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:

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

  • 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.

Food and refreshments

  • 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.

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  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. 

  • If you purchase a minimum of 50 bottles, they cost 34,50 kr. each (excl. VAT). Place your order by writing to Events and Communication Support at kommunikation@au.dk.  Please state your full name, address, unit and internal account number.
  • If you need fewer than 50 bottles, you can get them from Stakboladen on Fredrik Nielsens Vej or on the AU webshop (www.webshop.au.dk). The price is 55 kr. per bottle.

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.