Sustainable Events Guide

Making a difference, one event at a time

Hosting an event with sustainability in mind reflects our commitment to environmental stewardship and social responsibility. This guide offers practical steps and innovative ideas to help you reduce the environmental footprint of your events while still ensuring a memorable experience for all attendees. Whether it’s a small gathering or a large conference, these tips and best practices will empower you to make positive choices that benefit our planet and communities.

The Climate Justice & Sustainability Hub can work with you to align your event practices with our university-wide

sustainability goals.

Quick Tips

New to sustainable event planning? Try a few of our quick tips to get started. 


  • Say No to Plastics: Avoid single-use plastics, including cups, straws, and cutlery. 
  • Reusable Serviceware: Use large beverage dispensers and ask guests to bring their cups/water bottles.  
  • Reusable Décor: Purchase reusable décor and avoid dates on signage and apparel. 
  • Intentional Giveaways: Choose swag that guests will reuse.  
  • Sustainable Menu: Emphasize local, organic, healthy, and plant-based options. 
  • Inclusive Vendors: Opt for women and minority-owned businesses to contribute to a just economy. 
  • Plan for Leftovers: Ask guests to take leftovers and/or post extra food to the FeedShare App. 
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Make a plan to reduce waste and give clear instructions on what can be recycled and composted. 

Food, Drinks & Catering

Food can be a major part of an event. Selecting a caterer, planning the menu and ensuring proper management of food and materials all contribute to the sustainability and environmental impact of your event.  

Selecting a caterer

  •  Support minority and locally owned businesses to decrease emissions from transportation and help contribute to a just and regenerative economy. See the Northeastern created catering list with categories for Black owned, Latino owned, and Woman owned businesses by neighborhood. There is also a list specific to merchants in Nubian Square.  
  • Ask the caterer about their sustainable practices including the use of local and organic ingredients, utilizing reusable or compostable service ware, and how they minimize food waste.  
  Minority Owned  Women Owned  Locally Owned  Sustainable Operations 
Fresh Food Generation  X  X  X  X 
SweetGreen        X 
Basil Tree    X  X  X 

Menu choices

Include vegetarian and vegan options, as well as gluten-free options. Consider having a plant-based menu and give attendees the choice to opt into meat/dairy. Be sure food is labeled with common allergens.

  • A recent study by Oxford University researchers found that individual carbon footprints can be reduced by 73 percent simply by switching to a plant-based diet.

Choose finger foods such as sandwiches or appetizers that don’t require utensils.

Sample menu ideas:

      • Breakfast ideas: fresh fruit, oatmeal, granola, whole grain bagels or breads, plant-based yogurts
      • Lunch ideas: plant-based whole grain sandwiches or wraps, fruit, vegetables with hummus, veggie burgers, grain bowls with couscous or quinoa or brown rice, salad bowls
      • Snacks: fruits, oatmeal, trail mix, popcorn, nut mixes.


  • Use pitchers or large water bottle dispensers (cambros) and promote water bottle refill stations.
  • Consider adding fruit, vegetables or herbs to pitchers of water for flavor and presentation.  
  • If coffee is served, encourage guests to bring their own mugs. Provide a non-dairy alternative with tea and coffee.   

    Leftover food strategies

    • Have attendees RSVP to help determine how much food and drink to order to avoid excessive leftovers. 
    • Provide reusable takeout containers or request attendees to bring their own to carry home any leftovers. 
    • Use the app FeedShare to notify Northeastern community members that there is free food available. 

    Waste Reduction and Recycling 

    Northeastern is committed to responsible and sustainable materials management. Through policies and practices focused on reducing, reusing, and recycling materials, the university diverts approximately 48% of materials from landfills (2022) Question about waste and recycling? Contact

    Reduce Waste

    • Avoid buying items that will be used once and then thrown away. 
    • Buy condiments, snacks, and other single-use items in bulk rather than individual packets.  
    • Borrow reusable service ware from a nearby kitchen rather than automatically using disposables from the caterer when possible(don’t forget to request any disposables from the caterer).

      Massachusetts banned textile disposal: Plan ahead and either reuse or donate clothes and textiles.  Additional information and resources can be found on the website. If using cloth tablecloths, wash and reuse them or rent them from a company that will. 


    • Avoid materials that aren’t easily recyclable (i.e. Styrofoam, plastic bags). Aluminum is infinitely recyclable, unlike plastic.  
    • Encourage proper recycling by announcing instructions and consider posting additional signage. For an event using disposable supplies, only clear plastic cups and drink bottles/cans could go in recycling. 
    • For large events, order a large, portable recycling and trash bin through facilities that can accommodate larger items (e.g. plastic catering trays).  

    Although event compost service is not available at this time, the University is exploring how we can increase access to compost service across campus including piloting at selected events.  

    Signage and Invitations  

    Navigating event communication with an eco-conscious lens? Explore best practices for creating sustainable signage and invitations, ensuring your event resonates both thoughtfully and green.

    Invitations and Advertisement

    • Use the digital signage boards around campus rather than posters (form for Curry Student Center boards here).
    • Advertise on social media and use digital invitations (email, Eventbrite).
    • Provide information related to sustainability on virtual invitations:
      • Reusables: “Please consider bringing a coffee cup or reusable water bottle to reduce the environmental impact of this event”
      • Transportation: “Please consider taking a sustainable mode of transportation to this event. Learn more here.”
    • If larger physical signs are used, try to avoid using dates so that they can be reused in the future.

    Paperless event

    • Share handouts and meeting agendas digitally by using a QR code or projecting them at the event.
    • Collect and reuse any name tag holders. If the meeting is a recurring event, create reusable name tags that will be collected at the end of the meeting.


    Event Purchasing  

    Reusing décor and materials can be cost effective and sustainable when organizing events. While giveaways can enhance an attendee’s experience, many trivial items are discarded. Similar to catering, consider supporting a minority or women owned retail business to support an equitable economy.


    • Avoid single-use decorations, instead, use reusable decorations that can match with a wide variety of events and themes. 
    • Don’t put dates or other limiting information on t-shirts, banners, and decorations so they can be reused. 
    • Opt for plants instead of cut flowers. Plants can also be great party favors for your guests! 
      Sustainable Decoration Ideas:  Decorations to Avoid
      • Cloth tablecloths and banners 
      • String LED Lights 
      • Art 
      • Plants 
      • Plastic Tablecloths 
      • Confetti 
      • Balloons 
      • Single-use items 


    • Replace material giveaways with experiences or raffle prizes (e.g. Bluebikes Membership). 
    • Ensure any giveaways are durable and useful so it is less likely to be thrown away (e.g. Notebooks, reusable totes, mugs). 
    • Request plastic-free packaging whenever possible. 
    • Seek products and companies that are certified or ethically made. 


    Alternative Transportation  

    Alternative modes of transportation provide reduced commuting costs, reduced stress, improved health, and benefit the environment. Northeastern is centrally located to several public transportation options, including the MBTA subway, bus, and commuter rail lines, Amtrak, and bikeshare, so make sure your event attendees know about them and how to use them.  

    Useful Tips

    • Encourage guests to use public transportation when possible.  
    • Provide information about bike racks on campus and near the event location. 
    • The Northeastern Boston campus has three Bluebike stations; a full map of all Bluebike stations can be found here.
    • If people are looking to use electric vehicles, they can utilize the Northeastern EV chargers at no  additional charge above the regular cost to park.
    • Consider whether an in-person meeting is necessary or if remote attendance or hybrid is possible, especially if air travel is required.
    • Learn more about Alternative Transporation here. 


    Northeastern University is committed to providing inclusivity and accessibility in campus events.

    Key Points

    • Consult Northeastern’s Disability Resource Center for ideas on how to make your event more accessible.
    • Consider having guests introduce themselves, including their pronouns or encourage guests to write their pronouns on their nametags.
    • Plan ahead for dietary preferences and label all food with common allergens.



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