The Greenest Event of Them All: Part 5, What goes in must go out…

Barge and waste

The recycle bin often stands as the unsung hero of an event. While the main focus of the audience might not be on waste – and indeed, it should not be – handling of the waste is one of the most visible signs of addressing sustainability.

The first critical step of waste management is to know what your waste footprint will look like. Are you expecting to serve food that provides organic material for composting? If so, you can break out the compost bins. Are there large amounts of cardboard packaging from shipping/receiving that can be reused? As organizer of the event, you will likely be asked to choose between bidding contractors, each of whom will provide different services and quote various prices. You might have a preference for a certain landfill – say, methane-to-energy – or prefer a company that plans to recycle 85% of the waste.

Secondly, once you have a rough idea of the event footprint, be sure you understand exactly where the waste is going. It is easy to envision a public-relations disaster if that 85% is not being reused as you thought. For example, methane-to-energy is a term used for landfills that produce methane gas from decomposition of organic material in the fill. That methane gas is then captured by pipes in the landfill, and burned to produce energy. From a carbon point of view, this is a very efficient process, as the methane (a greenhouse gas) is burned and reused as heat. Waste-to-energy, on the other hand, denotes burning all solid waste at the disposal site…and that doesn’t look so good from a carbon standpoint. As you may have guessed, some contractors still do not distinguish between the two terms.

Thirdly, it is critical to measure the waste produced. Not all waste contractors keep track of truckloads or tons of solid waste, they simply bill for the duration of the event. If you are hosting an event of significant size, disposal companies might not even have had previous experience organizing for such a project. All of which means if you want to track and report your “waste sustainability”, you must be proactive with the measurements you need. For example, sanitary landfills must report and record the amount and nature of solid waste by the ton, and you can ask your waste management company in advance to provide you with this data. Also record the amount of waste diverted to recycling, compost, and other reuse.

Now that we’ve covered how to manage waste from the back-end, let’s turn our attention to what the guests will see. As I said before, know what your footprint will look like. If you will have food and can legally compost (see your local municipality for compost rules) then you will definitely want to provide compost bins at each waste station. Bins can be as simple as a lid-less cardboard box with a plastic bag lining the inside that can be removed when full.

Educate your staff and have clear labeling for visitors on how to use the compost and recycle bins. It is important to list what food can be included (organic waste, peels, rinds, etc.) and what may be recycled. I have seen events with up to six bins at each station; one for aluminum cans, plastic bottles, mixed paper, white paper, compost, and trash.

Sound like a lot of work? To keep your job easy at the end of the day, then, minimize the use of waste BEFORE it gets to the bin. Limit give-aways. Purchase only what is absolutely needed for the event. Try for all-electronic registration and documentation. If you have to use paper, use FSC certified, print double sided, and use the greatest recyclable content your budget will allow.

Follow these steps, and you have tackled one of the biggest components to hosting truly sustainable event.

The Greenest Event of them all, Part 3: Setting the Stage – Accounting for Temporary Energy

Vancouver, English Bay at Sunset

Vancouver, English Bay at Sunset

What’s a big difference between hosting the entire Snowboard World Championships and an event such as the Men’s Parallel GS at the Olympics? If you guessed about 20,000 people, you’re right. While the former might draw 2,000 people in total, one Winter Olympic event will accommodate 10 times as many people on average…and Summer Olympic events are 2-3 times larger still. And all these people require expert planning for a huge increase in energy use – heating, electricity and/or air conditioning – which places a considerable financial and environmental load on the existing generating capacity.

But wait, don’t large stadiums fill this many people all the time? A few NFL arenas routinely accommodate over 80,000 spectators, and many sports boast giant ball parks, yet these stadia are built connected to the power grid and normally don’t require hundreds of propane tanks or diesel generators to operate on a daily basis.

But athletic events which occur occasionally (such as Championships), as well as premier events which overfill their venues, require planning for temporary energy.

Financially, the use of generators is a mixed bag. They allow the event manager flexibility to deploy backup power and heating when and where it is needed, but can be logistically challenging and expensive. And some events require backup power. The consequences of a lighting outage in the middle of the Opening Ceremonies would be a gigantic reputational blow – so much so that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has demanded triple or even quadruple redundancy in some venues.

Environmentally-speaking, it pays to minimize the use of generators as much as possible. Diesel generators in particular are less efficient that the large power plants behind the electrical grid. According to the GHG protocol, it takes 375 liters of diesel to contribute one ton of CO2 equivalent to the atmosphere. And an event such as the Torino Olympics in 2006 burns around 8,000,000 liters of fuel.

For 2010, Vancouver has considered several solutions for reducing generator use. The Games’ urban location and cooperation with BC energy giant BC Hydro has made one solution possible, a decision to install dedicated hi-voltage lines to large temporary venues from various substations within the city. While this may be impractical for other events to replicate, Vancouver has also worked with contractors to minimize the use of generators where possible, from reducing the number of backup heating generators (heating takes less time to be noticed by spectators, as opposed to lighting) to eliminating the need for warm-start generators.

Yet possibly the most important step that Vancouver is taking to reduce fuel consumption is actively tracking and reporting the amount of energy used. In the event-planning industry, it is usually tricky to tease out kilowatt usage from financial receipts – and the financial costs themselves are not always disclosed. Therefore, ensuring contractors and vendors provide energy reports along with the billing is critical to accounting for and reducing the environmental footprint of temporary energy.

Energy-Saving Tip #1: Power Strips

Surge Protector

Even when they’re powered off, laptop and cell phone chargers, TVs, stereos, and other electronics continue to draw electricity from the grid if plugged in.

One great way to save energy would be to unplug your laptop and cell phone charger when you’re not using them. More effectively, you could plug your cell phone charger, laptop charger, printer, TV, stereo (and/or any other appliances you don’t need when you’re not in the room) into a surge protector. When you leave the room, simply flip that switch off (or better yet, unplug the power strip!), and save energy without the trouble of having to unplug a mass of cables and plugs!

At the very least, when you happen to go out of town for a few days, be sure to unplug your TV, stereo, desktop computer, and/or any other large appliances that won’t be used while you’re gone.

For more tips on how to live sustainably, visit http://www.yale.edu/sustainability/takeAction.htm .