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Greening Events without Breaking the Budget

Greening Events without Breaking the Budget

Online invitations? Check. Organic food? Check. Recycled paper products? Check. But what if you want to produce a party that goes beyond the earth-friendly basics? These eco-savvy planners tell us how to go the extra green mile without bruising the budget.


Eco-event: A Los Angeles-based spa baby shower in September by Bash Eco-Events, Los Angeles

Green Things: Reusable planters held organic wheatgrass as well as menu and spa service cards; all cardstock was post-consumer recycled content and printed with soy ink; the planner composted leftovers using her own compost pile; no plastic was used; the planner dyed organic flour-sack party favors orange and pink with carrot and beet juice and then filled them with organic goodies; the raspberry punch included Prairie Organic Vodka.

Greenbacks: According to owner Paige Anderson, a planner can save hundreds of dollars on paper, shipping, stamps and envelopes simply by switching to online invites. And while organic food can cost more, Anderson says, go for the more budget-friendly veggie and poultry dishes, and “stay away from the organic grass-fed beef, which is completely delicious and oh-so-healthy but still abit pricey.”

Recycling, composting, and decreasing or eliminating waste doesn't boost costs, Anderson notes, but does help the earth. And Anderson has found the cost of recycled paper and soy ink comparable to that of virgin-pulp paper and petroleum-based inks.

Recycle These Thoughts: Anderson aims for a 75/25 green breakdown. “If I can get my client to make choices that will keep the event 75 percent sustainable, then the 25 percent I can let go of … for now,” she says.

The Eco-friendly Future: Anderson foresees a “less is more” event mentality that will be eco-friendly by avoiding waste. “I have had a few clients where I walked into their chosen venue, and they immediately want to hang paper lanterns all over the ceiling,” she says. And I ask, ‘Why?’”


Eco-event: The October “Dig It” four-city tour promoting Timberland's eco-friendly product line by MKG Productions, New York

Green Things: Food offerings were local, organic box lunches with vegetarian and vegan options; trash monitoring consisted of composting and recycling; graphics were printed on biodegradable Ecoknit fabrics and Ecoprint paper with nontoxic ink; biodegradable tickets to the concert were embedded with wildflower seeds for planting after the event; five people pedaling on stationary bikes powered one band's music.

Greenbacks: Executive producer Lanie Lefkowitz says she found that using soy ink and organic foods ran up costs. Yet reusing items not only “offset costs but also minimized the amount of trash that goes to landfills.”

Shorter lead times also can affect cost and how green the event can be. “Although the cost of the green materials is quite competitive, they are not as easy to obtain as more traditional materials yet,” Lefkowitz says. “As production of these materials becomes more and more common, it will make it easier to buy these products off the shelf.”

Recycle These Thoughts: Unusual sources of power can do wonders for the environment and the event budget. “If we could have powered the full concert with manpower, that would have been a huge cost-savings,” Lefkowitz notes. While out of reach at this particular event, the team made headway by powering one band with power-pumping bicycles.

The Eco-friendly Future: Lefkowitz notes that green materials are plentiful, sustainable and the way of the future. Bamboo and cork are renewable materials that make excellent flooring, and bamboo can be used for building material, such as plywood. She also touts GreenCore materials, known as “plastic wood,” made from composites of natural fibers. “GreenCore substrates are not only manufactured eco-friendly but they also do not release toxic gas when they are cut,” Lefkowitz says. “MDF [medium-density fiberboard], a common material used in cabinetry, furniture and display woodwork, releases a formaldehyde gas into the air when you cut it.” To go way green, Lefkowitz recommends turning to recycled carpet made of post-consumer plastic bottles and opting for eco-resin instead of acrylic/Plexiglas panels.


Eco-event: Eco Nouveau Fashion Show in October by Serene Star Productions, Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Green Things: Designers reused old garments to create new silhouettes for the runway; art pieces were built from discarded doors and window frames; Envirosax gift bags were stuffed with eco-friendly treats; a biodiesel generator powered the event; solar power Web hosting powered the Web site; entertainment was eco-minded, consisting of a group called the Earthlings with dancers in body paint resembling leaves.

Greenbacks: Founder and CEO Nicole Serena Silver discovered that using potted plants, which can be reused or given as a take-home gift, makes the most of her decor budget. Another penny-saver and brilliant marketing move: Use the corporation's product or packaging in the furniture or decor. “This is a great way to draw attention to the company and use products that already exist,” she says.

Silver has even snagged linen that was heading to a dump and refashioned pieces into banners, a move that ultimately saved her more than $1,500. In addition, she likes biodegradable World Centricutensils, which cost a total of $10 to $30 more for 300 place settings. “This is one element that the difference in price is so miniscule that it should be a no-brainer,” she notes.

Recycle These Thoughts: Silver hires a waste management company, such as Clean Vibes, to ensure recyclables don't wind up in the trash. It's an added cost but one well worth it, she says.

The Eco-friendly Future: Event planners may find they have to decide which green practices they value more. In one instance, Silver wanted to use a decor element made out of recycled pieces from a Victorian house and shattered glass from a bus stop. But the high cost and eco-unfriendly fuel use to transport them to the event didn't warrant the purchase, she decided.


Eco-event: November's Baltimore Bioneers' conference for practical environmental strategies by Lori Hill Event Productions, Burtonsville, Md.

Green Things: Paper products included items that were 100 percent post-consumer, Forest Stewardship Council-certified, chlorine-free, wind-powered and double-sided; one banner was reused from the previous year and another was made in a generic fashion so it can be reused next year; Web service SurveyMonkey conducted post-conference surveys, eliminating paper surveys; filtered water served in carafes replaced bottled water while reusable Klean Kanteen water bottles were sold to attendees who wanted to tote their water; the compostable plates, cups, cutlery and napkins were made of corn or potatoes; compostable kraft paper covered most tables with an art dealer taking any remaining kraft paper to use for projects; podium arrangements consisted of seasonal fruit, dried flowers and branches from local florist Local Color Flowers.

Greenbacks: Minimizing conference bag inserts and going online for lecture materials cut costs, as did kraft paper for covering tables in lieu of linen. And using recycled paper over regular didn't affect the total cost of the conference. According to president Lori Hill, “I've priced regular paper versus 100 percent recycled at, and the price difference is negligible.”

However, when you step your game up from recycled paper to FSC-certified and chlorine-free products, expect to pay more. This was the case with the program booklets and the name badges, though the latter will reduce costs for the 2009 conference when reused.

Recycle These Thoughts: Hill would have preferred to have used an LEED-platinum-certified venue but says those are hard to come by for conferences. But her site, the Maryland Institute College of Art, was accommodating and provided single-stream recycling and composting. “That was half the battle,” she notes.

The Eco-friendly Future: Hill worries about the greening of events with the current state of the economy. “I'm concerned that people will say they can't afford to be green, but it really can cost less,” she says. More importantly, according to Hill, “Ethically, we can't afford to not go green.”


The Greening of Special Events


Bash Eco-Events

Lori Hill Event Productions

MKG Productions

Serene Star Productions

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