.

Make entertainment simple. Create a special playlist and play your iPod; organize waste-free games such as bean-bag toss (cornhole) for adults or hoola hoop competitions for children; have a friend or a local band perform at larger events—this will save you money, as well.

Step Two: Sending invitations

You literally don’t have to waste any paper on invitations, unless that’s very important to you. Depending on the size of your gathering, if you’re ready to invite people and the guest list is small, you can just make it personal and call them. If the list is a bit longer (say, for a wedding) and calling seems too time consuming, you can send personalized electronic invitations using Web sites such as E-vite, punchbowl or pingg. If design isn't a high priority on your list, you can simply send a mass e-mail, or even send a Facebook message or create an event (with an account). That’s the good thing about technology—these days you can do almost anything online; and save paper! If you must print out invitations, purchase paper made from at least 30 percent post consumer recycled content, and at the end of the note, request that invitees recycle them.

Step Three: Ordering Food and Service

At home
: When ordering food, make sure that the quality is good and that you get it from credible sources. The best thing would be to buy local, organic food from a farmer’s market and cook it yourself.

Away from home:

  • For larger events, you can also use a “green” caterer, which is environmentally conscious. GreenBrownOrange is a company located right in NYC, and offers everything from hors d’oeuvres to sit down dinners, and even drop-off catering. Their food supports local farmers and their clientele list is pretty impressive. Another great green caterer in NYC is Certe. You can find a green certified restaurant in your town and ask them if they do catering. Also, if you're going to be hosting the event at a venue away from home, insist that the catering service use tap water in ice-filled pitchers, instead of bottled water. This will eliminate plastic bottles altogether. The same could be done with a soda machine and reusable glasses, instead of cans and bottles.
  • Choosing plates on which to eat the organic, delicious food can make a big difference on the amount of waste you leave behind after everyone has left. If the event is small, consider using normal reusable utensils, plates and cups. When cleaning up and washing everything, a full dishwasher with biodegradable detergent would be best. If not, wash everything without letting the water run while scrubbing, and once again, use biodegradable detergent. If there are going to be too many people to wash everything, you can purchase biodegradable plates, cups and utensils made with bagasse fibers from sugar cane.
  • Use reusable and durable napkins and tablecloths instead of plastic, one-time use products, whenever possible.

Step Four: Green Decorating

At home: Let's face it, decorating for an event is almost always wasteful. You buy decorations, put them up and throw them away as soon as everyone leaves. The one time-use banners, balloons and confetti can have a huge impact on the environment. One way to stand out, is to decorate with something a little more substantial that you can also reuse. A cool item to have at your party would be a unique statue. You can even make your own if you're feeling creative. Just take old items that you have not used in a while, and make some household art!

Away from home:
Bring photos and make a collage for a family event, or even create a digital slide show - this will attract guests' attention without being too flashy. It eliminates the need for any small, needless decorations. For more general events, place large plants around the room, or small flower arrangements on each table. Instead of cut flowers, you can buy small potted plants for each table that guests can bring home. Simple is sometimes best.

Step Five: Clean-up

At home:
Even before you begin cleaning up, make sure that your event has proper containers for recycling items and for trash. Make sure that they are clearly labeled, so guests don't get confused and throw something in the wrong bin. You can make an announcement at the beginning of the party that you would like guests to recycle as much as possible (plastic, paper, aluminum, etc.) and point out where the bins are. If you are feeling really ambitious, you can even compost proper food scraps using an indoor or outdoor composter.

After everyone has left, you can collect all of the garbage using biodegradable trash bags, and properly separate the recycling. Then all you have to do it leave it out for the garbage truck to pick up!

Away from home: If you're going to be at a venue away from home, you can request that they place recycling bins by the trash cans (something everyone should be doing nowadays). You can bring your own biodegradable trash bags and ask the staff to use those instead of conventional bags. Make it convenient for your guests to be able to recycle. Don't make them walk to a different location just to recycle something. This way, you can assure that as much as possible will be recycled and not thrown in the trash.

If you're specifically planning a wedding, also refer to a green wedding guide. Do you find these types of events fun and get an unexpected thrill out of organizing one and pulling it off? You may want to consider a career in green event planning. Such professions are on the rise and creative, spontaneous people with an interest in the environment are sought often. And it doesn’t hurt that the average annual salary is $77,000. You can thank Earth for that! If using bagasse dinnerware, make sure to separate it from the trash and put it in your composter.