Sustainable menu at events: nurturing with less impact

14 September 2023

Event catering can account for 7-17% of event carbon footprint 1 2 3 . Conferences and scientific workshops play a crucial role in the career development of researchers, helping them to spread awareness about their work and connect with like-minded peers 4. Equally crucial is environmentally friendly practices at these events. Organisers can make a difference with eco-friendly menus and encouraging conscious choices.

But what does it take to build a sustainable menu? This is a guideline on how to build a sustainable menu for your next scientific meeting.

Step 1: choose local, seasonal, organic

Local ingredient sourcing cuts transport emissions and supports local communities. However, local food is not a solution that stands alone. There are some exceptions at times when importing sustainable food is less carbon-intensive than local, unsustainable options 5, but in the majority of cases the local food comes with a huge decrease of carbon footprint.

A balanced approach combines local, organic, and seasonal factors. When aligned with sustainable sourcing suppliers, seasonal and organic foods support ecosystems and biodiversity 6. By combining these factors, organisers can create menus made from ingredients sourced with low transport and producing carbon footprint.

Step 2: have more plants and less meat

Different diets have different carbon footprint for scientific events 7 but cutting meat consumption can make a significant greenhouse gas emission reduction 8. For instance, beef production typically had the highest potential to impact the climate change in food production industry 9 10. On the other hand, plant-based menus can decrease the carbon footprint by a third when choosing to go for a vegetarian diet, and by half when going for a fully vegan menu 7.

Menu planning is crucial in reducing an event’s carbon impact 11, with plant-based options that minimise the animal agriculture’s carbon footprint. Diverse vegetarian and vegan choices cater to a broader audience and sustainable food goals 12 .

Step 3: prioritise waste cutbacks and composting

Globally, one-third of food goes to waste. Strategies like accurate attendance prediction and portion control combat waste. Partnering with food banks fights hunger and cuts hotel food waste 13. Clearly labelled waste stations for recyclables, compostables, and non-recyclables contribute to a better waste management 13 14 15 16.

Composting food waste is another effective way to close the sustainability loop, as it turns organic waste into nutrient-rich compost, enriching the soil for agriculture 16.

Collaboration with local composting facilities or on-site composting promotes a circular economy, diverting food waste from landfills. For example, coffee beans residues were found to be an incredible environment for farming mushrooms 16 17.

Step 4: engage with the attendees

Engaging the attendees on sustainable food practices can make a big difference in lowering the catering carbon footprint of an event. Informational signs and sustainable food messaging raise awareness about the importance of sustainable food practices 18 19.

Other tips?

  • Venue collaboration: These days, venues are keen to answer sustainability requests. Collaborate with them to create a sustainable menu that is sourced locally and organically.
  • Menu assessment: Before booking, examine the venue’s vegan/vegetarian options. Prioritise venues that offer locally sourced ingredients over distant imports like soy.
  • Rich season: Consider making your event in a season that is more abundant in local ingredients and variety that you can bring to your plate with a low carbon footprint.
  • Balance it: Offer diverse sustainable options but don’t overwhelm. Too much choice often leads to food waste.
  • Feedback and information fuels progress: Keep track of what works and what doesn’t. Inform the participants on how they can help to lower the food carbon footprint and collect feedback from attendees to improve sustainability efforts for future events.


Incorporating sustainable food practices into event planning and management is a powerful way to reduce environmental impact and inspire positive change. By sourcing locally and organically, reducing food waste, and engaging attendees, event organisers can create memorable experiences that align with sustainable values.

Visit our sustainability blogs for more tips.


  1. www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969717307763
  2. www.cell.com/heliyon/pdf/S2405-8440(23)00611-4.pdf
  3. www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/12/12/5001
  4. web.archive.org/web/20220803134443id_/https://aisel.aisnet.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1191&context=ecis2020_rp
  5. www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09669582.2016.1247848?needAccess=true
  6. www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167880911001526
  7. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4372775/
  8. www.city.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2019/10/one-hamburger-takes-2400-litres-of-hidden-water-to-make#:~:text=’Water%20has%20been%20fed%20into,2%2C400%20litres%20of%20embedded%20water.
  9. www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652616307570
  10. www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1871141309003692
  11. www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0038012121000331
  12. www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09669582.2016.1247848?needAccess=true
  13. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723314/
  14. link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11356-022-19984-4
  15. www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/IJCTHR-01-2021-0019/full/html
  16. link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11356-022-19984-4
  17. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/tqem.20254
  18. www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211973622000289
  19. jotags.net/index.php/jotags/article/view/244








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