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Green practice: dreaming of a green Christmas

Every Issue

Cite as: (2008) 82(12) LIJ, p.86

’Tis not the season to be jolly irresponsible and forget about your “green” ambitions when it comes to events, functions and meetings.

Hosting events is an effective way for firms to promote their brand and values – to clients, to staff and to the legal community.

If you want your brand to reflect a commitment to sustainability, events can greatly enhance or undermine that message, both internally and externally.

This doesn’t mean putting a green coat of paint over business as usual, but rather improving sustainability so that it is both meaningful and visible.

Firms can buy all the green power they want, but if their public face has a disposable and unsustainable feel, this perception can come to dominate. Fairly or not, environmental commitments will often be evaluated against the most visible actions.

On the flip side, visible (even small) green touches at events can send powerful signals that you are committed to sustainability and can be an effective way to influence behaviour and promote change in corporate culture and professional norms. These benefits are in addition to savings in cash and carbon that can be made from reducing waste (as discussed in previous Green Practice columns).

Influencing behaviour

Because you only have a short amount of time with your audience at events, if you want to promote green behaviour you should make it as easy and convenient as possible.

Green Practice is aware of a recent conference where organisers gave all attendees the option of offsetting their flight emissions. Attendees who chose to offset their flights received conference passes on green lanyards, those who didn’t received ordinary black lanyards.

It didn’t take long before attendees got talking and worked out the difference. Late requests to offset flights started flooding in to the organisers.

This tactic is known as “eco-badging”. Eco-badging makes a typically invisible behaviour visible and motivates people by appealing to our need to promote an image that is respected by their peers. It’s the same principle at work in the massive uptake of green shopping bags.

Firms can use this same principle to their advantage when hosting functions and events.


Food is an important part of a successful event. Vegetarian food sends a stronger message, but is often a polarising issue. A good first step is to seek locally produced food to reduce food miles. Organic is also good – saving on pesticides and insecticides. If meat is a must, firms can request organic or sustainably farmed options – kangaroo sandwiches anyone?

Many “green” events have undermined their message by using disposable cups, plates, cutlery and excess packaging. These should be avoided where reusable or recycled options are available. There are some innovative cutlery options available.1

For more information on green catering, see Sustainability Victoria’s Waste Wise Catering Toolkit.2


Firms should offer electronic rather than printed promotional or educational material. A CD or webpage is better for searching and storage than a folder of materials that goes straight into the third drawer and is never opened again. Moreover, electronic options create opportunities for innovative branding through different interfaces, videos or activities.

Firms should also reduce, re-use and recycle all of the conference paraphernalia they hand out – name badges, pens, pads and so on. If an item is essential, firms can make a better impression by sourcing eco-friendly products rather than the usual disposable swag.

Travel to the event

This is an area where it is easy to make big reductions. Every flight not taken saves substantial emissions,3 let alone the flight cost and lost billable time in transit. Obviously, a virtual meeting is not appropriate for all kinds of events, but in many cases teleconference or video link-up will be an acceptable substitute for meetings. In many cases, clients will prefer to have a meeting without having to pay for the flight.


When choosing a venue for a larger event or forum, give consideration to the overall footprint of the event.

There is an emerging market of green conference organisers which take into account the sustainability of the building, the power supply and transport options. Green Practice has not been able to find a simple “find a Green Star venue” website, and would welcome the development of such a resource.

Hosting a sustainable event means more than just recycling the rubbish afterwards.

You send a message through where you host it, how people get there and what materials they take away. Simple changes can reduce the impact of your events, in terms of costs and carbon emissions. In many cases, your existing supplier will have more sustainable options available, so there is little transition cost.

Making sustainability visible also changes expectations of participants and staff, which strengthens your sustainability credentials and raises awareness in the legal profession.

Sustainable means:

  • Source food locally
  • Identify an energy efficient venue
  • Reward green behaviour

Disposable means:

  • Single-use catering supplies
  • Unnecessary printing
  • Carbon intensive travel

ROLAND DILLON is Young Lawyers’ Section (YLS) Community Issues Committee chair. This column is coordinated by the LIV YLS. For more information on the YLS, see

1. See for cutlery made from starch.

2. See

3. A return flight from Melbourne to Perth would result in just under one tonne of carbon dioxide emissions being emitted, which is equivalent to around 6 x 60W lightbulbs lit continuously for one year.


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