As the weather gets warmer, patios and backyards beckon, and we feel the urge to gather friends and family together. Hosting is one of the great joys of life, but it doesn’t come without some ethical questions.
How can I entertain in a sustainable way? What steps can I take as a host to ensure that I’m doing my part for the environment? How do I inspire others to make ethical decisions through my events?
A year ago, Pildora made our mark in the event space, using Human Centered Design to integrate sustainability into a one-of-a-kind fashion, art and music experience. Our focus on innovation and sustainability taught us a lot along the way, including the most effective ways to plan an ethical event.
Here are some expert tips we’ve learned to help you host a vibrant and eco-friendly gathering:
1. Ditch the paper invitations.
A well-written invitation helps set the tone for your event. It communicates the theme, the venue and the level of formality. Plus, an invite is easy for guests to save and have as a reference.
We can’t deny that paper invitations carry a certain sense of fun and nostalgia (who doesn’t love hanging an invite on their fridge?), but there are many ways to invite your guests without wasting paper.
Electronic invites are a popular, eco-conscious and affordable option. Many are free, with premium versions for more intricate or custom designs. Most also allow for integrations like maps with directions, and message boards for easy guest communication.
We love Paperless Post, which offers designs for almost every occasion and includes easy ways to upload your address book.
Facebook events are another easy option. It’s easy to invite your Facebook friends, share relevant details and communicate via messenger with your RSVP’d guests in real time.
If you can’t escape using paper (we see you, traditional wedding invites), try using seed paper, which your guests can easily plant when they’re done to grow wildflowers or specific plants. You will have sent a thoughtful and unique piece that keeps paper waste to a minimum.
Remember: Whichever option you choose, your guests will just be happy to be invited! Old-fashioned notions of formality likely won’t even cross their minds.
2. Make sustainable food and drink choices.
Whether you’re hosting an al fresco cocktail party or a more formal sit-down dinner, great food is an important factor. Luckily, delicious and interesting food doesn’t have to be at odds with our sustainability goals.
Choose your menu mindfully. We’ve been conditioned to go all out for events, packing tables with hors d’oeuvres that are barely eaten and later end up in the trash. Food waste is a huge problem in the U.S., one that we can help to mediate as hosts by going simple. One or two thoughtful dishes can make a bigger impact than an overwhelming buffet.
We suggest picking one vibrant flavor around which to plan your food. Try a citrusy spring flavor, a savory spice like za’atar that packs a punch, or a crowd-pleasing sweet note, like chocolate.
If you want to serve meat and fish, look for local and sustainably raised options. Make a stop at the farmer’s market to see what seasonal vegetables can add color to your meal.
For beverages, visit your local wine shop for organic, natural or biodynamic blends. Sustainably grown and harvested wines are crafted responsibly. The vintners work to conserve water and other renewable resources, and use earth-friendly practices in growing, nurturing and harvesting grapes. Opt for local spirits when you can, and serve beer and soda from refillable growlers or on draught to reduce single-use cans and bottles.
If you end up with heaps of leftovers, call your local food bank to see if they will accept donations or send guests home with treats for later. If you have food scraps, consider composting what you can. By keeping food waste out of landfills, we enrich our community and our environment.
3. Opt for reusable dinnerware and decorations.
It’s easy as a host to rely on the ease of plastic tablecloths, paper plates and single-use silverware. But it isn’t too much harder to make more conscious choices.
Try offering reusable plates and cloth napkins, especially if your gathering is on the smaller side. Guests can help clean their plates at the end of the night (they’re always offering, right?) or you can load them into your dishwasher. Throw cloth napkins (or reusable bamboo paper towels) into the wash with your next load of laundry.
If you are hosting a large number of guests, try renting dishware and linens from a local vendor. f real dishware is out of the question, provide biodegradable or recyclable options. Make a point to provide and clearly label recycling, composting and trash bins with signs that dictate what goes in which. You could even eliminate the need for silverware altogether by planning a menu around finger foods and easily carried snacks.
For decorations, eliminate things like balloons and streamers, which are disposable and end up in landfills. Go for a more natural approach: use potted plants as centerpieces, then send them home with your guests as a party favor. Arrange branches or wildflowers in recycled bottles for a touch of beautiful color. We’ve even seen gorgeous fall parties with bright confetti made from hole-punched leaves. If you love the look of flowers, always opt for native, in-season blooms that you can buy locally to avoid shipping pollutants.
Best yet, if the weather is nice, host your party outdoors where guests can mingle in nature’s decor and connect with the earth around them.
4. Involve your guests in your eco-conscious event.
Spreading the word about local growers and brands is one the best ways to support a sustainable community. Be liberal in your recommendations — after all, the more people involved, the easier the work will be. When guests ask, talk freely about why you made the decisions you did and what you hope to achieve.
You could even frame your gathering as an eco-conscious event from the start, sparking curiosity before guests arrive. By starting the sustainability conversation, you might inspire others and provide more access to alternative lifestyle choices.
If you think your guests would be interested, share a digital list of artisans and brands you used for your gathering after the event. Include links to their websites so that your guests can use the same resources in the future.
Planning an eco-friendly event doesn’t need to be difficult. You’re still making the same choices, just approaching them differently to better meet sustainability goals. By doing so, we ensure that our experiences are bolstered by intentions to protect and enrich the world around us.
We hope your next gathering is full of laughter, memories and inspiration. Tell us more about your hosting plans on Instagram and Facebook — we’ll keep sharing photos of our favorite past events to motivate you!