3 Ways to Rethink Print and Host a More Sustainable Event

6/14/2023 Dan McNamara

3 Ways to Rethink Print and Host a More Sustainable Event

As environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives gain significant steam with the general public, we see more marketers and conference organizers taking steps to ensure their event is perceived as being environmentally conscious. This is particularly true for large events that are historically known to generate a good deal of waste. 

However, a growing number of events and their venues are applying a variety of highly visible sustainable practices, including the use of LED lighting and signage as well as solar panels. But the reality is some of these implementations are more symbolic than effective. 

It's important to remember that sustainability is not an exercise in greenwashing. The whole point of “being sustainable” requires making real, meaningful changes to your event that will help the environment. In order to move your event toward a smaller carbon footprint, the go-green avenues available to you are abundant. Today, I’ll focus on three I consider low — but often overlooked — hanging fruit: the zero-waste standard, the power of a logo, and bridging print to digital.

Share your journey to becoming a zero-waste event

According to Eventbrite’s 2023 Event Trends Report, attendees are willing to pay a higher ticket price for an event that is mindful of sustainability (81%) and accessibility (71%). From the same report, nearly half (47%) of event creators are planning events with more environmentally conscious elements in 2023 compared to 2022.

Have you considered becoming a zero-waste event? In this space, the zero-waste standard is a concept that is still in its infancy. And whether it’s a goal of yours or not, it’s worth talking about. Because every single thing you do to demonstrate waste diversion — aka everything you are doing to divert waste away from the landfill — should be front and center for your attendees to see. 

Maybe at your next event, you’re aiming for 50% waste diversion. If you achieve it, you’ll have something to promote throughout your event space the following year. Then the number climbs to 60%, then 70% the year after, and so on and so forth. Not only is this the information attendees want to see now, it may also help when it comes time to decide whether or not they will attend your event next year. In this context, the perception of progress can help drive loyalty and registration.

Create your own stamp on sustainability

A few years back, I worked with the new president of an event that attracted more than 50,000 people. He wanted to explore unique ways to illustrate their commitment to sustainability. 

This approach proved to be the winner: apply an unmistakable logo on anything produced by a more sustainable method. 

Whether transitioning from conventional offset printing to digital or opting for soy-based inks as an alternative to solvents, this idea of branding your sustainability efforts — name and logo — is an interesting and relevant one, because it can check off a few important boxes:

  • Illustrates a commitment to the cause
  • Indicates what will be recycled once the event ends
  • Helps open up multi-touch opportunities across multiple channels
  • Unifies multiple touchpoints under one branded sustainability theme

As conferences get bigger and the number of attendees grows, the waste generated will likely have a direct correlation. A new Gartner, Inc. survey revealed that 87% of business leaders expect to increase their organization’s investment in sustainability over the next two years. According to the majority of executives (80%) and investors (60%), consumers are the primary stakeholder group creating pressure for organizations to invest or act on sustainability issues.

From initial mailers and emails to show guides and banners, event organizers must continue to connect the dots in how they demonstrate their commitment to sustainability — because it’s not only more effective, but also expected.

Shift content online to reduce single-use waste, optimize print spend, drive engagement

An effective way of stretching your marketing dollar is by creating continuity between your website and printed materials. 

For example, we worked with an event marketer who was looking to create a 48-page conference guide but a strained budget threatened its production. We recommended 1) shifting some content online and 2) catering the printed piece to group types expected to attend. This one move saved our client nearly $40k.  

By assessing a number of components that made up the conference, we were able to customize a print promo guide to speak to 12 different groups. Individual panels containing information specific to each group led attendees to a unique landing page to register where more detailed information (relevant to them) could be found. 

Print can — and should — serve as a launching pad for digital engagement and a boon to gathering rich first party data. From a sustainability standpoint, identifying opportunities to transition an event's print materials into online content can also activate ESG-minded outcomes:

  • Reduced waste by eliminating single-use print materials
  • Increased accessibility to ensure that all attendees have the opportunity to participate
  • Increased visibility and awareness of your sustainability program

In the end, the efforts to make your event appear sustainable and be sustainable must ultimately put you in the position to answer “yes” to a couple critical questions: 

  • Does our event demonstrate an authentic commitment to the cause? 
  • Are we creating opportunities for attendees and exhibitors to find personal fulfillment (aka help them clearly understand how they benefit from our actions)?

As you plan for what’s next and explore ESG opportunities, do not underestimate the significant role your event’s printed materials (and the rest of your communications supply chain, for that matter) can play. 

The path to sustainability has become a path toward meaningful attendee connection. In the events space, this path can unlock the kind of attendee response that is music to any organizer’s ears: “I can identify with this event and will attend it again next year.” 


Dan McNamara is Director of Sales and New Business Development at RRD.

Contact Us