The United Nations defined “sustainability” back in 1987 as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sched wants to know what impact an increased focus on “sustainability” has on event planning and surveyed conference attendees to learn more.

Attendees on Sustainability

According to Google Trends, the search term “sustainability” has grown by about 50% in the last five years. 

Sustainability Over The Past Five Years
Google Trends shows interest in the term “sustainability over the past five years”.


While many conference attendees didn’t seem concerned about sustainability, many were eager to make suggestions to event planners about what could be done differently.

“Use technology like event scheduling software instead of paper for agendas, handouts, information, etc,” said one respondent. This sentiment was echoed by many. Users suggested that delivering event content online was important and making event content available post-event was a great way to save on paper. 

Some attendees went a step further. “Booths should reduce the swag they give away”, suggesting that vendors should rely on digital handouts. Distributing content on a USB thumb drive to take home was suggested by one respondent. A common recommendation was to provide attendees with a water bottle or a coffee mug to reuse throughout the conference.

Many felt like food decisions were some of the most important decisions event planners make. If events don’t offer catering, they force attendees towards less sustainable behaviors. Instead, there was a common theme about allowing attendees to build their own bagged lunches with the belief that this would reduce food waste.

Notably, answers to questions about sustainability differed dramatically by region. One woman said, “I was impressed by the number of things this conference did to encourage environmental sustainability. I live in Texas. We still have styrofoam plates, cups, and non-recyclable plastic. We don’t even promote recycling!”. Many commented that while they recycle at home, those options weren’t available at the event.

Understandably, travel was the most recurring topic. Attendees encouraged a push toward smaller regional events that involve less travel, as well as online options that allow participation without travel. If travel is necessary, simple suggestions include offering shuttle buses for attendees or shortening the duration of a conference.

One attendee recommended that every conference can simply ask attendees to be mindful of sustainability, indicating that most are willing but need to be reminded. “Show us the importance of social and environmental issues,” said one conference attendee.

Attendees would appreciate event planners contributing to carbon offsets designed to neutralize the impact of an event. Some suggested that event planners consider offering a discount to attendees who rideshare, share a hotel room, or demonstrate other environmentally friendly behavior. 

While it’s clear that sustainability was not a significant concern for many event attendees, most respondents clearly felt that their event was “sustainably appropriate.”