The key to success in producing a more sustainable event is to enroll significant vendors. According to the Center for Sustainability Excellence, “Supply chain management is vital. 20% of the suppliers will determine 80% of a company’s environmental impact.” This is true of events as well.

Sustainability is a collaborative effort and you can’t do it alone. It takes the passion, commitment and expertise of many organizations and individuals. The bottom line is…without your foremost partners you simply won’t be as successful. By using a step-by-step process, the task isn’t as daunting as might be imagined.

Five Steps to a Sustainable Event Supply Chain

  1. Develop a sustainability policy
  2. Communicate objectives
  3. Negotiate and contract
  4. Enroll vendors
  5. Measure, debrief and report

Step One: Develop a Sustainability Policy

Because getting started is often the hardest part, begin with the end in mind. You can’t communicate your objectives clearly without knowing them. Conference organizers need to have a plan, even if it is just a basic one.

The Sustainability Policy should include the following elements:

Vision Statement – The vision statement should be a sentence of approximately 10 words that concisely describes your ideal outcome, product or service. As an example, “We strive to produce better events for a better planet”.


As you plan events you will need touch-points that help you decide what is important. A list of principles that are most relevant to you will help you know how to respond to an opportunity or challenge in a way that aligns with your sustainability vision. Include important commitments such as UN Global Compact Signatory and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) commitments.

Important Issues to the Organization

What environmental or social issues are most important to your organization? Water conservation, climate change, accessibility, human rights, etc.? This section allows you to express the things you believe most important.

Commitment and Scope

Sometimes, your ability to act on your policy can be affected by what you can control or influence and what you can’t. Does it apply to all of your events, to those you exhibit in, to those you sponsor? Talk about exceeding the laws with voluntary requirements that show leadership.


Break down your commitment into key objectives that are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. They should also identify an indicator or target. An example would be if you are requiring recycling, ask for a diversion rate or if you have a CSR project, track the hours worked, amount donated or monetary value and any follow ups you do with the recipient organization.


State your intention to report against your goals. Internally or externally? How often?

To get you started with your sustainability policy we have a template you can use.

Step Two: Communicate Objectives.

Once you have a clear vision outlined by your sustainable event policy, share your policy early and tell suppliers what your expectations are. At the same time, ask them for their sustainability policies to better understand what they are committed to and working toward.

Next, include a survey of the vendor’s practices in the RFP. These surveys should include meeting venues, accommodations, caterers, transportation companies, general service contractors and audio-visual companies.

Once you receive the proposals, use sustainability practices and as key decision points. Weigh your decisions based on their answers and ability to provide sustainable services and products at no additional charge.

Step Three: Negotiate and Contract

You know that rates and dates are negotiable, but do you also know what is negotiable in the sustainability area? Experience has taught us that organic and local produce, composting, water-wise menus, food donation, local produce, bulk condiments, sustainable seafood, skip the straw, no disposables, electronic signage, recycled carpet, towel reuse and post-event reporting are all negotiable items.

Once negotiated, make sure they are contracted as well. Without the legal considerations, you may have a difficult time with follow through on promises.

It is important to “trust but verify” to avoid greenwashing. Always require a back of house tour for venues and hotels during the site selection process AND during the event itself.

Step 4: Enroll Vendors

Perhaps the most overlooked part of the process, is to enroll your suppliers. Negotiations are over, contracts are signed and now it is time to come together as a team. Make sure each knows they are a valued partner, chosen for their excellence and leadership in this area.

As the planning process begins, add vendors to your event’s green team including main stakeholders in all areas of the event. Meet as a team to discuss the objectives, performance indicators, and baseline. Begin by asking for new initiatives, ideas and cutting-edge solutions from their industry. Commit to long-term solutions and thinking with the understanding you will build on each event’s success.

Hold scheduled meetings where everyone reports on their progress. Require accountability, consistent feedback and collaborate for the best possible outcome. Sustainability is rarely a linear path so patience, persistence and dedication are vital.

Step 5: Measure, Debrief and Report

This final step will provide the data to support the claim of sustainability. Require vendors to provide measurement data as outlined in the policy and contract. Set a date to receive the information which is usually within 30 days of the event.

Meet each vendor either individually or as a team to discuss what worked well and why as well as what didn’t and opportunity for improvement. Discuss what is needed for improvements and ask for solution from their industry.

Report via the corporate CSR report as required by your sustainability policy including metrics. Tell your story throughout the organization, to your participants, sponsors, exhibitors and vendors. Acknowledge vendors in the press, to their management and to other event organizers.


If there was a Step 6, I would want to call it, “Rinse and Repeat” because the bar is now set for continuous improvement and innovation. That’s the fun part, the creative ideas and event design we can all accomplish together. Vendors now understand how crucial their contributions are and how valued their input is. Your organization has become their cheerleader as well. In the end, everyone benefits, including the planet.