Sustainable Event Certification Guide & Application

So you want to plan a sustainable event? Great! We have all the resources you need to get started. Be sure to refer back to this guide periodically in your planning to be sure you’re on track.

What kind of events are eligible for Sustainable Event Certification?

All of them! We’ve certified events as small as quarterly meetings and student organization socials to large-scale events and conferences that draw hundreds – even thousands – of guests. Whether you’re part of a student organization, a department/unit on campus, a sorority or fraternity, or are helping plan a much larger event, we’re here to help you make your event as sustainable as possible.

Certification Levels and What They Mean:

After successful completion of the Event Certification Application, your event may receive one of three rating levels:

Orange-Level Certification: Some effort taken toward sustainability

Blue-Level Certification: An above-average level of effort taken toward sustainability

Green-Level Certification: The highest level of effort taken toward sustainability








Some tips to get you started:

Start early! Not only will giving yourself enough time help alleviate stress and help with your personal sustainability, but the earlier you start in planning an event, the more likely you are to have the time to think of all the little things that can make a big difference.

Involve all who want to be included/ cast a wide net: Show your commitment to inclusion and collaboration by inviting wide participation in planning the event. Together, everyone can set goals for the event and define a method for measuring success at achieving them. This will increase your chance of receiving creative and unique input, acquiring buy-in and getting volunteer support.

Choose planning sites wisely: When selecting meeting locations it is important to consider accessibility. If meeting on campus, choose a building that is within easy walking or biking distance for those on the planning committee. If meeting around town, send everyone instructions on RTS routes that will get them there, or encourage carpooling or biking from campus.

Publicize your intentions: Be honest and upfront about your desire to make this event a sustainable one. When communicating with planning partners, potential sponsors, presenters, or contractors, include information about your sustainable initiatives and goals

Research options: Search for event sites, vendors, caterers and suppliers that have a commitment to sustainability (don’t hesitate to ask a company what kind of sustainability policies they have in place, or if they offer ‘green’ alternatives – such as a sustainable catering menu, reusable dishware/linens, etc.). Not only can you take charge of your impact by following the tips in the next section, but you can also choose to support organizations and businesses that share similar values and goals.

Ready to get started? Read through the guide below and then complete the Event Certification Application.

Section 1: Venue, Transportation and Accommodations


Look for places that are already showing a commitment to sustainability and try to choose a site near public transportation. Some options on the UF campus or close by are listed below:

It is important to contact the venue as early as possible to book the space(s), as many venues on campus and around town fill up far in advance. Once the site is selected, publicize all options for public or alternative transit on the event website and materials. Refer to the Transportation section below on options for sustainable transportation to the event.


If your event will attract a number of folks in need of hotel accommodations, refer attendees to hotels near the event venue so alternative transportation can be used. Some hotel options are:

  • J. Wayne Reitz Union Hotel: (352.392.2151) Conveniently located in the center of campus allowing for easy access to any on-campus event or to buses
  • Holiday Inn: (352.376.1661) Located right on the NE side of campus with access to campus or downtown via walking, biking or RTS bus system.
  • Hilton UF Conference Center: (352.371.3600) Located on the West side of campus with convenient bus routes that service almost the entire campus

Additionally, consider providing tips for your guests on how to be sustainable during their stay, such as:

  • reusing towels
  • unplugging personal electronics when not in use
  • adjusting the room temperature while they are gone
  • bringing their own toiletries in refillable bottles


There are many ways to encourage sustainable transportation. You can publicize the following suggestions in your marketing materials, invitations, event website and e-mails:

  • Consider taking the bus, carpooling, biking or walking
  • RTS Gainesville has numerous bus routes that service the city. Routes and schedules can be viewed here:
  • UF Zimride: The university’s carpool matching service.
  • ZipCar: A short-term car rental program with convenient car pick-up and drop-off locations throughout campus. Find out more here.
  • Campus Cab: (352.392.1121) *Note that Campus Cab is for use by faculty/staff only.
  • GatorLift: An on-campus service for students, faculty and staff with mobility limitations.
  • If off campus, consider arranging for private bus shuttles to the location through RTS (352.334.2600).
  • For attendees that might be traveling from another location, participants can choose to offset carbon emissions through our local non-profit partner – We Are Neutral – which creates offsets here in Alachua county through tree plantings and energy retrofits in low-income housing units.

Section 2: Planning & Promoting Your Event


  • Think local: Look for local experts to use as presenters who can highlight campus, city and county initiatives, and can relate local issues to the topics at hand.
  • If you are bringing in presenters from a distance, determine whether they can book other engagements in the area. This will make the trip more productive and efficient and could allow for sharing of travel expenses.
  • Communicate with your presenters about your event’s sustainability goals, and encourage presenters to utilize sustainable materials such as recycled paper or electronic presentations, and eco-friendly giveaways.

Promoting Your Event

  • Go paperless: Try to utilize e‐communications as much as possible, whether by email, via an event website, or through social media, as well as existing news outlets, like newspapers or radio.
  • Pursue alternatives: For unavoidable printing, try smaller-sized flyers or postcards, print double‐sided, and use recycled and/or FSC-certified paper, and soy inks. When mailing communications, print directly on the card or envelope to eliminate the resources used to create labels. Target Copy is a local business that uses recycled-content and FSC-certified paper and is a reliable sources for printing needs. There is a location north of campus on University Ave and south of campus on Archer Rd.
  • Online confirmations: Have attendees register or RSVP online. This helps streamline the process, reduce paper waste, and cut costs.
  • Eventbrite, E-vite, PunchBowl,Google Forms, Doodles, and Facebook events are just a few online resources for invitations, collecting RSVPs, and communicating about your event.
  • Close the loop: On printed materials, include a reminder for the recipient to recycle the item after they’re done with it.

Section 3: Event Materials & Purchasing

Signs & Decor:

  • Can this be reused? When you are developing branded materials or themes for an event such as signage or decorations, consider the reuse possibilities of these items. For example, if you know this is an annual event, consider leaving off dates from the materials so they can be used for future iterations.
  • Share your message! When making signs, be sure to include ones about recycling, resource conservation and waste reduction, and other sustainability efforts at the event.
  • Green your Giveaways: Think strategically about the amount of giveaways or other take-home items, as this can help reduce costs and waste. When deciding on favors, prizes or other goods, look for products made from sustainable materials, recycled content, or items that can be recycled at the end of its life. Instead of creating pre-made goodie bags for each person, have a table set up with the various items and allow guests to choose what they will take – and actually use!
  • Ideally, purchase products that are made locally or in the USA to reduce transportation and production impacts on the environment. Look for items that are third‐party certified, such as Fair Trade, Green Seal, or FSC.
  • Go Local! Whenever possible, use local vendors for printing, products, food services, etc.

Food Services:

  • If your event is on‐campus, contact Classic Fare Catering for options that are local, organic, or in-season.
  • If your event is off-campus, look for caterers that can provide local, organic and in-season food options.
  • For all events, it’s important to be sure you’re offering vegetarian and/or vegan options to attendees.
  • Consider other resources, like the Marine Stewardship Council, for guidance on sustainably harvested seafood. This can be found online, or even downloaded as a smartphone application. Monterey Bay Seafood Watch has a website and app:
  • If you’re hosting a larger event with plated lunch or dinner sessions, ask attendees to register for meals to better estimate quantities and reduce potential excess, rather than hosting an open buffet.
  • When there are leftovers, allow guests to take home portions or consider donating them to local food assistance programs. Or, you can work with Facilities Services to provide compost collection for food waste that cannot be donated.
  • Leftover organic food waste can also be taken care of by Gainesville Compost, a pedal‐powered community compost network that offers pickup of compostable items from events. Alternately, the Student Compost Cooperative has compost bins available for self‐pickup and drop-off.

Serving and Serviceware:

  • Use reusable utensils, plates and cups. These can often be rented through catering providers, or – for smaller events – consider buying an office set (new or secondhand) to use over and over again. You can also encourage people to bring their own mugs, plates and utensils!
  • If reusable items are not feasible, opt for items that are BPI-certified compostable and/or paper products made with recycled content.
  • Avoid individually packaged items (from butter or cream cheese, to sugar packets, ketchup, snacks such as chips or candy or bottled/can drinks). Share these desires with your caterer.
  • Avoid overly packaged meals, but if you do pursue a boxed‐lunch, consider working with Gator Dining Services and Classic Fare Catering to utilize their reusable to‐go program.
  • Remind attendees on numerous occasions to bring their own water bottles and coffee mugs, or consider these as a giveaway option.

Decorating & Purchasing:

  • Use reusable tablecloths and napkins if possible, rather than plastic or paper. These items can be rented from local vendors.
  • Utilize natural décor, like plants or produce that enhance beauty, reflect a connection to nature and can serve a purpose post‐event, and/or use décor that can be reused for future events.
  • If purchasing floral arrangements, try to source flowers that are in season and grown locally.
  • Allow attendees to take home natural centerpieces, like plants and flowers, and donate whatever isn’t taken to hospitals, nursing homes, etc.
  • Research sustainable materials to use for banners and signage, or use materials that can be recycled or composted after the event.
  • Consider reuse for other events when designing and choosing decor such as garland, reusable lights, or columns. For recurring events, avoid using specific dates on signs/banners so that those items can be used more than once.
  • Utilize signage as another opportunity to communicate the importance of sustainability and the event’s efforts to attendees. Consider highlighting the sustainable aspects of your event (i.e. “We’re recycling and composting to save the environment!”)

Social Sustainability:

“Social Sustainability requires that the cohesion of society and its ability to work towards common goals be maintained. Individual needs, such as those for health and well-being, nutrition, shelter, education and cultural expression should be met.” (R. Gilbert, R. Stevenson, D. Girardet, H.,& Stren, R (1996). Making cities work: The role of local authorities in the urban environment. )

  • If possible, gear your event towards the local community. Support local departments or organizations from UF and the Gainesville area.
  • Raise awareness. Include panels or lectures about prominent social issues such as human trafficking or education inequality into your programming of the event to educate attendees. This can also be a great way to incorporate local non‐ profits or NGOs into your event.
  • Find a way to give back. Support a local non‐profit or NGO by collecting monetary or other donations for them at your event. Examples would include allowing attendees to bring 5 canned goods to attend the event for free, or donating 10% of the money raised from the event to a local non‐profit. Additionally, you can promote local NGOs and non‐profits at your event by including information about how to donate time or money to the organization in your programming or emails to attendees.
  • Increase human capital. Offer sessions or panels that teach practical skills or provide resources to your attendees. This will increase their human capital and thus their quality of life. Examples would be LGBTQA Ally Workshops, Conflict‐ Resolution Workshops, or informational sessions about improving time management skills. (HR training link?)
  • Be inclusive. Reach out specifically to organizations that you think can benefit the most from your event but also publicize to the entire UF and Gainesville community so that anyone may improve their quality of life by attending your event.

Economic Sustainability:

Economic sustainability “concerns the specification of a set of actions to be taken by present persons that will not diminish the prospects of future persons to enjoy levels of consumption, wealth, utility, or welfare comparable to those enjoyed by present persons” (Daniel Bromley, 2008).  

  • Conserve resources. Spend your money wisely:
    • Reduce printing costs by choosing to promote electronically and by word of mouth instead.
    • Invest in signage that can be reused for years to come by not putting dates on them. Another idea is to invest in a banner that only has your department or student organization name on it so that it can be used for many different events.
  • Promote socio‐economic equity.
    • Use a sliding scale for registration payments or offer “early bird” registration prices, scholarships, or student rates so that all people have an equal chance of being able to attend your event without worry of financial constraints.
  • Support the local economy.
    • Involve locally owned businesses as much as possible. Use local caterers, printing companies, composters, speakers, and staff to benefit the local economy.
  • Look for creative ways to reduce costs: Try to only charge attendees a minimum amount for registration to cover the cost of the event or donate the excess profit to a local NGO or non‐profit. Apply for grants, Student Government money, or other funding options so that registration prices can be lowered or more money can go towards supporting the local economy.

Section 4: Hosting:

Here are a few more things to keep in mind when planning a sustainable event:

Conserving energy

    • Turn off any lights/equipment that are not in use.
    • Try using a venue that has multiple events going on so that a whole building (if very large) is not just being heated or cooled for your event.
    • If you require a vendor for lighting needs, ask if LED lights are available.
    • Turn off projectors in between and after presentations. This also helps prolonging the life of the bulbs.
    • Look for naturally lit rooms or spaces if event runs during daylight hours.

Education and engagement for participants

    • Highlight the steps the event site and/or other contractors have taken to become more sustainable.
    • Empower attendees to help you meet sustainability goals.
    • Include information about your organization’s sustainability goals and efforts in event programs and during opening and closing addresses. Be proud and share your efforts.

Waste management on campus

    • Be sure to use adequate signage to remind attendees to recycle and providing instructions how, as well as inform them of the different steps to take to make the event more eco‐friendly.
    • Coordinate with Facilities Services to ensure proper pickup of trash and recycling: Dale Morris, Solid Waste Coordinator,
    • Provide ample receptacles for recyclables and compostable that are clearly labeled and sensibly located:
    • Name badges: ask attendees to reuse their name badges, bring their own from previous events, or turn them back in for your unit to use again at other events.

Evaluating and celebrating success

    • Gather all evaluations and publish results on the event or organization website, along with next steps to continue meeting sustainability goals.
    • When asking for participant feedback on the event, include sustainability in the questionnaire (preferably gathered electronically). Ask them if they noticed efforts for sustainability or engaged in opportunities you presented them with.

Other considerations

    • Consider off‐setting the carbon impact of your entire event. This can be done by purchasing carbon offsets for the emissions the event generated through food production, electricity and transportation. For more information, visit
    • Confirm the venue is ADA compliant and have a hearing impairment specialist available.
    • Use the event as an opportunity for community service: collect food, toiletries or school supplies for local organizations at the event or host a service event related to your purpose.
    • Give attendees reusable bags, mugs or non‐BPA water bottles, or encourage them to bring their own to the event.
    • Consider promoting other sustainability events happening in the area during that time, and provide guests with information on things to do to appreciate the community’s natural spaces and culture.