Big Events with Small Footprints

Asking the right questions can change how you think about sustainability.  

We all want our events to have an impact and create a lasting impression in the minds of those who attend.

As an event organiser, I’m aware that every time we create an event there is a broader impact to consider – be it through waste, energy, transport or consumption. Even with the best intentions and careful planning, events can leave a big mark on the environment.

Since starting En Pointe Events, we’ve focussed on how best to minimise this impact without affecting the event experience –  and with a little ingenuity you’d be amazed at what can be achieved.

First, change your attitude –reducing the environmental impact isn’t always a burden – there are HEAPS of benefits. From practicalities like reducing waste and clean up time post event,to creating an event that inspires others to challenge their assumptions about what ‘Green Events’ look like.  

Here’s how we ensure that we are designing and delivering the best event with the minimum impact possible. Hopefully this sparks some inspiration!

1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

The old adage of sustainability is repeated for a reason – it’s simple and it works.

Before you buy new props or equipment, commit to single-use items or order that second cool room, apply this framework:

  • Do we need it?
  • Can we hire it? Do we know someone who has something that will suit?
  • Can we replace it with something that has less impact or is able to be recycled or reused?

How does this work in practice?


At Splendour in the Grass 2019, environmental solutions group B-Alternative assisted in more than halving the onsite waste via an onsite campaign focused on their three core pillars: education, waste reduction and earth-friendly products.

The group targets festivals, businesses, schools and any event looking to shift focus to a more sustainable, planet positive future. They can supply you and your stall-holders with reusable products (often at a lower cost than normal packaging solutions), wash vans complete with commercial dishwashers, advise strategic placement for bin stations and reusable crockery stations (tip – workout the highest traffic points), audit event waste and coordinate waste removal.


RETURNR is an environmental initiative that aims to replace single-use takeaway packaging with equivalent reusable solutions in the Melbourne café network.


Did you know that for every tennis match at the Australian Open, six new balls are provided every nine games? The AO (supported by KIA) turn these balls into AO souvenirs suitable for reuse – with a $2 fee going towards their community grants program.

Want a challenge?

Event Designers – let’s celebrate up cycling by reducing single-use custom builds and using our expertise and connections to empower our clients to make more sustainable decisions. *If anyone has some warehouse space free (hire companies, I’m looking at you!) what about creating a bespoke section of items from previous events? Think pink carpets custom-made for fashion parades, free-standing hammocks purchased for a corporate event, a giant book used for a photo moment– and having these available to hire – reducing waste and providing clients with recycled event solutions.

2. Attack waste from all directions

3.2 million tonnes of food are sent to landfill in Australia every year – enough to fill 5,400 Olympic sized swimming pools. (1)

A surefire way to reduce food waste is to re-think your event catering:

  • Provide an option for guests to pre-select meals prior to the event.
  • Choose local, seasonal produce and beverages.
  • Celebrate plant-based meals.
  • Donate surplus food if safe to do so.
  • Compost food scraps.
  • Support social enterprise caterers such as Charcoal Lane, the ASRC, Mission Caters, Free to Feed and Streat.
  • Consider how food is served – can reusable crockery and cutlery be used? If not, ensure vendors and suppliers are briefed around use of biodegradable packaging.

If items have to be discarded, ensure they are disposed of effectively through well-signed front-of-house waste and recycling systems. Unfortunately, on its own this isn’t enough. It takes only 0.5% contamination for recycling bins to be diverted to landfill. Organic bins also become contaminated and suffer the same fate. So, what other steps can you take?

  • Look at what generates waste in the first place and focus efforts on minimising these elements.
  • Invest in on-site waste sorters –working with Closed Loop Environmental Solutions we recently diverted 10 cubic metres from landfill.

How does this work in practice?

  • Rather than being hindered by dietary requests, at a recent industry event caterers, The Big Group, created a menu that accommodated most special diets – and the environment.  A plant-based meal was served, with a side of meat for those who wanted it.  Good Food sees ‘eating with climate change in mind’ as the key food trend for 2020. (2)
  • B-Alternative provides bin fairies at events such as Queenscliff Music Festival, UNIFY Gathering and Falls Festival –supporting waste monitoring and segregation with a side of education and,importantly, fun.
  • City of Melbourne have partnered with SisterWorks, a not-for-profit supporting women migrants and refugees, to upcycle event banners into bags. (3)
  • The MCC is also turning their would-be waste into resources – with soft plastics becoming bollards, which are then used to replace ageing timber ones. (4)  

3.  Extend your reach

As event organisers, we often focus on what we are bringing into an event – and with tight deadlines and complicated setups we may not think about things outside our direct view. But this is often where environmental impacts will come from – especially for events stretching over multiple days, open to the public or held in multiple venues.

How does this work in practice?

  • At the University of Melbourne 90% of the university’s overall waste is made up from items brought onto campus by students, staff, visitors and retailers. They’ve learnt that simply educating people about facts like this leads to a conversation, which then turns to strategies around how to influence this – and how to change behaviour.
  • At the City of Melbourne, taking a structured approach to measuring and offsetting their Carbon Footprint, has provided them with more valuable data and feedback. The City is accredited under the National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS), a compliance-based program requiring data collection, analysis, reporting and transparency. This program provides the data to see what actions will have the most impact and involves engagement and education with all stakeholders, partners and suppliers.

For example, they’ve found that for Melbourne Fashion Week (the first Australian certified carbon neutral fashion festival) one of their highest emission areas is attendee travel. Whilst public transport is encouraged, attendees are less likely to use public transport than attendees at Melbourne Music Week.  Therefore, they’ve focused on reducing emissions in other areas to help offset those heels hurting the environment)

4.  Communication – and more communication

We’ve found that guests and participants at an event are often excited to hear about green initiatives and welcome tips on how they can contribute.

Empower your audience through information, for example, how they can reduce the impact of travelling to the event – as Pause Fest emailed their audience, “Making small but impactful changes to the way you travel can help contribute to a more sustainable future whilst still harnessing the power of in-person connection.”

Also think about incentives (or penalties!)

  • Conscious of small business and hospitality’s tight profit margins, rather than discount those BYOing their own coffee cups, charge those who don’t (similar to the supermarket bag model).
  • Discounted event passes for those carpooling (Coachella had a grand prize of VIP Passes to Coachella for life for the winner of their #Carpoolchella program).

Want a challenge?

Before your event publicly commit to a target or initiative and report back on your successes. For example, eliminate single use plastics, target zero food waste, or 50%re-useable decorations. (B-Alternative has helped Collins Square avoid sending over 1 tonne of paper towels to waste every day). Work with your suppliers to consider every purchase and change their approach or expectations.

Finally, focus on step changes, rather than going for perfect. You may not get it 100% right the first time but commit to the journey and be honest about what you can achieve.

We’re all on that journey, from plastic water bottles to cans of local water or, even better, hydration stations and water fountains.  Replacing normal takeaway cups with compostable paper cups (and a composting solution)isn’t a waste-free solution but demonstrates change and highlights that there are better options than single-use plastic.

How does this work in practice?

Check out Wallop Waterportable – brandable water stations for events with an option to provide chilled still and sparkling water.

A word of caution

Beware the green washing! As the sustainability movement gathers speed, we see more companies wanting to ride the green wave. Keep in mind the criteria by which the product is claiming to be green. Check for proof and globally recognised standards. (5) Sustainability goes hand-in-hand with authenticity.

Call to Action

Consumer attitudes and expectations are changing, as is the sustainability movement and available support and solutions.  Take the opportunity to view your event through a new lens and challenge yourself.  At En Pointe we like to think of this as another area where we can add value, and wherever possible educate our clients around initiatives and options to consider.

This is just the beginning.

I am inspired by the enterprising, committed, passionate community we are surrounded by, creating businesses, social enterprises and community action around sustainability and welcome any feedback or further contributions.

Kate Stewart-Dixon

Strategy Lead & Co-Founder



Burning Man, Leaving No Trace –

City of Melbourne Sustainable Business Guide

En Pointe Events, – Creating More Sustainable Events: Checklist

Melbourne Convention Bureau – Recommended Third Party Certification Options


Sustainable Table,

The University of Melbourne , A-Z of Sustainability

Wallop Water


Sue Hopkins, Sustainability Manager – Campus Services I Business Services, The University of Melbourne

Tim Landells, Environmental Consultant, B-Alternative

Jessie Pettigrew, Senior Manager – Sustainability, BT Financial Group

Paul Whelan, Senior Sustainability Officer – Sustainability Integration I Climate Change Action, City of Melbourne