Sustainability and conferences

Recent years have seen a growing focus on sustainability, recycling and ecology. At Aarhus University we are also committed to organising and holding conferences and events in a more sustainable way. We’re taking these steps because we want to take responsibility for the society we are part of. But in fact, we have also discovered that in many cases we can save resources – and thus save on costs – by approaching things differently. By making a few small adjustments and putting a little effort in planning and holding your conference, you can make a big (sustainable) difference – while also sending an important signal about AU’s priorities and values. If you’re interested in learning more about how Aarhus University is working to contribute to sustainable development through research and education as well as its own operations, find out more here.

You can do a lot yourself to make your events more sustainable. We’ve put together some inspiring suggestions and tips below.

Here is a list of some of the simple, common-sense changes you can make that will make your conference more sustainable. You can either select one or a few to focus on or decide to go all in, before and during the conference – click below and find inspiration:

Before and during the conference

Food and refreshments

Food and refreshments

  • Talk about ecology, vegetarian options and sustainability with AU’s cafeterias when you make a booking with them. You can consider asking them to prepare meals based on the new food pyramid or to incorporate protein in the form of legumes (read more about this on the right-hand side of the page). You can also ‘reuse’ the fruit you have ordered, and agree with the canteen to only partially replenish the fruit on the second day instead of placing a full order again. Ask them about the possibility of filling water bottles if you choose to use AU’s reusable water bottles (currently, there are only water fountains in select locations – such as the Lakeside Lecture Theatres, by the Main Hall on Ringgaden, and in the S building on Fuglesangs Allé).
  • Recommend green/organic restaurants in Aarhus if participants are dining on their own – find a link on the right-hand side of this page.
  • When you book your conference dinner or other meals, request more sustainable options from the restaurant – discuss organic products and vegetarian options with them, ask about their policies on food waste, and suggest that they provide doggy bags if that makes sense for your event.
  • Consider which initiatives can be implemented to reuse leftovers and minimize food waste – for example, send leftovers home with your helpers or ask whether any students want them.
  • Create a field on your registration form where the participants have to indicate they would like the meat catering option (as opposed to the vegetarian option) or just stick to 100 per cent vegetarian food, which is now the default at meetings and events at AU. Communicate your choices if needed.
  • Be careful when estimating the number of participants so that you avoid as much food waste as possible. Consider whether there might be any no-shows – and talk to the canteen about how to avoid food waste in the best way possible.
  • Consider other options than a buffet if this is possible (as a rule, buffets waste more food than) –for example, you might order plated meals for lunch/dinner. If a buffet is the best option for you, you should talk to the cafeteria about doing a buffet of small plates/courses and food that can be set out as needed. Serve foot in plated portions or serve a sandwich and a piece of fruit.
  • Consider shared food – talk to the cafeteria about what the best solution is, and how they handle food waste. Consider packed lunches, for example on the last day, so that there are no left-overs.
  • Discuss what organic and vegetarian options are available with the canteen, as well as tableware options. Glass/crockery aren’t always the best options, because washing up is energy-intensive. Ask them!
  • Replace regular plastic bottles with our sustainable water bottles that can be refilled and reused many times (you can put labels with names on them that can be taken off after the conference). You might need a plan for how to fill and refill the bottles – your guests might not like to fill them in the bathroom.
  • Have jugs of tap water during the meals – remember to tell the participants that Danish tap water is potable and actually tastes great.
  • Discuss organic and vegetarian options with your conference dinner venue.
  • Discuss how to handle food waste with the cafeteria/supplier (e.g. having students take the leftovers – for example advertised on Facebook for half an hour after lunch). Please note than any agreement on delivering food to a third party must be approved by the cafeteria in question out of regard for hygiene rules, etc.

Legumes on the menu

One of the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration’s seven new dietary recommendations is that we should all eat less meat and more legumes – ideally 100 grams a day (cooked weight). Beans, lentils and peas are all legumes; there are many varieties, but all of them are among the healthiest plant-based sources of protein available. They are not only filling and a good source of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals – they are also a cheaper, more climate-friendly alternative to meat. So keep legumes in mind when you’re planning catering for your next conference or event. Talk to AU’s canteen personnel about it – they’re very knowledgeable!

Learn more about legumes below:


Organic restaurants in and around Aarhus

Here’s a list of certified organic restaurants in and around Aarhus. Organic products are good for your health, for biodiversity and for the environment.

Remember that you can always work with conference venues and restaurants to provide more sustainable meals, for example an entirely vegetarian dinner for your conference guests.

Green catering and the seven national Danish dietary recommendations

Since August 2022, vegetarian food has been the default option for catering meetings and conferences financed by AU. Read more about this policy

Get inspiration on how to reduce food waste and refuse in AU’s green guide.

You might also want to consult the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration’s latest dietary recommendations from 2021 when deciding on the menu for your next event. The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration’s dietary recommendations can help you ensure a healthy, climate-friendly balance in what you and your conference guests eat and drink.

Hotel and accommodation

Selecting and recommending hotels


  • Select or recommend the most sustainable hotels in Aarhus – you can mention the hotel’s green profile on your website if they have one. Find information on the right-hand side via Visit Aarhus. Remember to use AU’s purchasing agreement for hotels if AU is paying for the overnight accommodation.


Transport to and from the conference

  • Consider how much and what kind of local transport you need – perhaps it makes more sense to use public transport or ‘walking busses’ (with students guiding and explaining) or consider whether the bus you book should run on biodiesel (remember to use AU’s purchasing agreement for bus transport)
  • Ask people to sign up for the conference busses you arrange so that they won’t be half-empty.
  • Make it easy for the participants to choose public transportation to and from the conference – explain it on the website and attach a map of the light rail (Letbanen) and relevant bus lines so that the guests know what to do. Encourage participants to take trains rather than planes, if possible.
  • Encourage/arrange shared transportation to/from the airport or other regions – suggest carpooling and make it the easy choice.
  • You’ll find lots of tips and facts about more sustainable travel in  AU’s green guide to transportation. They’re relevant to you personally, and you may want to challenge the participants who will be travelling to your event. So think in terms of challenging your guests to take public transportation, carpool or bike. Plan your conference so participants have time and opportunities for ‘walking bus’ trips around Aarhus (groups are accompanied on foot during the conference by a guide). There is also a carbon footprint calculator on the website you can use.
  • You’ll find more inspiration on how to transport yourself and your guests on the VisitAarhus page

Marketing and information

Marketing and information

  • Communicate on your website that we are focusing on sustainability in connection with our conferences at AU and, if relevant, what initiatives or changes this might involve at your conference. Prepare the participants for the initiatives that you have instated and, if necessary, explain why there is a need for them.
  • Make your communication digital – e.g. through web/email/app – instead of using printed materials and mailing letters.
  • Develop an app with conference information if that makes sense for your event (the mobile version of your website also works well).
  • When using printed materials: Arrange with the printing office to have the materials printed on sustainable, FSC-certified paper or ask about the possibility of printing on stone paper if that makes sense.
  • Be creative and skip the usual programme on thick paper. Consider just using an A3 key hanger programme on sustainable paper instead (the A3 can be folded down to A6 and placed in plastic pockets, which can also hold specially designed name tags). Refer participants to your website, where they can find all relevant information and updates. This is one of the big money savers!
  • Only order the conference supplies you need, and think about reusing these supplies whenever possible (e.g. avoid dates on roll ups or borrow some generic AU roll ups for your event). Make a stationery buffet so that people only take what they need (the rest can be returned to Events and Communication Support after the conference). You can also reuse the roll up cassettes by just replacing the banner.
  • Think about how to minimize banner production by making generic banners that can be used again (e.g. banners without dates), or reuse banners after your conference. For example, you could donate banners to one of the several companies that make bags and other products out of banner fabric.
  • Use AU’s new, more sustainable ‘butterfly name tags’ and remember to collect and reuse the key hangers if this makes sense for your event.

Conference supplies and layout of the venue

  • Be aware that many of the flowers available from florists are imported over long distances, so ask your supplier to use local and/or seasonal flowers, grasses etc. in bouquets and arrangements wherever possible. You can also go with plants in pots instead, so they can be reused after the event.
  • Re-use nametags, if you’re (still) using lanyards with plastic ID holders. Alternatively, you can use our more sustainable Butterfly nametags.
  • Provide a ‘buffet’ of conference materials and supplies: people will only take what they need, and may even return items like pens and pads of paper after the event. Remember to return unused conference materials and supplies to Events and Communication Support after your event.
  • If you need to use bags for your guests, consider multi-use cloth tote bags instead of plastic. In fact, consider whether you really need give-aways at all - are they necessary. Do they add anything to the experience?
  • If you need tablecloths/tableware/lighting, ask your supplier about the most sustainable options, and avoid single-use tableware if at all possible. Consider using LED lighting instead of candles.
  • You might also include a break slide on any digital information screens about your conference’s sustainability.  Explain that tap water is potable in Denmark, and that participants should write their names on their water bottles so they can reuse them (and that you are asking them to reuse them), and remind them to return their lanyard and ID tag before leaving, as well as any other conference supplies (notepads and pens, for example).
  • Follow up on the conference by sending out a digital survey to participants. Ask the participants for suggestions about more sustainable solutions in their feedback (make your questions specific, e.g. ‘Did you notice our sustainable initiatives at the conference?  Is this something you care about?  Do you have any ideas?’). Share your knowledge and experiences across AU/in the conference sharing knowledge-sharing network and with Events and Communication Support.

Planning a social programme with a sustainable theme

Planning a social programme with a sustainable theme

  • Consider including guided tours to hidden/quirky places in Aarhus such as Kulbroen, Godsbanen, small gardens or Vanebrudspalæet, or invite your guests to have coffee at ‘Skraldebaren’ at Godsbanen, where they can learn about reusing coffee grounds from the city’s cafes, cultivating fungi and much more. This presents Aarhus as a city with a focus on sustainability, collaboration and entrepreneurship.
  • Give your guests an unconventional experience that stands out and that gives them something to talk to each other about – and that they remember! This helps create value.

The refuse triangle

The refuse triangle

The refuse triangle is like an upside-down dietary pyramid – the best options are at the base. Note that direct reuse is above recycling – so it’s better to reuse things like nametags than recycling them, for example. Things that can no longer be reused should be recycled, as a matter of course.

Buy sustainable gifts and conference supplies

We're working on making our selection of gifts and merchandise more sustainable. Read more about AU's sustainable water bottles and totebags made of ecological cotton here.

Sustainable AU water bottles

Aarhus University’s  0.5-litre sustainable water bottles are available with Danish and English texts, as well as an Aarhus BSS version.

The water bottles can be used again and again. They are BPA-free and dishwasher-safe. It’s a good idea to buy bottles for your conference guests to use. However, remember to consider how your guests are going to fill and refill them. 

  • The water bottles can be purchased on the AU Webshop where the price is DKK 34.80 each (excl. VAT). If you have any questions, contact .
  • The water bottles can also be purchased in Stakboladen on Fredrik Nielsens Vej or on their website. The price is 55 kr. per bottle (incl. VAT).

Good advice about filling water bottles and hygiene:

  • We recommend that you rinse the bottles before use. 
  • To avoid bacterial contamination, never fill water bottles in the restroom!
  • You might get permission from a canteen to fill bottles in their kitchen, in compliance with the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration’s rules.
  • The top of the bottle and the tap should never touch, particularly when refilling the bottle.

Tote bags of organic cotton

AU’s tote bags are made of organic cotton and are a more sustainable alternative for packaging conference materials and supplies or as merchandise for participants. You can buy the tote bags in the web shop.

Green conference handbook, collaboration and communication

Green conference handbook

In 2019, Aarhus University’s event team developed a green conference and event handbook in collaboration with Aarhus Events, VisitAarhus and Worldperfect. It’s a tool to help event organisers work with sustainability strategically and practically.
Download the handbook here.

Green collaboration with VisitAarhus and Aarhus Events

Green collaboration with VisitAarhus and Aarhus Events

Events and Communication Support works closely with VisitAarhus to promote sustainable conferences. There are lots of useful links on the VisitAarhus website to resources where you can learn more about sustainability initiatives in the Aarhus region.

Read the article (in Danish): Aarhus er den 3. mest bæredygtige turistdestination på internationalt index

You’ll also find lots of information and news about the City of Aarhus’ sustainability and climate initiatives on the Go Green with Aarhus website.

Good advice about sustainability communication

Good advice about sustainability communication

It’s important that you put some thought into how you present your sustainability initiatives in your communication with participants and through other channels, for example the conference website. Of course, you should explain what you’re doing, but be diplomatic, transparent and concrete as possible in your communication. Avoid using vague language that can be misinterpreted. Don’t use descriptors like ‘sustainable’ or ‘climate-friendly’ unless you have the data or certifications to back up your claims. Instead, use language like “We are taking steps to become more sustainable,” and explain what you’re doing in specific terms.

For example, instead of calling your event a “sustainable meeting”, use language like “a meeting with vegetarian, locally produced catering” and “transportation in busses that run on biodiesel”. While you might find yourself wanting to make more sweeping claims to get your reader’s attention, keeping your text specific will help you avoid the greenwashing trap. Refer to AU’s climate strategy as a background and framework for your communication. Read a guide to communicating about sustainability that also explains the legal aspects:

When arranging conferences at AU, sustainability and green initiatives are always high on our agenda. Get behind the planning and hear more about our green solutions.
Hear more about introducing vegetarian food to AU plates and palates, and find out how the participants in a conference at AU reacted to the meat-free menu they were served.

Do you want to know more?

If you are interested in reading more about how Aarhus University is working to promote the sustainable development through research, education and the operation, click here

Support at Events and Communication support

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Lone Jørgensen

Special Consultant

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Charlotte Boel

Communications Officer