Speaking Initiative

Chris on Unlocking the Power of Sustainability

Chris’ commitment to sustainability runs deep, from her home life to sitting on boards of environmental organizations to training and volunteering to help reduce our collective carbon footprint.

As a professional speaker, it was time to be more hands-on in helping to create a more earth-centered, sustainably focused approach to the meetings and events industry. Thus, Sustainable Speaking was born with a skin-in-the-game approach to supporting organizations and individuals like you making more intentional, sustainably focused decisions around the events you host.

The good news? It’s a win in all directions. Our industry has the power to influence significant change, where carbon-neutral events become the norm. Our reach is wide. At the same time, these shifts help you deliver an aligned and powerful experience for your attendees.

Doing This Will:
  • Create outstanding attendee engagement and connection by including them in making the sustainability goals possible

  • Increase your brand loyalty as more people want and expect sustainable practices
  • Meet DEI values and goals by supporting local businesses and reducing the environmental impact that adversely affects lower income communities
  • Boost your budget
  • Intrigue, impress, and inspire stakeholders
  • Align with Millenial and Gen Z values around conservation and the environment

“Clearly this is the right thing to do for the planet. It’s also the right thing to do for our attendees. Designing events that deeply impact each attendee and making a difference in their lives is equally important as managing our environmental impact. Let’s make sure events are worth it on every level.”

— Chris Heeter

One Step at a Time

Research shows that picking a few steps and applying them across all of your events for the year and adding a few more the next year makes sustainability more manageable and results in long-lasting success.

Our Sustainable Speaking Checklist helps you identify some practical ways to make your events more eco-friendly. This activity aims to support you in expanding the toolbox of resources you can use to reduce greenhouse gasses and eliminate waste from your event. It is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” activity where you can build on whatever sustainability efforts you already have in place.

Planners report that the steps were easier than they anticipated, sharing they found it relatively easy to build on their success and add more steps in the following years (Courtney Lohmann of Caretta Impact, at MPI WEC workshop, June, 2022).

Participation in our “Sustainable Speaking Initiative” is optional. It is our way of supporting your efforts and partnering with you in designing sustainable meetings and events.

How It Works

Step 1

Step 2

Choose some NEW actions from the checklist to implement in your events moving forward.

  • Totaling at least 10 points will earn you 3% in Wild Buck$ on Chris’ speaking fee.
  • Totaling at least 20 points will earn you 6% in Wild Buck$.

Step 3

Use your Wild Buck$ toward sustainable initiatives at the event.

Bonus Challenge

Chris has decided to waive 100% of the speaking fees for the first organization that achieves a 100% carbon neutral event as an extra motivator.
Contact us for more information regarding this.

Before you begin, here are some tips for making this a more meaningful, impactful activity:

  • Approach sustainability from a design-thinking strategy rather than just picking individual items on the checklist. What can you control? What can you solve? How can you get to zero plastic, for example, across categories? Consider how you can collaborate with your constituents to meet your goals. Let this inspire new and creative ways to engage and connect with attendees.
  • Recycling, composting, and other actions that manage waste are great, but keeping the waste from happening in the first place is even better. Big-impact choices are to go digital for all communication, choose reusable and local items, order the correct amount of food for attendees, and reduce water and energy consumption.
  • Communicate early and often with your attendees. Tell them what you are doing and share why you’re doing it, taking the time to promote your sustainability efforts and encourage attendees to join in. Most people want to be part of the solution around sustainability – they just don’t know what to do or how they can help. Not only can you reduce fossil fuel emissions and the carbon footprint of your gathering, but you can also help educate attendees and get them started on their own sustainability journey.

Chris Will Create a Pre or Post-Event Video

Chris’ video will help your attendees know what to expect or share the results of the efforts post-conference.

Message Examples:
  • Encouraging folks to bring a reusable water bottle
  • Explaining why the agenda and conference materials are only electronic
  • Sharing how many gallons of water were saved during the event
  • The percentage of trash reduced

Alright, let’s do this!

Take the first step and download the checklist.

Additional Resources

Resourced from

  1. Power events efficiently with clean, renewable energy.
  2. Redesign events to utilize sustainable materials and be waste-free.
  3. Source food sustainably and eliminate food waste.
  4. Move goods and equipment efficiently, and transition to zero emissions logistics

Percentage of environmental impact breakdown:

  • Transportation = 56%
  • Food and Beverage = 16%
  • Venue = 13%
  • Accommodations = 9%
  • Materials/Waste = 6%

Referenced from PRA

Research your attendees’ personas if you anticipate any push-back on hosting a meatless event. You’ll likely be surprised to find more willingness and support for this decision than you thought. Alternately, it will help you understand if there will actually be push-back and where it will likely come from.

You can still communicate elegance without fresh-cut flowers. One way this can happen is by using potted, native, wildflower plants as beautiful floral centerpieces and donating them after the event to a person or an organization that will plant them in the ground to attract, sustain, and protect pollinators. Unlike fresh-cut flowers, these plants will not wind up in a landfill but will support the environment’s health.

By giving our business to venues and suppliers who are intentional in their sustainability efforts, the meetings industry has the spending power to make a large and positive impact. If a venue has LEED certification or engages in other conservation efforts, choosing to work with them encourages and informs other venues that they need to increase their sustainability practices to gain your business.

Due to the unnecessary excess accompanying them, giveaways are the bane of waste-free intentions. Giveaways are so embedded in exhibitors’ understanding of successful events that it takes strong resolve to eliminate this wasteful norm. It’s important to communicate your sustainability goals with exhibitors and encourage them to get creative in finding less wasteful ways to provide the perceived value of their giveaway. Consider delivering content that effectively promotes the sponsor instead of distributing items with their logo, as items like this are almost always an ineffective promotion that gets thrown away. If your organization is hardwired to give gifts to attendees like exhibitors are, apply these same actions.

An astounding number of gifts get thrown away or left in hotel rooms during or after events. If you feel strongly about giving a gift, consider giving one high-quality, unique gift specific to the event’s location, as opposed to several cheap, widely available items. An informal study at a large event found that attendees left basic gifts like speakers, wine openers, and pens behind. In contrast, they took home the beautiful blown-glass ornaments crafted by a local artisan.

If there must be swag, when attendees register, give them the option to opt-out. This helps exhibitors get a better count. Give attendees who opted out a token that they can drop in a jar that represents different charities.

Local vendors make great partners above and beyond whatever they provide for you. They will know the unique features of the area and will have suggestions for meaningful ways to give back to the community. Though larger out-of-state vendors are sometimes cheaper, rewarding local vendors that use renewable energy or other sustainable practices by giving them your business is important. Not only does this increase your business’s environmental sustainability, but it also allows you to meet other organizational goals, such as distributing wealth equitably and cutting down on transport emissions.

Currently, we cannot avoid the carbon footprint of flights. However, we can consider how we and our attendees could fly less by hosting more regional, local, or virtual events. Having speakers (especially those with a sustainability pledge) and your team travel to regions for several smaller events results in far fewer carbon emissions than large groups of attendees traveling long distances to one big event.

You will likely need to make a few printed copies of agendas and other documents to promote inclusivity and make appropriate accommodations for some of your guests. This is a very small percentage, though. For those who do not need these accommodations, send documents digitally and ask all speakers to do the same. If this is unavoidable and hard copies need to be provided, be sure to require that only certified recycled paper is used. Make sure speakers take any unused copies back with them and that any left-behind handouts are recycled.

Many modern events are targeted toward Millennials and Gen Z, so aligning with what they value and enjoy is essential. These generations greatly value sustainability and want to know what you are doing to engage and promote it at your event. Make sure you provide attendees with a space to learn more about your sustainability actions and engage in dialogue about it. When doing this, make sure to listen and take notes – what they have to say could be incredibly helpful to your organization’s efforts moving forward!

Your venue and vendors will likely be able to share information with you about the impact they make in their areas and assist in tracking your impact. Below are links to several other websites of companies offering calculators and consulting that you can reference.

Along with those, here are a couple of links to companies that help you measure the results of your sustainability efforts:

You can also search for impact reports published by other companies and use them as templates and inspiration for your own self-audit-based report.

Caretta Impact: Consulting with Courtney Lohmann, who offers a wealth of wisdom, ideas, strategies, and inspiration:

SFSE (Society for Sustainable Events):

Sustainable events pocket guide:

Toolkit for waste-free events:

The Sustainable Events Forum

Food waste calculator and solutions:

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council

U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification.

The FDIA – Food Distribution Improvement Act: this was passed in early 2023 and makes it significantly easier to donate leftover food without fear of liability.

Luum Collective sustainable design checklist/guide:

LeHigh Sustainability Checklist:

Information on SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel):

We’re Here to Guide You

Reach out to us with any questions, comments, or inspiring
sustainable speaking ideas we can help bring to life.