How to plan a green event: Tips from USGBC National Capital Region | U.S. Green Building Council
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Learn how to make your next event sustainable with these pointers from USGBC National Capital Region.

This year, USGBC National Capital Region will host over 300 professionals from Washington, D.C.’s commercial real estate industry to recognize and celebrate our collective achievements in sustainable design and construction. Hosted at Arena Stage, A Midsummer Night's Green will feature a VIP reception; cocktails, beer and wine paired with locally sourced food; and a ceremony for the USGBC National Capital Region Community Leader Awards.

Sustainability defines our values, mission and actions. We are committed to making continuous progress, from our own office practices to community programming, and we remain keenly aware of the impact our activities have on the environment.

This commitment extends to our event planning as well. We're sharing our expert tips for greening events and how to stay environmentally conscious while throwing epic parties. Got your own tips? Feel free to keep the conversation going in the comments section below.

Guiding principles

Whether it's a committee meeting, an educational workshop or our signature A Midsummer Night’s Green celebration, we aim for zero waste. Although all events do create some waste, we can lessen our impact through simple strategies. We track our waste, label bins and place them in visible locations throughout the space. We also use sustainable serving ware. Post clearly labeled signage to show attendees how waste should be recycled and encourages participants to think before they toss.

Also, seek out vendors who share your values. Our community enjoys established partnerships with the region’s leading event support, printers and catering vendors—companies that share our commitment to the responsible sourcing of food and beverages, while reducing waste and lessening our impact on the natural environment. Be sure to ask your vendors questions during the selection process, and look for companies that advertise sustainable event and waste management practices.

Potted plants make good party favors.

Food and beverages

With an endless array of options from caterers and food service providers, it is sometimes difficult to balance food and beverage selections with sustainability. The following tips take into account both immediate and life-cycle impacts of your food and beverage selections:  

  • Distance and sourcing: Consider where your food comes from, how it’s obtained and how far it travels to get to you. USGBC recommends domestic wine, beers and cheeses, as well as fair trade/shade-grown coffee. Avoid cut flowers and disposable decorations, as their lifetimes won’t extend beyond your event. Potted plants make fantastic party favors for attendees.

  • Labels: Knowledge is power. Label food on buffets to alert those with allergies and to showcase sustainable menu items such as local fish, organic produce and vegetarian, vegan, gluten- or dairy-free options. The Monterey Bay Seafood Watch is considered the industry standard for resources on seafood and sustainable fishing practices.

  • Containers: Consider eliminating bottled water and sodas for your next event. Instead, opt for pitchers of water and tea and allow attendees to pour their own. Whenever possible, opt for china with linen napkins over disposable serving ware. Avoid using Styrofoam, which can take over 500 years to decompose. Speak with your caterer about serving beverages and condiments in bulk, with key positioning around your event space to avoid using individual containers. Last, avoid individually wrapping food items and use recyclable containers, if china and linen aren’t feasible for your event.

When planning food and beverages, it’s always good to think and buy local. In the D.C. region, we are fortunate to have access to a wide array of farmers, breweries and viticulturists. Before choosing your event vendors, consider how you can support our local economy and society through your event’s purchases and goals.

Offer locally sourced wines at your events.

Printing and paper

As we move closer to becoming a paperless world, USGBC carefully considers printing any materials for events. Should printed materials be an absolute requirement for attendees, consider the following guidelines:

  • Paper used should be 100 percent recyclable, 100 percent post-consumer and FSC-certified.
  • Should a heavier stock paper be needed, seek out the highest available percentage of recycled post-consumer waste paper.
  • Ink shall be at least 90 percent vegetable oil-based, with only trace amounts of metal content (less than 2 percent).
  • When selecting a printing vendor, look for those who are FSC- and SFI-certified, wind power-operated and carbon offset program participants.

Pictured below, our annual awards, created by Rivanna Natural Designs, are made from FSC-certified maple.


At the 2017 A Midsummer Night’s Green, our committee has carefully weighed sustainability as a factor into all of our decisions, from food selections to program design. We encourage you to join us in celebrating the fantastic project achievements we’ve all made over the last year, while honoring top professionals in the area who are advancing our cause. 

Learn more about A Midsummer Night's Green