First of all, applying sustainability tips and tricks to any venture is not “all or nothing”. Having said that, we need to understand that sustainability is not as hard as it seems because that is not sustainable too. I will be using Lagos, Nigeria as my reference here. There is hardly any weekend that goes without events centres smiling to the banks. And it’s not just them, the various vendors that are employed to provide numerous services from food catering, drinks, dessert, cleaners and so on are not left out on the bank alert game. All these run into high costs especially when the event sponsors belong to the high social class. At the end of the day, lots of food go uneaten, wasted and find themselves in the trash. This is happening where we are fighting to see that hunger is ended and people can access safe, nutritious and sufficient food. This is not about throwing shades at people who throw lavish parties and even restrict entry to only invited guests. I have experienced first-hand a couple of times whereby, vulnerable, poor and obviously hungry people are chased away from event venues for “constituting nuisance”. Only if these left overs are well packaged and handed over to them instead of the bin that’s crying and wailing of being too full of useful food. Our landfills get bigger and hunger deepens in the city. How sad and ironical. We are too wasteful and see the availability of too much food as a show of affluence and class. However all hope is not lost as we can start by greening our thoughts and formulate strategies that will show our commitment to sustainability.
So Why Sustainable Events Catering and Management?
Applying sustainability in this line of business provides an opportunity for event organisers to reduce the carbon footprints of their events by providing services that will be easy on people and on the planet (profit has always been there anyway).
How can this be achieved?
Like I stated earlier on, it’s not “all or nothing”. Simple swaps like using reusable utensils instead of the disposable ones, gas for bulk cooking instead of coal and wood, you understand now right? Okay, let’s have a look at the following tips and tweaks.
• Choose a venue that is close to public transport. Gone are the days when driving a car was a show of wealth. Encourage carpooling. We have Uber, Taxify, EasyTaxi and others in Lagos.
• Where possible, venues with natural lighting and ventilation can be discussed over with the event sponsors. In Lagos, people who don’t use big and expensive centres do not belong but now the narrative is changing as being a greenie is the new cool so suggest an open field with canopies for shade. Simple! For built event centres, keep air-conditioning at a set temperature between 19 and 25 degrees Celsius.
• Request for green cleaning materials to be used.
• Bulk SMS is a simple, cheap and electronic way of sending invitations and directions to people for an event. The difference between a printed IV and an electronic one is that the printed ones can be designed to show social class but after the event what happens to it? It’s either tossed in the trash or in the drawer. A lot of paper, ink and sometimes wood and plastic go into the production of these items but most of all they cost a fortune.
• If printing is inevitable, print on both sides and use post-consumer recycled content (where possible).
• Provide reusable cutlery and utensils. Where disposable is to be used, please ensure they are recyclable and COLLECTED for recycling. A lot of recyclable materials are not collected.
• Tap water would have been best but I cannot vouch for our water in Nigeria so the least good option is bottled water and water dispensers.
• Limit or eliminate the use of individually packed items like sugar, salt, ketchup to avoid waste. They are even more expensive than bulk packages.
• Plan the menu to contain healthy and local food choices. A lot of people are now trying to feed more healthily and some of them could be on your guest list.
• Its common practice to see the use of paper towels/serviettes. These are not bad but should be made of recycled material or better still offer mini cloth towels (people use these as souvenirs too so why not?)
• Serve small portions. Nigerians don’t like “ajeku” (leftover). They will pour it away. A lot of party people just want to eat meat and go. Anyone who wants extra should be given room to request for more.
• Provide adequate bins for recyclable and general waste
• Promote proper waste disposal
• Consider donating leftover food but in naija, except the event is “strictly by invitation”, there will be loads of people ready to cart away the food even without meat or water.
• Use plastic bags only when unavoidable and ensure it’s disposed properly.
After all has been noted, it may not be possible to carry out all these suggestions but there is no small step in the right direction as every step counts. So which would you be implementing at your next event?
• Double sided printing
• Electronic invitation
• Venue close to public transport
• Provide healthy food
• Provide reusable/recyclable cutlery and cups
• Serve water in dispensers
• Give out leftover food
• Use single servings
• Promote your efforts towards minimalism