Save Money While Saving the Planet

by Tamara Muldoon


“There is a myth surrounding sustainable events that they cost more, but looking at the facts tells a different story,” states Nancy Zavada, CMP, Founder and President of MeetGreen (, a sustainable event management company based in Portland, OR. “The bottom line is, when determining the full event budget, sustainable event initiatives are either cost-neutral or save money.”

Following are some cost-effective ways to make your meeting more sustainable.


Site Selection

Determine where attendees are coming from. Choose a meeting location requiring the least amount of air travel. Non-stop flights or ground transportation can be cheaper and pollute less than multi-leg flights.

At the destination, can attendees take public transportation between the airport and hotel? Transit passes or shared shuttles are cheaper and produce fewer emissions than taxis or ride-share vehicles transporting one or two people.

Include environmental considerations in your Request for Proposal (RFP). Ask convention bureaus to recommend venues and suppliers that best meet your criteria. Smaller markets may include sustainability measures to attract your business, especially as the meetings industry works to recover from pandemic-related shutdowns.


Lodging / Meeting Venue

Having lodging and meeting space in one facility, or in close proximity, eliminates the need for transportation. This results in substantial savings and environmental benefits compared to bussing attendees. Promote public transportation options for attendees who live locally.

Hold “after-hours” functions at the event venue or within walking distance. Likewise, choose meeting facilities close to restaurants, shops and services, eliminating the need for transportation.

Investigate the facilities’ environmental practices in areas such as recycling, laundry, and food waste. While these measures may not result in direct cost-savings for the event, they reduce expenses for the facility which can result in overall lower prices for services.



Tracking attendance history of repeat meetings helps you determine guaranteed meal counts. Usually, you can order less than the actual attendee count. Establish your margin by verifying what percentage of meals the caterer prepares above the guaranteed count.

Substitute a vegetarian entree instead of meat for a meal, which typically costs less. Serve smaller portion sizes and choose items that won’t be wasted if not consumed. For example, bagels can be cut in half. Whole fruit can be saved and re-used while cut fruit may be thrown away if not eaten.

Consider plated meals versus a buffet. Plated meals typically cost less and produce less waste. If a buffet is needed, encourage the caterer to incorporate excess food into other dishes later.


Order water dispenser stations with reusable glasses instead of individual water bottles. Bottled water is expensive and creates tremendous waste. Although bottles may be recyclable in some locations, most end up in the trash. Instead of bottled sodas and juices, substitute bulk juice, iced tea, lemonade or flavor-infused water, which can be half the cost. 

Host a networking reception with light hors d’oeuvres instead of dinner. Provide attendees with a list of restaurants near the venue.

Skip the established banquet menu and ask the caterer to create meals to fit your budget. Chefs love getting creative and will often adapt to your needs. Request use of local and seasonal food products, which can be cost-effective while adding regional flair to meals.

Ask the venue about complimentary options for table decoration, eliminating the cost and waste of floral centerpieces. Are potted plants available to dress up a stage backdrop, thereby avoiding renting foliage or décor items?


Marketing / Collateral

Eliminate printed materials as much as possible. Instead, leverage the website, email and social media to promote your event.

Create a logo that is not year-specific, saving on design costs. Likewise, omit event dates from conference signage so you can save and reuse generic signs from year to year.

Utilize electronic signage whenever available. Venues typically will post your agenda on e-signs at no charge. This lowers signage costs and allows flexibility with last-minute program changes. By using electronic signs and re-using generic signs and banners, one of MeetGreen’s clients reduced conference signage costs by 49-percent from 2020 to 2021.

If it is necessary, print breakout room signage double-sided. You pay the same for printing, but save material costs. To change signs, just turn it around!

Reduce or eliminate giveaway items, and encourage sponsors and exhibitors to find other ways to engage attendees.

Use generic instead of imprinted lanyards for name badges. Custom imprinting adds to the cost. Generic lanyards can be collected, cleaned and reused rather than thrown away. There are now name badge products that do not need a vinyl holder. Eliminating the holder cuts cost and waste.



Skip the expensive, time-consuming production of a printed program. Instead, utilize one of the many mobile apps available. Attendees download the app to their mobile phone and use it to access program information, for networking and more. Planners can send out updates and engage attendees with games, polls and social media. Most mobile apps are affordable and easy to set up.

Holding a virtual rather than in-person meeting results in significant savings and minimal environmental impact. According to MeetGreen’s research, “a 1,000-person conference over just two days can easily produce more CO2 emissions than over 200 average American homes per year.” Expenses associated with a virtual meeting vary widely, depending upon the software platform utilized and other factors. (See the article in this issue on technology tools for meeting planners for more information.)

If your event requires a production company or audio/visual equipment technicians, compare the cost of using the in-house service versus bringing in outside contractors. Transportation and lodging expenses for contractors may negate a cheaper bid for service, plus add travel-related pollution.



Get sustainability measure agreements written into contracts with venues and other suppliers. After the event, evaluate whether the venue and suppliers met their promises. Let them know if they fell short. Calculate costs savings as well as positive environmental impact and promote this to stakeholders. MeetGreen has helpful tools, articles, infographics and more on its website to help you plan and evaluate a sustainable meeting.