Green Guiding Principles: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

“Reduce, reuse, recycle.” We’ve all heard the phrase before. And we’ve all seen the chasing arrows symbol on the bottom of our solo cups, the back of our folders, and on every advertisement encouraging us to recycle.  But do the chasing arrows mean more than just recycling? And is there a reason the words are in that particular order?

Yes. The chasing arrows represent a cradle-to-cradle concept that encourages consumers to put that product back into production, or reuse.  It can either mean that the product is made of recycled content, or that the product is recyclable, or it can mean both! But the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is more than a catchy slogan the waste industry came up with. It’s a guiding principle applicable to every component in event and meeting planning. Most importantly there is a reason that these three words are in this order. One of the three guiding principles happens to be the most cost-effective, has the least environmental impact, and adds the greatest sustainable benefit to your meeting or event.

Can you think of which one it is?

If you guessed “reduce” you’re absolutely correct. Reducing your need for that item eliminates the need to ever have to dispose of it afterwards. Imagine never having to throw something out, ship something back, or store something afterwards.

Yet, as an event and meeting professional, we’re never going to be able to reduce our need for everything at events.  Your meeting participants may require the presentation in print format. They may expect to take their coffee or bottled waters to go. But being a savvy and sophisticated event planner on the verge of green greatness you can slowly weed out those items that are completely unnecessary.

For example, can your participants do without an agenda for each of the meetings? Instead can you have this printed up in poster format and placed around the room, or can you have table tents with the agenda placed on each table for participants to share? Can you provide the attendees with the presentation on USB drives? Add your company logo to the USB drive and this doubles as a clever giveaway. Can you substitute pitchers of filtered water for hundreds of water bottles?  Ask your caterers to provide ceramic mugs and glasses. Another option is reducing the amount of meat served at events. This simple act can save you money and reduces the environmental impacts associated with the livestock industry.

And lastly, if you have an event for 100 people, fight the urge to order 200 giveaways. You save yourself time and money not having to ship and store the excess items after your event!

Secondary to reduce is reuse. Before you throw out that item, ask yourself if the product has a second or third life left in it. Ideas of things to reuse at your events are name badges, binders, and other event supplies. A box of Avery 50-pack nametags is $50. By carefully saving the name badges from your previous event, you have saved yourself time in ordering – and money in buying – an entire new set.

Other things you can reuse would be posters and signage. By not including your meeting’s date and location you can use that poster numerous times for future events. Simply consider a poster with your logo and event title (if it is the same year after year), and ask your print shop to affix a clear plastic holder/folder that you can use to insert a print out of the date and location details in an 8 ½ x 11.

And lastly, is recycle. Although recycle is the last of the guiding principle’s most environmentally beneficial options, it is still an essential alternative to the landfill. But recycling isn’t just about the end of that product’s life cycle. It can be the beginning, too. For this reason recycling is two-fold.

When you could not avoid purchasing the items (reduce), or plan to reuse that item for a subsequent meeting or event, always consider recycling the items. Recycling eliminates trash from ending up in the landfill, and when purchasing products made from recycled content you are conserving natural resources that would have otherwise been mined, drilled, shipped, burnt, to make that product again. Since 1970 we have mined more that one-third of the earth’s resources! Buying products made of post-consumer waste conserves those limited resources we have left and also saves energy!

Yes, it’s true. Recycling plastics use 90 percent less energy than manufacturing that plastic from scratch. Recycling glass use two-thirds less energy. And recycling paper uses about 60 percent less energy…and saves a lot of trees, too!

Ideas of recycling at your event is to purchase binders, giveaways, paper, posters, etc made from 100 percent post-consumer waste. If you can’t find 100 percent try the next highest content (70-80 percent). Secondly, ask your venue or caterer if they recycle and if not, can they recycle specifically for your event? Adding important green initiatives like this to your request for proposals (RFPs) demonstrates the clear shift to a greener way of planning, and prepares our venues, vendors, and suppliers for the demand and ultimately encourages best green practices across the event and meeting industry.

As the event and meeting professionals we drive the demand. By demanding more sustainable products and options we push the industry to shift towards a greener way of thinking.

So no matter what sustainable menu you have planned, or what green suppliers and venues you’re working with, just incorporating these three guiding principles – reduce, reuse, recycle into you next event will have you well on your way to planning a green event – and saving you some time and money!

Choosing a Smart and Sustainable Venue

Events can take place almost anywhere, from hotel ballrooms, suites, and conference centers to unique venues such as museums, concert halls, blank spaces, and ballparks.

While many sustainably-minded planners focus on greening individual components of their events such as catering, transportation, décor and waste management, venue selection should never be overlooked as an important step in the greening process, and many times lays the foundation for success in other areas.

Why is the venue you choose so influential? First it is important to understand the environmental footprint of buildings. Buildings are responsible for more than 40 percent of global energy use and one third of global greenhouse gas emissions, both in developed and developing countries.1 The primary driver of this energy use and resulting emissions comes from the heating, cooling, lighting, and ventilation of the building, not to mention the use of appliances.

During this activity buildings emit halocarbons, another non-CO2 – yet profoundly destructive and ozone-depleting – greenhouse gas. Halocarbons are oftentimes overlooked when talking about greenhouse gases, but of all the greenhouse gases, they absorb the greatest quantity radiation that enters our atmosphere.2 This ultimately results in warmer, disruptive climates.

In addition to the energy consumed, the amount of waste generated from hotel and venue operations is significant. Solid waste materials typically generated from hotel operations include organics (food waste), recyclables, compostables, electronic waste and durable goods (furniture, microwaves, mattresses and carpet). According to the Waste Management World, a UK-based organization, hotels generate 1kg (2.2 lbs) of waste per guest, per night. Consider doubling this number if you’re housing both your guests and your conference in the same hotel.

Promising Advances

There are many venues out there leading the way in environmental stewardship. In a recent trip to Las Vegas, Nevada I stayed at the Mandalay Bay. As I walked around, I didn’t see any recycling bins, but instead signage that said “We Do the Recycling For You.” The sustainable planner in me was intrigued. The skeptic in me required a tour.

I met with Joseph Jolly, the Recycling Manager, who gave me a tour of the back-of-house operations. Here I witnessed the hotel’s solid waste loaded onto a conveyor belt where Mandalay Bay staff manually sorted and separated landfill items and recyclables.

But it doesn’t stop there. I was impressed to learn that the Mandalay Bay’s asset recovery system prevents the disposal of ashtrays, coffee mugs, silverware and other hotel property. These items are commercially cleaned and introduced back into the hotel’s inventory. All discarded and unclaimed luggage, clothing, phones, watches and glasses are donated to local charities. Kitchen grease is donated to Darling International, for use as biodiesel at nearby farms, and excess food that cannot be donated to local shelters is sent to nearby pig farms.

In summary, the Mandalay Bay’s hotel operations are able to divert 44% of their total solid waste from the landfill, and the convention side of the hotel is able to divert 81% of their solid waste from the landfill!

What to Ask Your Venue

You don’t have to go all the way to Las Vegas to find sustainable hotels. Third party certifications such as Green Seal and the US Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) allow you to identify sustainable hotels.

If your hotel or venue isn’t third-party certified, you can still ask smart questions that will allow you to assess how “green” a property is and how easy it might be to work with them to execute a sustainable meeting:

  •  Do you have a sustainability policy or fact sheet you can share with me?
  • Do you have a “green team” at your property?
  • Are the hotel or venue’s staff trained to identify and execute sustainable practices?
  • Do you use on-site or off-site renewable energy sources (e.g., solar, geothermal, wind, biomass, biogas, hydro) to power your hotel? What %?
  • Do you purchase carbon offsets to mitigate any non-renewable energy use? What %?
  • Do you recycle? Compost?
  • Do you donate any un-served, un-opened food to local charities?
  • Do you donate signage, bags, and other left over event supplies to community groups?
  • Do you donate soap and bottled amenities to a charity or hotel soap reclamation program?
  • Do you use ASTM 6400 compostable food serving ware when dishware is not available?
  • Does your audiovisual company use Energy Star rated equipment, LED lighting, or energy-efficient LCD screens?
  • Do you have low-flow water closets and showerheads installed to reduce water consumption?
  • Do you have a green cleaning policy? Are all your cleaning products third-party certified?
  • Is the venue in close proximity to public transportation? (Eliminating the need to hire vehicles to move your guests around)

Additional questions to ask your venue can be found in the US Green Building Council’s Green Venue Selection Guide at

In the United States alone, hotels represent more than 5 billion square feet of space, nearly 5 million guest rooms, and close to $4 billion in annual energy use. Business meetings in the United States constitute a $175 billion industry, and Americans make more than 400 million long-distance business trips each year.6

Remember, as a planner and valued hotel client, you have the power to increase awareness about sustainable venue and meeting practices – you vote with your dollar! The more you demand sustainable practices from your venues and suppliers, the more they will see a market opportunity and invest in meeting it.


Vanessa Ferragut, Founder & Senior Event Planner at Ferragut Event Group                                     

Cara Unterkofler, Sustainable Event Advisor, LEGACY Sustainability