Park and recreation agencies’ main focus is on recreation and health and wellness, but conservation is equally as important to our work and what we do. Parks often organize or host community events, so it’s important for them to think about the impact of these events, not only on the infrastructure of the park, but also on the environment. From walks and runs to concerts, movies and community activities, these events can occur in a sustainable manner. Following are a few tips on how you can green your events:
Develop a Waste Minimization Plan
Start working with the event organizers well in advance of your event’s start time; not a few days before. Determine the ability of the event organizers to implement green initiatives and propose a list of “have to”; for example, an event has to provide sufficient recycling. Understand the activities that will occur during setup and all the staff or vendors who will be involved. Encourage sustainable practices and determine if the vendors can provide sustainable products or minimize waste production. When determining attendee-flow patterns, look for opportunities to engage them on recycling or other sustainable initiatives.
All events will produce waste and there will be opportunities to recover recyclable materials. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, every year Americans create 258 million tons of trash, of which about 30 percent is recycled. It is important to offer sufficient recycling containers that clearly indicate which materials can be recycled in your community or through your waste hauler. Before the event, work with the organizers to develop a waste minimization plan, which details the expected types of waste and amounts, as well as containers to manage the waste and recyclables.
Composting can be done but may be more difficult, depending on local regulations or compost facility availability. Compostable materials, such as fruit, can be collected in separate containers, much like recyclables. However, it is very important to ensure the compost waste has not been contaminated by non-compostable materials. Some vendors will not accept compostable products, such as flatware or cups, because it can be difficult to determine if they are indeed compostable.
If it’s possible to engage volunteers at your events, create a green team of individuals who can help attendees understand and participate in sustainable initiatives. Signage is not always sufficient for engaging attendees. Have your green team engage attendees at recycling points to ensure proper materials are being placed in the containers.
If your park agency or vendors purchase materials for the event, ensure that they are sustainable by looking for third-party certification, such as USDA Organic, Forest Stewardship Council or Energy Star. Products should not only be recyclable, but also should contain recycled content, which is often specified on the packaging. Encourage event participants to use refillable water bottles. Locally sourced materials are another environmentally conscious alternative.
Promote Alternative Forms of Transportation
How event attendees get to and from the park can also have environmental impacts. Encourage public transit if it is available in your community, and plan events in centrally located parks. Promote alternative forms of transportation, such as bicycles and have facilities available for secure bicycle storage during an event. When deliveries are being made for the event, implement an anti-idling policy whereby vehicles are turned off when not in use.
Vendors may be part of an event, both public facing and behind the scenes, servicing the event. During planning meetings with event organizers, find out who the vendors are and if they can be more sustainable, such as using green cleaning products. Also, use accurate attendance estimates to minimize the amount of material needed. Encourage their materials to minimize waste and contain recycled content. If generators are used for electricity, determine if bio-diesel or other alternative energy sources are available and, where lights are used, incorporate energy-efficient lighting, such as LEDs, whenever possible. Require any food vendors to use containers that are both recyclable and contain recycled content. Knowing the types of vendors and their offerings will provide a better waste-management plan.
While there are many green guides available online, a new resource has been developed to help event stakeholders adopt and achieve objectives, weighing the results of social and environmental decisions alongside economic ones. Developed by the city of Eugene, Oregon, in partnership with the Council for Responsible Sport, the Responsible Event Framework and associated resources are available here. The goal of the Responsible Event Framework is to provide ways for stakeholder groups to align values with actions, and to link with larger community, policy and organizational goals. The framework was developed in partnership with the Urban Sustainability Directors Network.
Each event may have different green opportunities and environmental impacts, but all events can have a lessened environmental impact. It is also important to promote how an event is being sustainable and to engage event attendees by talking about specific green initiatives undertaken by event organizers or park staff. A green event reduces its impact, is more efficient, and will probably leave the park in a better condition than it was before the event occurred. After all, it really is easy to make your event green.
Brendan Daley, LEED AP, CPRP, is the Director of Strategy & Sustainability for the Chicago Park District.