Sustainability and conferences

Recent years have seen a growing focus on sustainability, recycling and ecology. At Aarhus University we have also decided to focus on sustainability when organising and holding conferences and events. Firstly, because we want to take responsibility for the society that we are a part of and because it is the sensible thing to do. Secondly, because we have found that in many cases we can save resources by thinking in different ways than we are used to.

By making a few small adjustments and a little effort in planning and holding your conference, you can make a big (sustainable) difference. And focussing on sustainability is good for your image as well.

Find inspiration below – there is much you can do yourself:

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:

Sustainable initiatives before the conference

Sustainable initiatives in connection with transportation

  • Think about how much transportation you need to arrange – you might consider “walking busses” (e.g. transportation by foot with students as guides). 
  • Ask people to sign up for the conference busses you arrange so that they won’t be 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 and why.
  • Encourage/arrange shared transportation to/from the airport – suggest that participants share a taxi.

Food and refreshments

  • Talk about ecology and sustainability with AU’s cafeterias when you make a booking with them. For example, you can reuse the fruit you have ordered and only ask for new supplies on the second day. Also ask about the possibilities of refilling the water bottles if you choose to use AU’s sustainable water bottles (currently, there is only water stations at the Lakeside Lecture Theatres, at Aulaen at Nordre Ringgade and in the S-building).
  • Recommend green restaurants in Aarhus if the participants are going out to eat on their own – you can see an example of a list used at a conference with international guests in 2017 here or see full Danish list here
  • When you book your conference dinner or other meals, ask for/demand sustainable options from the restaurant – negotiate with them about organic products and vegetarian options, ask them about their policies on food waste and suggest that they provide doggy bags if that makes sense for your event.
  • Have a box on your registration form participants must tick off if they want meat (as opposed to choosing vegetarian). Make it clear on the website why you have chosen to have a meat-free day or meat-free conference so that it makes sense for the participants.
  • Consider ‘brain food’ for your breaks and explain your choice on the website.

Hotel recommendations and selection

  • Select or recommend the most sustainable hotels in Aarhus – you can mention the hotel’s green profile on your website if they have one.

Marketing and information

  • Communicate on your website that we are focusing on sustainability in connection with our conferences at AU and what initiatives or changes this might involve. Prepare the participants for the initiatives they will meet and why.
  • Make your communication digital – e.g. through web/email/app – instead of using printed materials and mailing letters.
  • Develop an app for information about the conference
  • 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.
  • Scrap the usual thick printed programme and be creative. Consider just using an A3 keyhanger programme on sustainable paper instead (the A3 can be folded into A6 in a special plastic sheet, which can also contain a specially designed name tag). Refer to your website where all other useful information and updates can be found. This is one of the big money savers!
  • Only order the amount of conference materials that you will need and think about reusing the conference materials whenever possible.
  • Minimise production of banners, produce generic banners that can be used again, or reuse banners after the conference. For example, you could donate banners to one of the several companies which make bags and other products out of banner fabric after the conference.

Planning the social programme

  • Guided tours of hidden/unusual places in Aarhus – e.g. Kulbroen (‘the Coal Bridge’), Godsbanen, small gardens – visit Vanebrudspalæet (‘the palace of breaking habits’), go for a cup of coffee at skraldebaren (‘the trash bar’) at Godsbanen, let them hear about cultivating fungi in coffee grounds from the city’s cafes and other activities that show Aarhus as a sustainable, cooperative and enterprising city.
  • Give your guests a different experience, one that stands out and that they will remember!

Sustainable initiatives during the conference

Decorations, layout of venue and management

  • Keep in mind that many flowers are imported over long distances – have the supplier use local and in-season flowers for bouquets and floral displays. Maybe you can also save money in your budget. You can also buy plants and flowerpots that can be used again later.
  • Reuse the name tags – make this clear!
  • Make a buffet of conference materials – this will reduce usage, but everyone will have the opportunity to take what they want – and some people will even put things such as paper and pens back after using them. Remember to return unused conference materials to Events and Communication Support after your event.
  • If you need to use bags, you should consider using reusable tote bags instead of plastic bags. 
  • Talk to suppliers about tablecloths/tableware/candles – for example, consider buying reusable oilcloth to avoid throwing out the tablecloths every time. Avoid disposable tableware if that is the best solution in your case.
  • In the breaks, have slides on the big screen with green information: for example about the conference’s sustainability initiatives, that tap water in Denmark is drinkable, that the participants must write their names on their water bottles so that they can reuse them (and that they should reuse them), a reminder to turn in their name tags and other conference materials at the end of the conference.
  • Send out an electronic evaluation. Ask the participants for suggestions for 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 your network and with Events and Communication Support.

Food and refreshments

  • You might consider other options than a buffet if this is possible (buffets produce too much food waste) – you can 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/servings and food that can be set out as needed. Serve in 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 organic options with the cafeteria and discuss options for tableware. Glass and porcelain are not always the best options because electricity and dishwashing also consume resources. 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 lavatory.
  • Have jugs of tap water during the meals – remember to tell the participants that Danish water is drinkable and actually tastes great.
  • Negotiate prices on organic options with your conference dinner venue (it should be possible to still keep it within budget, and most venues are used to being asked about this).
  • 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.
  • Consider the choice of supplier (professional vs. amateur) and arrange with them how to handle food waste.

Buy sustainable gifts and conference articles for your event

We are constantly working to make our selection of gifts and merchandise more sustainable. Read more about AU’s sustainable water bottles and tote bags made of organic cotton here.

Sustainable AU water bottles

Aarhus University’s sustainable water bottle contains 0.5 litres and is available in both a Danish, English and BSS version. The water bottle can be used over and over again. It is 100 % BPA-free and dishwasher safe. The bottle is a beneficial buy to use for your conference guests. However, remember to take into consideration how the bottle is filled and refilled.

  • By purchasing a minimum of 50 bottles, the bottles cost 25.00 DKK per bottle and can be bought through Events and Communications Support at Remember to inform your full name, address, department and internal account number.
  • By purchasing less than 50 bottles, the bottle must be bought through Stakbogladen at Fredrik Nielsens Vej or via, in which case the price per bottle is 45.00 DKK.

Some good advice for refilling and hygiene:

  • We recommend that the bottles are rinsed before use.
  • In order to avoid germs: Never fill the bottles in a lavatory!
  • You can possibly arrange with the canteen in question to fill the bottles in their kitchen in order to meet the rules of the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration.
  • The cap of the bottle and the tap may never get in contact – especially not when refilling.

Tote bags of organic cotton

AU's tote bags are a sustainable alternative to packing of conference articles or as a handout. These tote bags are made of organic cotton. The bags can be bought in AU's webshop (in Danish only).