Sustainable practices for nonprofit conferences: A guide to greener gatherings

In 2024, adopting sustainable practices isn’t just a trend—it’s necessary, especially for nonprofits whose missions often align with bettering society and the planet. Conferences are vital for networking, learning, and advocacy in the nonprofit sector but can also leave a significant environmental footprint. This guide provides actionable strategies for planning and hosting more sustainable nonprofit conferences, ensuring that your events promote social and environmental responsibility.

Choosing a sustainable venue

The first step in greening your conference is selecting an eco-friendly venue. Look for locations with strong sustainability policies, including energy efficiency, waste management, and water conservation practices. LEED-certified venues or those with similar credentials should be at the top of your list. 

Additionally, consider the venue’s accessibility by public transportation, which can significantly reduce the event’s overall carbon footprint.

Reducing travel impact

Travel is often the most significant carbon emitter associated with conferences. To minimize this:

  • Encourage the use of public transport, carpooling, or even cycling.
  • For international events, consider hosting a hybrid conference that allows participants to join virtually, reducing the need for long-haul flights.
  • If significant travel is unavoidable, consider partnering with carbon offset programs supporting renewable energy projects or reforestation efforts.

Going paperless

Digital technology offers an excellent opportunity to reduce or even eliminate paper use. Instead of printed programs, use mobile apps or websites where attendees can track schedules, access speaker bios, and interact with one another. Not only does this save trees, but it also enhances attendees’ experience through interactive features and real-time updates. For necessary printing, always opt for recycled paper and eco-friendly inks.

Catering and waste management

Food waste is a massive issue at conferences. Opt for caterers who source local, seasonal, and organic food to reduce transportation emissions and support local agriculture. Plan meals accurately based on registration numbers to avoid excess food. Provide clearly marked disposal stations for recycling, composting, and trash, and encourage participants to dispose of items properly.

Engaging attendees in sustainability

Education plays a crucial role in successful sustainable initiatives. Before and during the conference, inform attendees about the sustainable practices in place and encourage them to participate actively. Consider providing sustainability workshops, issuing reminders to use recycling bins, and repeated prompts to download the conference app instead of printing materials.

Sustainable event materials

From badges to giveaways, every item you choose impacts your conference’s sustainability. Opt for reusable name badges and lanyards or digital badges if possible. For conference swag, choose practical, durable items that reflect your nonprofit’s values, such as products made from recycled materials or items that support social enterprises. No one needs more plastic fidget spinners.

Energy conservation

Conferences consume a lot of energy. Work with your venue to ensure that lighting and HVAC systems are energy efficient and only used as necessary. Consider using timers or motion sensors to reduce energy use in unoccupied spaces. Additionally, promote using natural light during daytime events and opt for LED lighting if artificial light is necessary.

Evaluate and improve

Finally, continuous improvement is the key to making your nonprofit conference truly sustainable. Collect data on various aspects of the event, such as energy consumption, waste production, and attendee feedback on the sustainability measures implemented. Use this data to make informed decisions about future events and strive to reduce the environmental impact each year.

Salesforce products and sustainability

Salesforce products can significantly enhance the sustainability of your nonprofit conferences. By leveraging Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud, you can efficiently manage and track attendee data, reducing the need for paper-based systems. Salesforce Marketing Cloud Account Engagement (formerly Pardot) can be used to create and distribute digital content, eliminating the need for printed promotional materials. Additionally, Salesforce analytics tools can help measure the success of your sustainability initiatives, allowing you to generate detailed reports on energy usage, resource conservation, and attendee engagement. Integrating these tools allows your nonprofit to streamline event management and advance its sustainability goals.

Sustainable conferences reflect the values and missions of nonprofits dedicated to making the world a better place, demonstrating that significant, positive change can start with our professional gatherings. Let’s move forward with conferences that are productive and protective of our planet.