Sustainability doesn’t have to cost the earth. H&E North explores how you can make your events as environmentally-friendly as possible when it comes to catering, while cutting costs and boosting your brand image.

More event planners than ever are waking up to the fact that sustainability isn’t simply a fad, but a crux the success of their business will inevitably come to rest on. While playing an important role in preserving our ecosystem, a push towards sustainability also gives event planners the opportunity to produce a superior offering and attract more custom from the increasingly environmentally-conscious consumer. Rather than seeing it as a box that requires ticking, we need to start thinking of how we can build our events to be sustainable from the ground up.

Focusing on your food and drink offering is a great place to start. Just by asking yourself a few simple questions before you begin arranging your catering, you can fundamentally reduce the environmental impact of your event, reducing wastage and expenditure in the process. It not only gives your PR something to shout about, but adds another distinctive layer to your brand identity, positioning your business as one that cares in a climate of consumer backlash against perceived corporate excess.

With this year’s London Marathon reportedly producing seven tonnes of plastic waste destined for landfill, bottled water is the primary culprit for needless waste at large-scale events. Offering tap water in reusable pitchers will slash costs. If supplying bottled water is unavoidable, source water in biodegradable corn-based bottles, or at the very least, ensure the bottles are recyclable. Plastic crockery and cutlery is a similarly unnecessary offender when   bulk providers of plant-based biodegradable cups, plates and cutlery are inexpensive and abundant. Sachets of tea and coffee are expensive and a faff – buying in bulk and dispensing with individually packaged foods and beverages is another eco-friendly route to saving costs and delegates’ patience, pre-made pots of coffee averting the snares of fiddly sachets.

When it comes to the main meal, a small helping of forethought goes a long way to satisfying both delegates and your accountant. Try and work with your caterer to curate a menu around fresh, seasonal produce. Not only are seasonal ingredients invariably cheaper than those out-of-season, but they taste better too. Rather than going out of your way to source the exotic ingredient of the day your chef might be itching to experiment with, nothing goes down better with delegates than a nod to their local area.  Tracking down the best in local produce gives your chef the opportunity to base their menu around what’s tasting good right now, reducing air miles and delivery costs while ensuring farm-to-plate freshness. Demonstrating your business is working in-tandem with the region and contributing to the local economy will have your delegates on-side before they can ask for second helpings.

Knowing how big appetites will be on the day is another key method to avoiding tossing away food and money. Uneaten food often goes straight to landfill, generating methane as it decomposes – 20 times more damaging to the ozone than CO2 – so make sure you run the numbers on attendees prior to ordering supplies. Encourage attendees to book their meals in advance and enquire what sessions they aim to attend to size-up requirements for the day. Reducing portion sizes is an effective way to ensure you won’t be over-ordering, and with inevitable no-shows, you can feel safe in the knowledge no one will be leaving hungry.

Some surplus is unavoidable. But if you do find you end up with an excess of unused ingredients, consider working with a food waste redistribution service to donate leftovers that would otherwise go to landfill. Services such as The Real Junk Food Project work with businesses to intercept leftovers and redistribute them through a network of pay-as-you-feel cafes, food banks and school partnerships.

Don’t be afraid of wonky fruit and vegetables. While you might be sacrificing looks, you won’t be sacrificing flavour. By talking directly to local suppliers, you can snap up the batches many supermarkets won’t, saving perfectly good produce from landfill, all for a fraction of the usual price. Encourage your chef to be creative, disguising the more unsightly of your haul in vegetable purees or fruit compotes.

Meat free options are a necessity at every event. Yet even with the UK non-meat eating population at the highest it has ever been; these are the dishes most frequently discarded. Rather than providing a vegetarian option as an aside, think about keeping your entire menu meat free. A recent UN Food and Agriculture Organisation report suggests livestock are accountable for over 15% of greenhouse gas emissions; equal to those created by the entire planet’s cars, planes, boats and trains. Cutting meat from your menu not only saves on margins but will make a statement that shows your brand is mindful of the contemporary issues our planet faces. As we’re all increasingly being made aware of the health implications of eating too much meat, providing guests with a healthier alternative makes for a win-win.

With a little preparation, the difference you can make to your event’s eco-footprint is huge. Now one of the main criteria clients and delegates are looking to event planners to fulfil, these small decisions you make can add up to the success or failure of your function. When the benefits are so abundantly clear for the planet, the customer and your bottom line, it’s an easy choice to make.