Sustainable Event Decorating

By Kelly Osborne

I’ve always had a love for the art of event planning and decorating, so much so that I have had several internships, several certificates, and am currently working in the field. However, I have always also wanted to involve myself in the environmental field and value carbon-negative or carbon-neutral practices as a high priority for my dream job.

The issue here is one that has plagued the events industry for quite some time in the topic of sustainability. At its core, events are disposable; you use the service once and whether or not it fuels future change, that singular event will be experienced and then moved on from. The question one must ask regarding events and their impact is this: How do you create an environmentally positive or neutral outcome for something that at its core requires a lot of resources and is a single-use service?

As someone who worked in almost every aspect of the event planning and execution process throughout my life, this question has always been present in my mind. When I decided last November to go through the process of receiving my International Event and Wedding Planning certificate and my International Event Decorating Planning certificate, I promised myself that through my training one thing I would force myself to focus on, whether or not it was incorporated into the curriculum, was trying my best to ensure that the environmental impact of the hypothetical events I planned were as environmentally friendly as possible.

Through this self-enforced rule that I placed on myself, as well as research through papers and books, most notably the book “How To Plan a Sustainable Event: A Guide for Creating a Waste Wise Event” by Julia L. Wright, I have developed a deep and passionate understanding of sustainability in the events industry. While there is plenty to say about the entirety of the event process and its environmental impact, one of the most important aspects regarding events and their impact is that of the events decorating.

Since focusing my event efforts on this, I’ve tried to avoid several classic event decorations due to their material and how un-sustainable they tend to be- the worst of these for me has been that of balloons. Not only are the vast majority of balloons made of latex, a material that quite a number of people are allergic to, but as soon as the air or helium has run out, the balloon is left useless. While it does fill up a space, it’s perhaps the decoration that has some of the least amount of reusability, so in order to both create an environmentally mindful event and include decorating that achieves the same idea as balloons, you must research into eco-friendly alternatives.

First off: Balloons themselves; while there are alternatives to the classic latex balloon, such as natural rubber balloons sold on Etsy, those alternatives still take considerable time to degrade, and especially considering if there was a plan for a balloon release (which if you are planning an environmentally friendly event, do not do that) it would still be rather negative in their impact than other alternatives.

If you wanted decorations that were similar to balloons, however, there are quite a few alternatives for both outdoor and indoor events. For outdoor events changing from balloons to kites, lanterns, and string lights and for indoor events changing to streamers, banners, and plants. While balloons have been a staple in the event planning industry for years, if event planners, companies, and individuals work to make their events more sustainable, balloons must be ditched, and alternative space fillers must be considered.

Another huge pollutant in the events industry is that of confetti and glitter. While they add a lot of dynamics and allow attendees to be a part of the event, these are both incredibly difficult for event staff to clean up after the fact and tend to be incredibly unsustainable with their materials.

Luckily, where balloons had virtually no real sustainable alternatives, glitter and confetti have considerably more alternatives. In terms of glitter, the company Cosmetic Bio-glitter provides an environmentally-friendly alternative for attendees to utilize body glitter in their outfits for events. In terms of confetti, the company The Confetti Bar has a number of alternatives for confetti including confetti based off of dried flowers, soluble bits, and wildflower bits.

In terms of events, balloons, glitter, and confetti are only a few of the aspects to decorating and making sure that your event is as sustainable as possible is a process that requires a lot of thought and deliberation. Whether it’s using sustainable materials and methods for things such as linens, floral arrangements, or catering, ensuring that your event is as environmentally positive as possible can encourage attendees to pursue more eco-friendly alternatives in their own day-to-day lives.

The events industry is one with a strange and complicated relationship with environmental sustainability. Because of the single-use service of the industry, many times eco-friendliness isn’t a high priority. However, using unconventional alternatives to commonly seen trends can make your event unique and memorable, can expose attendees to the alternatives used, and will help you have your event without harming the environment as much as possible.

By Kelly Osborne

Kelly is a climate activist from Southwestern Ohio and an advocate for living life to its fullest potential. Her ultimate goal is to be able to say that she was one voice in a million that helped come together to allow our planet to be cherished to its full potential for generations to come.

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