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!