Event Planning: How to Find a Sustainable Catering Service

Since we are faced with lots of environmental problems today, many companies and enterprises are trying their best to keep their operations environmentally sustainable. And since sustainability is one of the most defining issues of our time, we are seeing even more being done about it across many industries.

The reality is that current resources are declining while resource consumption is rising dramatically. If the supply and demand can reach a sustainable level the future might be secure.

Unfortunately, the event industry is the second most wasteful industry. It involves everything form the venue, the invitations, the catering and the decorations which can all produce many wastes.

However, due to the sustainability movement, more enterprises are becoming aware of the possible consequences of overuse of resources. According to the UNGC Accenture report, 93% of CEOs say that sustainability is critical to their future success. This year, $5.7 trillion was allotted to economic services and products that are green and environmentally minded.

Thanks to awareness raised, clients of the events industry are now choosing green companies. 50% of industry professionals confirmed that they give precedence to green suppliers while 71% say that it is a very important thing to consider when choosing a new supplier.

Event organisers, according to surveys, choose going green and sustainable processes due to the following reasons:

  • better sales
  • protects health
  • fuels marketing strategies
  • protects the environment
  • promotes social responsibility
  • supports local suppliers
  • minimises energy usage

International Standards and Guidelines for Sustainability

Standards and guidelines should be followed to achieve sustainability in the events industry. Industry monitoring and evaluation are always present in order to make continuous improvements.


APEX/ASTM is an Environment Sustainable Event Standards that contains checklists. It was spearheaded by the US Environmental Protection Agency in cooperation with the Green Meeting Industry Council. APEX stands for the Accepted Practice Exchange. It was developed in a span of three years with volunteers and committee members across the world in the event industry. The members include planners, suppliers, government representatives, non-government and even non-industry players. In addition, the standards were put up based on direct input from the committee, feedback options from online surveys and discussion groups.

Better smarter event GMIC
Image Credit: Slideshare

This guideline offers a comprehensive checklist to measure and manage environmental sustainability within meetings and events. GMIC on the other hand suggested the case to a better and smarter event in this infographic.

The APEX/ASTM standards include and consider the following factors: audio-visual, accommodation, communications, destinations, exhibits, food and beverages, meeting venue, on-site office and transportation.

APEX ASTM standards
Image Credit: Slideshare

APEX/ASTM standards also consider the following aspects of an event company:

  • staff management policy
  • communications
  • waste management
  • energy
  • air quality
  • water
  • procurement
  • community partners

The APEX/ASTM standards are internationally recognised. Although it differs from the ISO standards, it is said to work in collaboration or independently from other standards and frameworks. The APEX/ASTM is a management system that is written to inform process of event organising while APEX provides definition specifically for the operational actions complete with performance matrix and scoring.

ISO 20121

ISO 20121 on the other hand is a standard that is available for event organisers, venues and other organisations in the supply chain. It is designed to fit any type of event and aims to incorporate balance in social, environmental and economic sustainability.

ISO 20121’s simplified system is illustrated in the infographic below:

ISO20121 system
Image Credit: Slideshare

The first event to be certified by the iSO 20121 was the Danish Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2012. It was developed with the assistance of event standards professionals from over 30 countries around the world. Many events like the London 2012 Olympics, Coca-Cola EU presidency have already used the standards.

THE ISO 20121 is based on the earlier British Standard BS 8901 Specification for a Sustainability Management System for Events developed in 2007. It aims to help events and organisations to:

  • continue to be financially successful
  • become more socially responsible
  • reduce environmental footprint

This is applicable to all types and sizes of organisation involved in the events industry. Once an organisation reaches the requirement of the standard, it will be certified through the certification process. The ISO website describes the standard and the process as a specification and not a checklist. It may require the adoption of new practices but may not set performance requirements.

For the certification, organisations may opt for the services of ISO 20121 which includes a simple checklist, briefing, training, guide, toolkit and certification assessment. Once a company is certified, they will be able to differentiate their business among the industry and improve their processes and possibly achieve the benefits outlined by the ISO 20121 standards which include:



The GRI or the Global Reporting Initiative aims to standardise the reporting framework of specific event sectors as well as provide guidance. This enables organisations to consider their impact on the sustainability issue.

GRI is often referenced by companies through GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards. It is included together with The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprise, the UN Global Compact and the ISO 26000.

The GRI includes the economic impact of events, environmental impacts of attendees, knowledge transfer, legacy, sourcing, commissions and gifting, site selection and bidding process, participant and attendee management, food and beverage, accessibility, inclusivity and external partners.

gri eoss


Tips for a Greener Event


Cut back on waste

Once you have started your war on waste for greener event planning, then you are on the right track. The very first thing you should aim for is to cut back on waste. Avoid using disposables which will incur lots of garbage. For the decorations, try minimising those that may produce too much garbage.

Another thing that will help you cut back on waste for an event is invitations. Instead of the usual fancy paper invitations, send your invites on the Internet. Since most people today will get a notification on their phones, it’s the best possible way.

Green committee

Instead of just assigning somebody to take up the event planning, organise a green committee. This committee will be sustaining your goals all throughout the planning a well as after the event. This committee will also help spread awareness throughout your company.

Biodegradable materials

Normal party wares often are toxic and contains infused harmful matters like dye when they’re manufactured. To decrease dependency on these kinds of wares, use materials that are biodegradable and are packaged with environment seal. There are several companies offering party wares from recyclable tablecloth to bamboo plates that you can use for service.

Recycle and compost station

If you’re really serious about sustainability at your event, then set up garbage stations to segregate waste. Set up bins with labels for recycling and compost stations. This helps you save time in sorting through or having to hire people to clean up and sort.

Be creative with food

Your food comes as a big part of the sustainability process. Encouraging the use of farm to table industry has always been recommended. Aside from the fact that it supports local producers, you are serving guests something healthy and fresh.


For party favours and gifts, send out handcrafted, sustainable keepsakes. And if the event is a wedding where you can expect gifts, you can ask guests to avoid wrapping with papers or plastic wrappers instead, use some old magazine and newspaper.

Energy and water consumption

There are different tricks to help reduce water and energy consumption. One is the leveraging of natural lights to your advantage. Instead of holding the event at night where you would need to use artificial lights, hold your event during the day to minimise energy consumption or choose a venue that lets natural light flood it in.

Use some of these tips and you will be a sustainable event planner!

Sustainable Event Guidelines and Factors


#1 Venue selection

First and foremost, you may choose a venue that is close to public transport facilities and is accessible to your guests. Ensure that the venue will be reflecting the size of the needs and numbers of participants. Once the venue is okay to accommodate your guests, then there will be no excessive use of lighting and air handling. Most venues are already well aware of the sustainability movement of the events organising industry.

Form the venue in-charge you can choose rooms or big rooms that allow natural ventilation and lighting to let inside. Getting control of the room temperature also will allow you to set the standard comfort while the events run.

Some venues may have or may not have compost facilities. Prior to this, ask venues to set this up. You can also request the venue to use environmentally safe products and materials.

#2 Transport

Transportation incurs energy and fuel use. Once you have hundreds of guests, then the amount of energy and fuel used also increases. For transport, you can ask guests to carpool or consider the use of virtual conference for those who are really far from your venue location.

You can also promote the use of public transport through provisions of directions and schedules of the transports.

#3 Equipment and supplies

You can further your sustainable goals once you have designed your entire events around equipment that are only rented. These items may require only minimal set-up and they are reusable. Some organisers try to reduce the use of stereos and sound equipment unless it is necessary.

But if you decided to hold the event outside, make sure that grasses are not damaged by guests or by equipment set up. If you’re up to it, you can use reconditioned or recycled materials but of course with all considerations of the materials and equipment’s usability and life. If you will be able to reuse it for a long time and it can be disposed of properly with minimal environmental problem, then it’s worth it.

Same with all the supplies, consider buying equipment that has end life of being recycled. Other things where you can exhibit environment care through wise equipment choice may include:

  • Use recycled paper when printing
  • Employ vegetable based ink when printing
  • You use appliance that are energy-efficient

#4 Gift and delegate conference materials

If your event will be on discussing important matters or will be informing guests about something, then maybe you are already ready to prepare paper counterpart of the presentation. This can be environmentally unsustainable. Why not just have the electronic presentation and just distribute the hand-outs through emails. This way you save on paper and eliminate paper waste as well.

As for the gifts for the guests of the event, opt for products that are eco-friendly or things that can help further sustain the environment like reusable water bottles, mugs or organic wine.

#5 Design events with sustainability in mind

Design all future events with sustainability in mind and you are sure to do your part for the environment and our resources. This should start from the smallest to the largest details.

Sustainable Catering Criteria


Sustainable events may greatly be influenced by catering services. How a catering company implements sustainable practice impacts the overall outcome of the event.

Here are some catering criteria you may want to consider:

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions

There are many ways to do this. We must admit, in catering, lots of energy is used in food preparation.

Most catering equipment is switched on from the start of the event until the end of the day. Often, this leads to unnecessary use of energy. Caterers who are well aware of this may reduce energy usage by educating staff about the best way to conserve energy.

Conserve water

To be able to remedy the water usage at events, caterers should use water efficient equipment and train staff to use the smallest amount of water possible unless absolutely needed.

Reduce waste

A big part of a sustainable catering is the way a company handles waste. We already mentioned a few suggestions above like going for zero waste or limiting waste for the materials and equipment used. However, there is a different kind and category of wastage in catering. Food wastage often has a huge impact on the environment.

Throwing away food may look like an easy solution for some. Using a compost pit might seem like the most biodegradable option, however, you must consider that the throwing away of food may mean wastage of resources, including the energy used to prepare the food.

Fair opportunities for producers

Encourage small producers instead of just relying on huge companies to supply food for your event. This way, disadvantaged producers are given opportunities.

Sustainable food sourcing

There are different ways that a caterer may become sustainable in their business. Although it may not be easy, the constant practice may help and lead to perfection. To have sustainable food sourcing, you may consider the following points:

  • Buy from local, sustainable producers. Consider local farms and local suppliers. They may give it to you fresh while you limit the use of other resources like transportation when you request for imported ones.
  • Make menus based on seasonal produce. Certainly, there is an advantage in choosing food products that are on season rather than not. They may be a lot cheaper and may not require elaborate packaging before they reach you
  • Reduce use of foods of animal origin. Or if not possible, ensure that the product of animal origin was produced based on environmental and animal welfare standards.
  • Do not use bottled water. The plastic bottle is the main usurper of sustainable goals. If possible, eliminate the use of bottled water. Instead serve water in glasses.

Sustainable Catering


When we talk about sustainability in catering, there are a few factors to be considered. These guidelines may include the following:

Food should be:

  1. locally grown
  2. organic
  3. fresh
  4. healthy
  5. vegetarian options available
  6. ethically produced
  7. high quality

Questions for your caterer

Now if you’re still a little bit unsure of this, you can always ask your caterer several questions about sustainability:

  1. Do you use reusable cutlery and dinner wares?
  2. Do you use compostable dinner wares and materials in setting up your catering service?
  3. Do you use fresh and seasonal produce?
  4. Do you have menus that offer healthy servings?
  5. Do you recycle, or compost waste on site?

With this simple event sustainability primer we hope we can change the way events are planned and ensure a sustainable future.


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