Tread Lightly: Shrinking Your Eventʼs Carbon Footprint

Tread Lightly: Shrinking Your Eventʼs Carbon Footprint

Meetings and events can be major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions can stem from transportation, energy use, food choices and materials. Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce emissions and shrink your eventʼs carbon footprint. Follow this simple roadmap to get started:

Step 1: Identify the likely emissions resulting from your event.

The first step toward reducing your footprint is to identify where you expect to have greenhouse gas emissions. Common sources for events include transportation of attendees and materials, energy use in venues and hotels, including heating and air conditioning, and menu items.

Step 2: Develop and implement a plan to reduce emissions.

Once you know the types of emissions related to your event, you can develop a plan to reduce them. Here are some easy tips to get you started:

  • Choose venues with energy conservation practices, such as LEED-certified buildings.
  • Minimize the need for onsite transportation by booking accommodation and venues within walking distance of each other.
  • Select a destination with good air lift, access by trains or close proximity to the majority of your attendees.
  • Book electric or alternative-fuel vehicles for attendee shuttles, or encourage the use of public transit where practical.
  • Choose lower carbon menu choices such vegetarian, chicken or fish and seasonal, local produce. If you are selecting beef or dairy items for menus, consider smaller portion sizes and have a food waste minimization plan.
  • Produce materials locally to reduce shipping needs.
  • Turn off audio visual equipment when not in use and request energy efficient equipment.
  • Weather permitting, ask for vehicles such as shuttles and delivery trucks to be turned off when not in use.
  • Adjust room temperatures to reduce the need for heating or air conditioning.
  • Use technology, such as mobile apps, to reduce the need for printing and shipping.
  • Schedule local events at off-peak hours to reduce attendees driving in congested rush hour traffic.
  • Compost organic waste to avoid landfill-related greenhouse gas emissions.

It is important to note that the carbon footprint of different food choices varies tremendously with beef and cheese causing the most emissions and vegetables and rice the fewest. A few tips to help you lower your menu carbon footprint:

  • Reduce the amount of meat and dairy served at your events. This could be as simple as reducing portion sizes, opting for one meatless meal per day, or participating in Meatless Monday.
  • Choose local. This is especially important for items that would otherwise be air-freighted or transported in refrigerated vehicles, which will have higher travel related carbon-emissions. Choosing local food is also good for the local economy, is usually fresher and helps to create a sense of place.
  • Choose seasonal. Food grown in a field will typically have lower carbon emissions than those grown in heated greenhouses.

  Step 3: Measure and offset your event emissions.

By using carbon offsets, events can take responsibility for their carbon emissions. While reduction of emissions should be the main priority, the use of offsets can be a positive step towards carbon neutral events. Before the emissions can be offset, events need to be able to measure their impact. Some practical ways of doing this include:

  • Request energy usage reports from your venues. Ideally, this will be requested as part of your RFP process. Some hotels are starting to use the Hotel Carbon Measurement Index (HCMI), a free tool developed by the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). The HCMI can be used to generate reports per occupied room, on a daily basis, and; per area of meeting space, on an hourly basis. The HCMI is available from
  • If energy usage reports are not available, energy use can be estimated using event carbon emission calculators such as the one from
  • Calculate travel related emissions for your attendees by using a flight or car calculator.

Not all offsets are created equal. Look for offset programs that have been verified by a third-party. Examples include The Gold Standard, VCS and Green-e.

Face-to-face meetings build trust and relationships, provide more effective education and training, facilitate problem solving and exchange of ideas. They provide the human connection that powers business. The events industry has a responsibility to lessen the environmental footprint of our meetings. Sustainability for events means taking action toward preserving our natural environment, promoting a healthy, inclusive, society, and supporting a thriving economy.

Event organisers and their suppliers share responsibility for implementing sustainable practices, and the Events Industry Council has many resources to help. For more information, visit

Karen Kotowski is CEO of the Events Industry Council and chair of the Visit Alexandria Board of Governors. She has more than 20 years of meeting planning, education and program management experience for nonprofit associations and private sector companies.

Header image by C Davidson for Visit Alexandria