The marketability of green


In a town where adjectives like “green” and “sustainable” are pretty much required to sell products, it seems as if some organizations may be missing out on a marketing opportunity when it comes to event promotion.

Beth Powell knows about this all too well.

In 2009, after working with the City of Boulder Climate Action Plan, Powell started Project People, which provides sustainable marketing and event planning for the renewable industry.

After the basic objectives for an event are clear, Powell starts looking at how everything can be as sustainable as possible: paperless invites, caterers that source locally and even transportation.

For instance, on Aug. 15, Powell is promoting a ribbon-cutting at the South Boulder Recreation Center, celebrating the installation of 711 kilowatts’ worth of solar thermal equipment and two electric vehicle charging stations. The event begins at the University of Colorado Boulder’s law school, then relocates to the recreation center, which will result in a convoy of vehicles driving across town.

“We’ve recommended that people take the bus or carpool,” she says. “It’s small, but it makes a difference.”

That suggestion, according to Powell, is one of the easier ones to make in her line of work because it doesn’t cost her client anything. The problem with implementing sustainable practices for an event is that it usually means the bill is higher.

“In the industry right now, cost consciousness is really important, so I’ve been trying to find green products that are only moderately more expensive or cost-competitive,” she says.

You’d be surprised what she can dig up.

“I found a green banner for events,” she says. “It biodegrades in five years.”

And for an upcoming event in Los Angeles Powell has been doing planning and public relations for, she figured that one way she could make a difference was by not going.

“I’m suggesting that they don’t fly me out,” she said. “That will save a lot of emissions and money.”

Powell isn’t alone in green event planning. Many organizations try to make parties, festivals and ribbon cuttings more sustainable. But many of them don’t advertise it.

“The companies that truly believe in walking the talk are going to do it even if they don’t get kudos for it,” she says. “The event planners know we spent more on the banner, but the attendees don’t. Mostly, you don’t tell attendees how you greened the event.”

Take, for example, the upcoming Boulder Asian Festival, a free two-day event on the Pearl Street Mall starting on Saturday, Aug. 13. Back in 2008, the festival decided to become zero waste.

“There’s a lot of waste after a two-day festival with thousands of people,” says Brenda Pigao Pearson, co-chair of the Asian Festival.

The organizers decided that everything needed to be compostable. The planners met with Eco-Cycle, formed a partnership, and have seen results.

“Last year, we diverted 90 percent of the trash, about 1,500 pounds of material,” Pigao Pearson said. The organization went out of its way, spent valuable time and money, and achieved a zero-waste event three years running. But beyond a quick mention on the group’s website, the festival doesn’t advertise it.

“We want to do it. It’s as simple as that,” she said. “Sure, we run on a tighter budget, but it’s the right thing to do.”

According to Powell, aggressively communicating how green an event is not all that common, or classy.

“You’d have to put a banner up or hand out a flyer about how we greened an event,” said Powell. “You see this at conferences sometimes, but not so much at events.”

It’s in a company’s best interest to be communicative about how sustainable an event is, she said, but you don’t want to seem like you’re exploiting the fact that a decision was made with the environment in mind.

Theo Romeo is executive editor of


On the Bill

Boulder Asian Festival 11 a.m-5 p.m., Aug. 13-14 Pearl Street Mall, In Front of the Boulder County Courthouse

Greenovation Through Partnership ribbon cutting 12 p.m.–1:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 15 South Boulder Recreation Center 1360 Gillespie Dr., Boulder