Top tips for running a sustainable event

Think about the venue, catering, travel, materials and community when planning your event.

Food festival staff at Potterow Welcome Week event
Welcome Week Food Festival 2016

In the run up to the festival season, Edinburgh prepares for an influx of visitors. While this is an exciting time of year, it is not without its challenges. As with any gathering that brings together large numbers of people, there are implications for the environment, whether it is increased traffic, more litter and food waste, or higher energy bills. Fortunately, when planning an event, there are measures you can take to limit the negative impact, and even contribute to our local community.

The Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh runs over 40 events a year. Always keen to practice what we preach, we strive to run our events as sustainably as possible. Ways we do this include:

  • opting  for meat free catering
  • having tap water instead of bottled
  • selecting venues with good public transport links and cycling facilities
  • being economical with printed materials

In addition to this, we also consider the positive impact we can have. For instance, we support local social enterprises, such as the Grassmarket Community Project who supply our beautiful handcrafted Sustainability Awards and build relationships with local community networks, such as the Fairtrade City Group to promote values that align with our own.

These steps may seem minor, but over time, they can have a major impact.

So, whether you are a student planning a Welcome Week event, or a corporate event guru planning a major commercial conference, bear sustainability in mind. To help you along the way, we have put together some handy ‘top tips’ for running a sustainable event:


Sustainable events venue - tent with policy document


Think about whether the venue you're using is a healthy working environment. Does it have natural light? Is it accessible for all guests? Do they have recycling facilities? Most venues now have sustainability policies. Why not find out about these before confirming your booking.

Sustainable events catering - sandwiches, Vegetarian/Vegan sign and refillable glass bottle of water


Did you know that meat is a big contributor to global greenhouse gases? Why not opt for vegetarian or vegan catering?  Also, think about food waste. In the UK we throw away 4.4m tonnes edible food every year. Avoid over ordering by asking attendees when they book if they need lunch, and bring containers to take away excess food. Instead of buying bottled water, fill jugs with tap water.

Sustainable events travel - bike against bike racks and bus stop sign


Make sure your venue is handy for public transport, walking and cycling, and has space for people to park their bikes. If guests need to bring the car, why not ask them to car share. You could even share names of people who will be driving and are happy to car share with other guests.

Sustainable events materials - stack of recycled notebooks


Go digital! Share the agenda and handouts by email prior to the event. If you decide to print, make sure you use recycled paper. Do you have old banner stands lying around? Why not ask the printers to re-skin them, rather than making new ones.

Sustainable events community - diverse group of people with a speech bubble containing a happy face emoji


Think about how your event contributes to the local area. Why not look to local businesses or social enterprises to provide the services you need. Are there opportunities for volunteers? Perhaps your event can provide valuable work experience for students.

A digital version of this guide is available to download for your reference. Share digitally, and only consider printing if you need to refer to it often.


If there is anything we have missed, or if you want to share your innovative sustainability event ideas, send us a tweet (@EdSust). We would love to hear from you. Happy event planning!