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  • Susan Dawson, GHT Limited

Greening Your Event: How to Party Plan with the Planet in Mind

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This year, USGBC National Capital Region will host over 300 professionals from DC’s commercial real estate industry to recognize and celebrate our collective achievements in sustainable design and construction. Hosted at Arena Stage, A Midsummer Night's Green, will feature a VIP reception; cocktails, beer and wine paired with locally sourced food; and a ceremony for the USGBC-NCR Community Leader Awards.

But sustainability defines more than just our values – it’s our life’s mission and our actions. We are committed to continuous progress and, from our own office practices to community programming, we remain keenly aware of the impact our activities have on the environment.

However, you may not be aware that this commitment extends to our event planning as well! Below we’ve shared our expert tips for greening events and how to stay environmentally conscious while throwing epic parties. Got your own tips? Feel free to keep the conversation going in the comments section below.


Whether a committee meeting, an educational workshop or A Midsummer Night’s Green (our signature event of the year!) we aim for Zero Waste events. While all events do create some waste, we can lessen our impact through simple strategies, such as waste tracking, bin labeling and easy placement throughout the space and using sustainable serving ware for food and beverages. Education and engagement also play a crucial role – clearly labeled signage directs attendees as to how waste should be recycled and encourages participants to think before they toss.

We also seek out vendors who share our values. USGBC-NCR enjoys established partnerships with the region’s leading event support, printers and catering vendors – companies who share our commitment to the responsible sourcing of food and beverages, while reducing waste and lessening our impact on the natural environment. Be sure to ask your vendors during the selection process and look for companies that advertise sustainable event & waste management practices.


With an endless array of options from caterers and food service providers, it is sometimes difficult to balance food and beverage selections with sustainability. The following tips take into account both immediate and lifecycle impacts of your food and beverage selections:

  • Distance & Sourcing: Consider where your food comes from, how it’s obtained and how far it travels to get to you. USGBC recommends domestic wine, beers and cheeses, as well as Fair Trade/shade-grown coffee. Avoid cut flowers and disposable decorations, whose lifetimes don’t extend beyond your event. Potted plants make fantastic party favors for attendees!

  • Labels: Knowledge is power. Label food on buffets to alert those with allergies and to showcase sustainable menu items such as local fish, organic fruits & vegetables, and vegetarian/vegan/gluten & dairy-free options. The Monterey Bay Seafood Watch is considered the industry standard for resources on seafood and sustainable fishing practices.

  • Containers: Consider eliminating bottled water and sodas for your next event; instead, opt for pitchers of water and tea and allow attendees to pour their own. Whenever possible, opt for china with linen napkins over disposable serving ware – avoid using Styrofoam, which can take over 500 years to decompose! Speak with your caterer about serving beverages and condiments in bulk with key positioning around your event space to avoid using individual containers. Lastly, avoid individually wrapping food items and use recyclable containers, if china and linen aren’t feasible for your event.

When planning food & beverages, it’s always good to Think and Buy Local – in the DC region, we are fortunate to have access to a wide array of farmers, breweries and viticulturists. Before choosing your event vendors, consider how you can support our local economy and society through your event’s purchases and goals.


As we move to a paperless world, USGBC carefully considers printing any materials for events. Should printed materials be an absolute requirement for attendees, consider the following guidelines:

  • Paper used should be 100% recyclable, 100% post-consumer and FSC-certified

  • Should a heavier stock paper be needed, seek out the highest available percentage of recycled post-consumer waste paper

  • Ink shall be at least 90% vegetable oil based, with only trace amounts of metal content (<2%)

  • When selecting a printing vendor, look for those who are FSC and SFI certified, wind power operated and carbon offset program participants

Below: our annual awards, created by Rivanna Natural Designs, are made from FSC certified maple.

At this year’s A Midsummer Night’s Green, our committee has carefully weighed sustainability as a factor into all of our decisions – from food selections to program design. We encourage you to join us in celebrating the fantastic project achievements we’ve all made over the last year, while honoring top professionals in the area who are advancing our cause. We look forward to seeing you and making this year’s A Midsummer Night’s Green the premier sustainability event of the year for our industry!

Susan Dawson serves as Co-Chair of the USGBC-NCR’s Midsummer Night’s Green event committee and as Marketing & Communications Manager for GHT Limited, an active partner in the NCR community.

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