All photos by Rachael Elana Photography
I've been working up to this big party for a while now. A fashion swap here, and blog launch party there. But this panel, called Our Sustainable Future, was the biggest one yet. And it went amazingly! (As I'm told by everyone who was there – I was stuck at home following on Twitter, convalescing from appendicitis.)
I learned a lot through this process, which I want to share with you in case you're ready to throw your own sustainable event. Here's how:
Starre Vartan and Lindsay Brown of Eco-Chick
1. Build a great team.
Lindsay Brown from Eco-Chick approached me at the beginning of the summer and asked me if I wanted to try to plan an event with her and Starre. And I was in! I knew it would be a challenge, but I had attended Eco-Chick's 10-year anniversary and had seen Lindsay's work. She's a professional. And Starre has been running Eco-Chick for so long, I was eager to combine my readership with hers for a powerhouse event.
And it was great to split duties, but also use each other as a sounding board. We all wanted the same thing: to put on an event that created thought provoking discussions, but was in line with our values. And we were constantly challenging each other to look further, be more creative, and come up with solutions for making this one eco-friendly through and through.
Lewis Perkins of Cradle to Cradle, Ammr Vandal of nARCHITECTS, and Anna Gedda of H&M
2. Decide on the main event.
Every event is different, of course. Maybe you'll have a band and dancing. Maybe you'll have an auction, or a fashion show, or speeches. We put together a panel. We had four intelligent, creative, and passionate panelists from H&M (Anna Gedda, Head of Sustainability), General Motors (Mari Kay Scott, Executive Director Global Environmental Compliance and Sustainability), Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute (Lewis Perkins, President), and nARCHITECTS (Ammr Vandal, Associate Principal and leader of the micro apartment project in Manhattan) ready to speak about how their industry (fashion, auto, architecture, and consumer products) could close the loop and operate more sustainably. I was really excited to see how this cross section of industry ideas could yield new ideas that could benefit all.
(We have a video, which I will share with you as soon as it is done being edited!)
3. Bring in the right sponsors.
In order to bring our vision to life and not charge attendees for tickets, we needed sponsors! Fortunately, General Motors is working on some really amazing sustainability initiatives across its brands, and it's been wanting to talk about that with conscious consumers. And H&M also joined in the event, because of its work with technology to push forward clothing recycling. Both made perfect sense for the event, because they are both investing in innovation to close the loop on manufacturing.
Don't discount the value of a corporate sponsorship! Startups don't have sponsorship money to spare, and sponsorship by General Motors and H&M allowed us to get a great venue, plus pay our photographer, DJ, and staff fairly to make sure the event went off beautifully. Plus, the panelists H&M and GM provided are at the top of their field in terms of sustainability. These women oversee huge changes in manufacturing, who have built up an incredible amount of experience, knowledge, and professionalism in their fields – an incredibly valuable thing to share with audience members.
4. Find the perfect space.
In New York City, this can be the hardest part! But I was lucky enough to find out about Splacer right when we started planning this whole shindig. It's like an AirBnb for event venues. I was able to filter by number of guests, type of event (conference? dance party?), neighborhood, amenities (we needed a projector and speakers), style, color, and rules (allowed to serve alcohol? how about loud music?) Out of that, I visited two spaces. Both were amazing – in fact, I had been to two other events at one and loved it – but we ended up going with the one pictured, since it's in midtown and super accessible.
5. Think about refreshments.
We had organic cocktails from Owl's Brew, a favorite company of mine that makes organic, tea-infused mixers. We had bites from sweetgreen, my favorite quick pitstop for a super healthy meal. Health-Ade Kombucha provided healthy, non-alcoholic drinks. These are all brands that I personally pay for all the time, aso I was happy to share them with attendees!
6. Don't forget about waste management.
It may not be the most fun aspect, but you also need to think about how to minimize the waste coming from your event. Luckily for us, Dopper provided water bottles for all of our guests. These were the perfect thing, because the top comes off to form a cup with a stem (see above) – perfect for serving cocktails in! For guests who didn't want to use that, Owl's Brew provided recyclable cups.
7. Music is important.
I personally might be biased, because I love music. But it's so important to setting the right tone. (That awkward moment when your iPod switches to something embarrassing and everyone is like ...huh?) We hired Pjay Nyex, a great underground DJ who has also helped produce corporate events. He DJed the beginning and second half of the event after the panel, plus made sure the audio for the panel went off without a hitch. It was such a relief to have a pro taking care of that – I recommend you get an expert to help you here, or else you'll have that thing where the microphone starts screeching when your speakers try to talk.
You can listen to the upbeat music he played here:
8. Invite fun, passionate people to attend.
You've got all the elements in place... now you've got to focus on the people! We sent out an invitation to our guests two weeks before (probably could have been three weeks, honestly). Our guests included journalists, readers of EcoCult and Eco-Chick, plus industry leaders like green model and advocate Summer Rayne Oakes, Marissa Feinberg from the consulting firm Triple Bottom Why, Renee Peters from Model 4 Green Living, and 120 other members of the NYC sustainabl-erati. Always aim high here – especially in NYC, about 30% of your Yes RSVPs won't come because they're sick, they have to stay late at work, or they're just flaky. It's the world we live in. We hit our ideal number of attendees exactly by aiming high.
9. Trust that it's going to work out OK.
We had all the elements in place. I had so many professional contacts and friends telling me how excited they were. And then I got appendicitis.
Even so, I wasn't worried. I knew we had locked in pretty much every detail, and that it was in good hands with Starre and Lindsay. I was planning on going still, but the night before I ventured out to speak on a panel, and by the end was completely exhausted. I knew I couldn't do three hours of being "on" at an event that was my responsibility. So I handed off my baby, and followed along on social media at home.
And it went great. My fiancé was there giving me text updates. It was all really good vibes, and reports say it was crowded, fun, and thought-provoking. I could have freaked out beforehand, but I let it ride, doing what I could from home (an email update to attendees, for example, and retweeting).
I'm sad I didn't get to see the results of all our hard work firsthand, and that I missed the opportunity to network with some truly amazing people. But I don't have regrets. I'm proud of what we put together!