The holiday season is a time when many give
thought to the idea of
gratitude. This makes it an appropriate time for an
organization to emphasize environmental sustainability during
office holiday parties and year-end celebrations, seeking ways
to minimize its impact on the environment and maybe even giving
"I think there is still this misconception that people have,
that if you're doing a green event, it must be more expensive
and difficult for your clients. But that's just not the case
anymore," says Isabel Schechter, owner of Attention To Detail
Event Productions, based in Chicago. "There are a lot of ways
that people can integrate sustainability and social
responsibility into their holiday parties in little ways."
Planners looking to make sure that the mistletoe isn't the only
thing that's green at their holiday parties can consider a few
of these suggestions from green event experts.
Stick with electronic invitations if possible, using a service
like Evite or Punchbowl. Though if it's the kind of event that
calls for a physical invitation, Erika Piquant, owner of Kansas
City, MO-based Eco-Posh Events suggests "tree-free" products
that are made from 100-percent post-consumer materials.
"There's a company we've used called Cards of Good that have
the best line of holiday cards - they're printed on wood veneer
made from discarded wood," says Piquant.
Companies like Tiny Prints and Green Paper Studio offer cards
and stationery - as well as gift-wrapping - made from recycled
materials that can allow for elegant and eco-friendly
The right venue makes a big difference. Planners should look
for a space that is known for its sustainable work and will
make it that much easier to handle the meeting's logistics in
an eco-friendly way. Hollie Dunn, president and senior event
coordinator of Tempe, AZ-based Thalia Events, adds that
planners should also "find a venue that's either near the
office or that can be reached with mass transit, and encourage
attendees to take it."
"See if the venue already has its own decorations up for
Christmas," says Piquant. "If you could have them take care of
it instead of putting your own all the better." Dunn says a
major decoration to avoid is fresh flowers. Instead, she
suggests seeking out clay flowers, poinsettias, and other
holiday flora, which are reusable and of much higher quality
than the fake blossoms many might be familiar with.
"Another thing you can do if you're not interested in going
floral is to get a whole bunch of globe ornaments and put them
into a glass canister," adds Dunn. "These are very
budget-friendly and very eco-friendly." Since these are
standard ornaments many employees themselves may have extras
of, it might even be worth putting out a request before the
event to see if anyone has extra ornaments they are willing to
If possible, the holiday party should use actual dishware that
can be washed and reused rather than just thrown out. "Utilize
real cups and dishes and avoid disposable ones whenever you
can," says Piquant. She adds that should it be necessary to go
disposable, at least try to use products made from recycled
material or are easily compostable.
Where possible, planners should consider sourcing any dishware,
decorations, and other supplies from local groups if the cost
is equitable. "If I'm doing business in a community, I want to
make sure our event can add to the health and sustainability of
that community," says Schechter. "I'm a big fan of shopping at
and supporting local business."
Seeking out a green caterer is key. Schechter gives the example
of City Provisions, a local sustainable catering company she
often uses in Chicago. Part of their sustainable approach
includes serving only food that is seasonal. "You can't get a
tomato from them in January," Schechter says, adding that it's
key to communicate that the caterers are aiming for a seasonal
menu and showcase the benefits of this. "There can be a
perception, as soon as you say 'we have restrictions' - even if
it's just based on the time of year or when something's going
to be freshest - for the response to be, 'Restrictions? That
means I'm going to suffer!'"
More likely, a holiday party would be serving up winter and late-fall fare like squash, root
vegetables, and comfort foods. If logistics allow, consider
plating the individual meals, rather than going buffet style,
which inevitably leads to wasted food.
For the materials that do need to be thrown out, consider
turning the trash area into what Schechter calls a "resource
recovery station" that puts the focus on recycling as much as
possible, clearly labeling what can be reclaimed. Planners
should also consider composting. "If we have disposable paper
cups or paper plates, we make sure they are all compostable and
have someone who comes in here and takes the material," says
A holiday party almost always includes a little something for
the attendees to take home with them and remember the evening
by. Piquant recommends working with a sustainable provider,
whether the planner is seeking out organic or recycled
products, or ones that benefit the environment in some other
way. Instead of a clunky tchotchke, consider a photo booth
where attendees can get a photo they will want to hold on to,
or providing services like a 15-minute massage.
Any kind of gifting also creates the opportunity for a company
to source items from a nonprofit group where the proceeds
benefit a social or environmental cause. "There are a lot of
different ways you can go about it, but figure out which
nonprofit you want to be donating time or money to and reach
out to them right upfront to get the conversation going early,"
says Dunn. She adds that it is also important to note on the
gift you provide to employees that explains the social benefit
created by the gift, which is likely to boost its value in the
eyes of employees.
While attendees enjoy getting something to take home at the end
of a holiday party, this kind of gathering is also a great
opportunity to ask attendees to give back. "You can do
something simple like a canned food drive or select a specific
nonprofit that you want to donate some time or money to and
connect that to the event," says Dunn. She adds that they have
worked with the Environmental Fund for Arizona in the past and
finds that social responsibility boosts the entire experience
of the event for attendees. To give it an added holiday twist,
the donations can go into some kind of Santa bag or some other
container that ties back to the season.
To give these kinds of drives the most impact, preparation and
communication before the event are key. Piquant gives an
example of a magazine client for whom she created a green event
for where, "in all the literature and on all the invitations,
we encouraged each of the guests to bring canned goods or dry
goods and we donated it to a food bank cause," she says. "Or
something like Toys for Tots is a great way for people to get
into the Christmas spirit, and it's something that the guests
can grab from home."