Making Smarter Choices to Green Events

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Office of Sustainability

Recently, Debbie Tucker from the University Guest House & Conference Center invited the Office of Sustainability to speak at the 2nd Annual Planning Successful Meetings on Campus. The meeting represented a great opportunity for the office’s Green Event Certification because 180 campus event planners were gathered in one place ready to learn about ways to make events more sustainable. And Debbie helped by walking the talk, organizing an event that received Gold-level certification – one of only six campus organizations to achieve that level.

The following blog is adapted from the presentation:

President David Pershing

President David Pershing speaks at the Innovative Sustainability Symposium at the University of Utah in February 2013.

At a conference last February, U of U President David Pershing advised us to, “Be Red, but Think Green.” This is a really good summary of how the U should proceed with its sustainability efforts. We want to create a sense of place – the Red – while also continuously thinking about ways we can do things better and more responsibly, such as planning a green event.

Before I get into the details of the checklist, I want to talk about the importance of sustainability in the eyes of our most important audience – students – and how our events and overall sustainability efforts send a message about who we are as a University.

In the Princeton Review’s 2013 “College Hopes & Worries Survey,” 62 percent of respondents said having information about a school’s commitment to the environment would influence their decision to apply to or attend the school. Other surveys have showed a similar trend, with sustainability ranking above athletics in a survey by Aramark. Additionally, students are also enrolling in environmentally related programs and fields at a higher rate than in the past. This is true here at the University of Utah. The number of students enrolled in the undergraduate Environmental and Sustainability Studies program has increased by more than 200 percent in the past decade.

So what is the U doing to show students we are committed to environmental stewardship?

Farmers Market

Student Kate McCarty sells produce at the Edible Campus Gardens farmers market booth.

First of all, we have a couple of highly visible programs through the Edible Campus Gardens and the U of U Farmers Market. The U also has a program that allows students to apply for grant money to implement projects that make campus more sustainable – the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund. Past projects include water bottle refilling stations and the campus beehive projects. We offer internships through the sustainability office, and along with other groups on campus, bring in speakers that help magnify students educational opportunities.

The U has taken great strides administratively in recent years, first with the creation of the Office of Sustainability in 2007 and the signing of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment the following year. In 2010, the U developed a Climate Action Plan and set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050. And last year, President Pershing presented the very first Green Event Certification award to Sarah George, the director of the Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU).

first Green Event Certification

President Pershing awards Sarah George, director of the NHMU, the first Green Event Certification.

Sustainability is among the University’s 7 Core Commitments, side-by-side with such valuable missions as research and teaching excellence and diversity. The U’s sustainability commitment includes:

  • Promote and coordinate interdisciplinary and cross-campus sustainability research, learning, and programs;
  • Practice sustainability on campus by making sustainability
    an integral part of our operational framework and our decisional framework;
  • Value the uniqueness of our natural surroundings;
  • Fulfill the Climate Action Plan.

Sustainability is important to the University of Utah – to its students, its employees, its President. Event planning can help the U meet these initiatives and goals. Event planners can make a difference on this campus – through waste reduction, energy reduction, smarter choices – and by sending a loud and clear message during our events that the University of Utah cares about sustainability, the environment, and taking a responsibility to do things better.

We want to make sure our events send a positive message about this campus. There are things that don’t send a positive message, such as providing parking directions without also mentioning public transit opportunities, or using #6 plastic cups on main campus where only #1 and #2 plastics are recyclable, or printing tons of marketing materials, even in an electronic age. Talking about “driving around campus” instead of encouraging people to “walk around campus.” We can do better.

When we make smarter decisions, it says that the U is committed to making smarter choices for day-to-day activities. It says that the U is committed to both large-scale sustainability, like a rooftop full of solar panels at the NHMU, as well as small-scale sustainability that eliminates waste and encourages behavior changes, such as riding public transit. And honestly, when you add together the thousands of events that go on at the U each year, the collective result is no longer small scale.

Items served in bulk

Serving items in bulk saves on packaging waste.

The goal of the Green Event Certification is to make choosing smarter options easier. Getting your event certified is simple – and it is even easier when you use the checklist when you start planning your event. You can earn points in the categories of Food, Waste & Recycling, Transportation, Marketing & Handouts, Energy, and Innovation. There are a total of 41 points possible, with a bonus point for reusable flatware. There are three levels possible – bronze, silver, and gold. In total, the Office of Sustainability certified approximately 25 events during the first year of the certification program.

The checklist is a fillable Word document and is available on the Office of Sustainability website. If you have questions on the checklist, email Ayrel Clark-Proffitt or Erin Olschewski, the Office of Sustainability’s green certifications ambassador.

At last February’s Innovative Sustainability Symposium, President Pershing said, “As the state’s flagship university, it is important for us to lead out in sustainability. We don’t want to be a follower in this area.” By using our Green Event Checklist, you can be part of that leadership.

Ayrel Clark-Proffitt is the outreach and education coordinator for the University of Utah Office of Sustainability.

3 responses to “Making Smarter Choices to Green Events

  1. I am super impressed with how the U is handling sustainability! I am really proud to be a graduate of the Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program. Seriously, lectures from the Director, Dan McCool, have been burned in my brain because they are so relevant to today’s world.

    I would really like to see sustainability pushed harder in other degrees though. Environmental Studies is one that is relevant no matter what your degree.

    • Thanks, Todd. The U of U is making great strides on many fronts of sustainability, including academic, operations, and in its administration.
      You are also correct that Environmental and Sustainability Studies should be a part of all degrees. Some programs are already making an effort. For a list of courses offered in a variety of disciplines, visit:

  2. Pingback: Time is a Universal Your Side of History is a Choice | LANDsds Sustainable Voice·

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