Green Events Planning

A toolkit for the UCF Community

A message from the students behind this project...

The University of Central Florida is going green and we are here to help!  As part of a senior project for our Environmental Studies Capstone course, we teamed up with UCF Sustainability Initiatives to promote sustainable practices within campus events.  The goal is to engage the student community in conserving as much of our resources as possible so that future students attending our campus can enjoy them as well.  If you want to host an event on campus, join us in our efforts to reduce food waste, energy use, and improve recycling through green event planning!

Jennifer Schuaber, Shirley Arias, and Aidan Gallagher.


Imagine a whole college stadium worth of food being wasted every single day.1  The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates more than 130 billion pounds of food are wasted every year in the United States; that’s over 30% of our food supply!2  Not only does this put our food security, resources and environment at risk, but this costly concern – 160 billion dollars loss– encourages us to step up to the plate!

How can we at The Office of Sustainability Initiatives help reduce as much of our food waste or waste in general on campus? By helping future planners integrate sustainable practices during their events.

To integrate food sustainably into your event and mitigate waste:

Prevention is key to waste management.  To integrate sustainable food practices within the initial stages of your event:

  • Do the math of how much food is needed for the number of people attending your event.
  • Encourage attendees to RSVP in advance so you can order the appropriate amount of food or meals.
  • Know your event.  Account for the length and break times during the event to plan snacks or meals accordingly.
  • Be aware of attendees’ special dietary restrictions or needs such as vegan, vegetarian, nut allergies, gluten or dairy-free.
  • Label your foods properly to avoid waste from unwanted or unknown ingredients.
  • Place food near recycling and waste bins so that attendees are encouraged to properly dispose of their waste.
Healthy isn’t always synonymous with sustainable.  Some foods may be considered healthy but their production practices may have negative environmental impacts.4  To incorporate foods sustainably in your event:
  • Select foods that do not require cutlery or serving utensils.
  • Select bulk foods or a buffet style lunch to avoid waste from individual packaging.
  • Know the shelf life and storage requirements of your food to avoid waste from improper handling.
  • Select in-house catering and choose caterers that already implement green practices (such as Aramark at UCF).
  • Plan your meals in accordance to the season.  By choosing organic, local, and or seasonal foods you not only reduce your environmental impact but improve their nutrient efficiency.
  • Offer fewer meals containing meats, specially beef.  Instead, offer more vegetarian, chicken or turkey meals.  According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), methane released from meat production is 25x more effective at trapping atmospheric heat than carbon dioxide.5

Choosing sustainable products can sometimes be tricky.  To ensure your food choices are in fact sustainable look out for these packaging seals:

  • Rainforest Alliance Certified™6 logo to support farmers and ecosystem maintenance.
  • Fair Trade Certified™7 logo on coffee and or snacks to ensure farmers are receiving a fair price for their agricultural labor.
  • Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)8 certified seafood to ensure that marine species are safe and support sustainable aquaculture practices.
  • Offer Shade Grown Coffee9 to support sustainable agriculture by protecting bird habitats, rainforests and reducing the amount of chemicals used during production.

Single use plastics are becoming a major environmental concern as they pollute our waterways, threaten wildlife and even our health.  By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans!10 To prevent excess waste from single-use plastics used for dining:

  • Aim for reusable tableware or offer recycled, recyclable, or biodegradable such as paper cups, straws and plates.
  • Avoid the automatic distribution of eating containers or utensils and instead allow your attendees to grab what they need.
  • Offer napkins instead of plates for smaller bite sized foods.
  • Ask your caterer if they can provide reusable tableware such as washable plates, silverware, cups, tablecloths and napkins.
  • Offer fountain water whenever possible or use pitchers to decrease your plastic waste.
  • BYO- Encourage attendees to bring their own metal straws, refillable water bottles or refillable coffee cups.
  • Provide bamboo or paper straws.  Straws are a common single use plastic as most recyclers do not accept plastic straws.

A lot of time, effort and resources go into food production; yet food remains the single largest waste – over 20% –  in municipal landfills.11 When we waste food we are wasting precious resources such as water, nutrients and energy.  As food decomposes, it releases methane, which adds to our greenhouse gas emissions, further polluting our planet.12  Not just this, but around 1 in 8 Americans face food insecurity in the United States.13  If you have meals or food left over from your event:

  • Separate organic waste from recyclable or reusable materials so that you minimize landfill waste and increase recycling.
  • Take account of the number of attendees, amount of food left over and consumed so that you may better prepare for future events.
  • Share leftover food with others by sending a free-meal alert to your attendees, planners or others so they can take the remaining food with them.
  • Donate to organizations within UCF (Knights Pantry) or outside of campus such as shelters, soup kitchens or local food banks.  See below for points of contact for more information.

Below are points of contact and resources that will help you implement sustainable food practices in your event planning:

UCF Catering Services14

UCF has an approved list of catering vendors15  you can use for your catering needs.  Ask your caterer about their sustainability efforts.  Sometimes vendors already implement sustainable practices, such as Aramark’s Green Thread16 commitment to reducing their environmental impact by sourcing responsibly, minimizing waste, operating efficiently and managing transportation.

Knights Helping Knights Pantry17

Have any leftover canned foods or non-perishable items? Donate them to The Knights Pantry18.  A study done across several campuses in the U.S. showed that 1 in 5 college students face food insecurity.19

Local Food Banks

If you have food you would like to donate to an organization or charity outside of UCF please visit the EPA’s Sustainable Food Management20  website for further details.

Reduce Reuse Recycle

According to the EPA, in 2015, the United States generated about 262.4 million tons of trash, and almost half of it ended up in the landfills!21 But here at UCF we believe that small changes can lead to bigger impacts.  For instance, did you know that recycling 1 aluminum can saves enough energy to power a television for 3 hours?22 Or that all the recyclable materials currently in the United States waste stream could generate about $7 billion in revenue?23  

Here at UCF, we are doing our part by providing you with the right tools so “Reduce Reuse Recycle” becomes your driving mantra while planning an event.  It saves money, reduces your carbon footprint, and conserves natural resources. Below are some tips on how to reduce, reuse, and recycle at your green event!

Easiest way to cut down your waste is to not make it in the first place.  Reducing your use of new materials makes a huge impact on the planet.

  • Prevents pollution.
  • Saves energy and money.
  • Reduces the amount of trash that is thrown away.
  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions caused by creating new materials.

Here are tips on how to reduce and reuse at your green event:

  • Use electronic invitations, pamphlets, brochures,  presentations, etc to cut down on paper waste.
  • Don’t give away too much swag at your event to reduce the chance of it ending up as trash. If you do want to have takeaway items, make sure they are from sustainable sources (from recycled materials) and are recyclable/biodegradable.
  • Use items that have less packaging and buy in bulk whenever possible.
  • Instead of buying new items, buy second-hand, rent or even borrow.
  • Keep items such as banners, advertisements, decorations, etc., to reuse for your next event.
  • If you have to buy new, buy items made from sustainable materials (recycled, recyclable or biodegradable).
  • Get reusable items instead of disposable ones; for example, use pitchers, reusable cups, actual silverware and plates instead of new disposable plastic ones.
  • Pay it forward!  Let other groups reuse your items at their events so that they can also cut down on waste and the need for new materials; or donate your leftover materials to local charities.

Donating the leftover materials from your event is a great way to give back to your local community, as well as reduce waste and cut down on pollution.  Tax benefits may also be available for charitable contributions.

To donate items after your event, contact your local:

Recycling is incredibly important to the sustainability movement:

  • Materials are reused instead of thrown away.
  • Reduces amount of waste that ends up in landfills.
  • Reduces pollution from the creation of new materials.
  • Creates green jobs in the recycling and waste management sectors.
  • Conserves natural resources by reducing the need for new raw materials.
  • Sets a model for others to follow leading to positive environmental impacts.

Here are some tips on how to recycle at your event to make it green!

  • Reach out to Facilities Operations27 to request recycling and trash bins for your event.
  • Place recycling bins near convenient areas such as the food tables, trash cans and exits to facilitate recycling.
  • Advertise and announce that you are recycling at your event so your attendees are aware of your efforts and become active participants.
  • Have event staff/volunteers stationed at the recycling bins to help educate guests on how to properly recycle and to answer questions, making it interactive and educational!
  • Try and use as many reusable or recyclable materials at your event as possible (cutlery, plates, napkins, boxes, paper, plastic cups)
  • Here’s a list of the materials UCF recycles28
    • Paper and cardboard
    • Plastics 1-7
    • Aluminum cans
    • Pallets
    • Scrap metal

Once you are ready to Reduce-Reuse-Recycle, reach out to any of the contacts below for assistance:


Energy is one of the biggest areas of waste at events, so when managing a green event, controlling energy use is key. While it’s necessary to utilize energy for events, there are many easy ways to reduce energy use.

  • Offer a live streaming option if there are people invited who live far away.
  • If possible, hold the event during the day in order to utilize natural light as much as possible.
  • Only run the minimum lighting and equipment (computers, projectors, etc.) needed until the event actually begins.
  • For an impact that extends beyond the event, offer giveaways that encourage attendees to think about energy use, such as solar powered phone chargers.
  • Consult UCF’s list of Leed certified buildings to see if the event can be held at any of these buildings.
  • Encourage carpooling or the use of UCF’s shuttle service, especially if it is a student event. 

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. A LEED certified building typically uses 30% less energy and 40% less water than a non certified building.33  UCF’s commitment to constructing energy efficient buildings has resulted in 24 LEED certified campus buildings.34  While planning an event, utilizing one of these buildings is an excellent way to reduce energy costs. There are several buildings such as Global UCF, UCF RWC, and the Fairwinds Alumni Center, that may be better suited for events. The most appropriate building will depend on the event.       

  • Fairwinds Alumni Center
  • UCF Band Building
  • UCF Burnett School of Biomedical Science
  • Career Services and Experiential Learning
  • Classroom Building II
  • UCF Fraternity and Sorority Life
  • Global UCF
  • UCF Greek House 409
  • UCF Greek House 411
  • UCF Laboratory and Environmental Support
  • UCF Medical Education Building
  • Morgridge International Reading Center
  • UCF Neptune Building 156
  • Performing Arts Center
  • Physical Sciences Building Phase 1
  • Physical Sciences Building Phase 2
  • UCF Public Safety Building
  • Recreation and Wellness Center
  • Trevor Colbourn Hall
  • UCF Visitor and Parking Information
  • Wayne Densch Center for Student-Athlete Leadership

Their Open Energy Information System provides statistics on energy use at UCF.

It pays to be energy efficient! Since 2007 alone, UCF has saved $31 million in energy use as a result of their Climate Action Plan.35 Being energy conscious can greatly reduce the overall cost of an event. Organizing a green event is a great way to contribute to UCF’s goal of being as sustainable as possible. In addition, event attendees may connect more with a company or organization that shows it cares about the environment and is taking conscious steps to be eco-friendly. In addition, this is a great way to create a positive image for your company/organization. Actions such as carpooling can also greatly reduce CO2 use associated with the event. Since the United States accounts for a significant portion of global carbon dioxide emissions (about 15%), taking steps, however small, to reduce this percentage is important.36


We have made a digital copy of our Green Events Planning Toolkit brochure available here.


At the Office of Sustainability Initiatives, we know that planning can get a little hectic.  To make your planning easier, we have already made a checklist you could use as a guide when greening your event.

What's in it for me?

Aside from becoming a steward of our earth, your efforts in reducing waste and using resources more sustainably not only ensures we can all enjoy these for years to come, but will save you money that could be used for future event planning.

Also, let your audience know about your green event planning efforts so they understand and support your sustainable practices.


For a full list of all sources, click here.