Although 47 percent of respondents to an online survey from Special Events say that today's tight budgets are preventing them from working as "green" as they would like, most event professionals say clients still want eco-friendly special events, and event pros are finding ways to make green strategies available and affordable.
Mary Crafts, owner of Salt Lake City-based Culinary Crafts, keeps clients' costs in line by stressing local foodstuffs rather than pricey organics. "Organic foods are not necessarily 'green' foods and always cost more," she says. "So we are selling less organic and focusing more on local foods, which can often be purchased affordably and showcase our commitment to green practices. In the '80s, it was very chic to bring in food from around the world. Now what sells is food purchased locally in support of local purveyors and less energy to transport items."
David Casteel, partner in Raleigh, N.C.-based Mitchell's Catering, says his clients insist on using local products. "Menu selections are being trimmed a bit and maybe the buffet isn’t as overflowing but our clients aren’t cutting the dollars on the local/sustainable/organic product," he notes. "They are just cutting down the selection/quantity a bit to keep budgets in check."
WHAT GREEN MOVES ARE WORTH IT?
With budgets tight, some event professionals are forgoing green elements whose cost does not justify their payoff.
Clayton Frech, general manager and vice president of sustainability/operations for Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties for Classic Party Rentals, points to biodiesel fuel as a green option that may not justify its price. "I admire the industry and look forward to future with more sustainable fuels, however, being more accurate in loading and reducing second trips is much more a priority for our business than implementing a slightly better fuel option," he explains.
Joella Hopkins, CSEP, CMP, head of Burbank, Calif.-based Simply Mumtaz Events, finds the cost of using eco-friendly paper rather than virgin paper can be too high. But, she makes up for this move by avoiding printing entirely for items such as save-the-dates and invitations, using electronic alerts instead.
Rachel Hollis, founder of Los Angeles-based Chic Events, looks at cutting carbon offsets if need be: "They are pricey and do not pay off at the actual event."
Many caterers find the price of eco-friendly disposables to be a big hurdle. Instead, Warren Dietel, president and owner of Orlando, Fla.-based Puff 'n Stuff Catering, makes the use of china even more green by investing in dish machines that use re-circulated "gray" water to pre-rinse dishware (see photo). "This makes the dishwashing more efficient for the staff, saves thousands of gallons of water annually, and enhances the quality of the finished product by adding an additional step in the process, thus resulting in cleaner, safer dishes," he notes.
CLIENTS WANT GREEN EVENTS
Many event pros say that their efforts to go green are supported—and even demanded—by clients.
"My clients are still interested in going green, especially the nonprofits," says Robert Fountain, head of San Francisco-based event production company Robert Fountain. "It's all about appearance."
Steve Welsh, creative director of Atlanta-based A Legendary Event, explains that his big corporate clients insist on green practices from all their vendors. "There are many tax breaks and other incentive program that these companies receive if they reach their green goal," he notes. And green events get great PR, he adds: "Do a great green event and you'll make the front page."
Being green paid off not just in PR but in real dollars for San Francisco-based Global Gourmet Catering, notes partner and director of sales and marketing Laura Lyons: "We won a $250,000 piece of business recently away from a competitor because of our eco-friendly practices, which they lack." She adds that official recognition as a green business by a reputable agency carries more weight than just claiming to be green.
GO GREEN, SAVE MONEY?
Most event professionals say that going green need not cost more; in fact, it can sometimes be more thrifty.
Jeff Peck Productions, with offices in Atlanta and Los Angeles, announced this month that it is adopting British Standard 8901, which specifies a sustainable event management system, identifies environmental, social and economic issues associated with an event, and develops solutions. A disciplined approach such as this means that going green "does not have to be expensive, but in most areas it can actually save money," explains spokesman Myles Peck. "Some examples include reducing travel, transportation and power usage and conserving water. By saving money in areas like these, we are able to use the saved funds for other green tools and equipment that might cost more than their alternatives. Once we show clients the green and sustainable opportunities we have with their project, along with the potential cost savings, it usually gets their attention."
But today's tough economy is demanding much of clients' attention these days.
"I do feel the green events momentum has been halted slightly, but I believe it’s mainly because people are stressed about their businesses and don’t have as much bandwidth to explore new ideas," Frech explains. "Ultimately, some of the individuals and companies that survive this current downturn may be forced to be more green, more efficient and less wasteful. I truly believe the current wave of greening our industry is here to stay. It coincides with the current 'correction' in consumer spending. We all need to learn to be more sustainable in many aspects of our lives--credit cards, mortgages, consumer purchases, etc."