Ideally, you want to incorporate sustainability guidelines into all your purchasing practices. This not only makes good environmental sense but it can help you to reduce costs. Here are some green purchasing practices you may want to consider:

  1. Reusability is perhaps the most important factor to consider. Do the math yourself, but typically products that are sturdy and have a long useful life will give you the best rate of return on your investment. They may cost more up front but your total cost of ownership will be lower.
  2. Seek out locally-made products and service providers. The transport cost and environmental footprint of shipping equipment across the country or around the world can be significant. The same goes for the production crew you hire to produce the event.
  3. Consider products made with a high percent of recycled content that also are recyclable.
  4. Check the toxic content of the materials you are planning to purchase. Do they contain toxic paint or chemical coatings, for example?
  5. Check the power requirements of the electric and electronic equipment you are looking to rent of buy. Whether they are powered by a generator or plugged into the wall (grid power typically comes from coal-fired power plants) they have an environmental impact. Newer equipment typically has lower power consumption requirements. For instance, LED lighting requires significantly lower power than traditional lighting systems and is more environmentally sound than florescent lighting, which contains mercury.
  6. Consider eco-friendly power sources. Portable generators are typically diesel or gasoline powered. Look for generators that can use a high percentage of bio-fuel (avoid food stock bio-fuel) or rent solar trucks or trailers to power your event. If you are drawing power from the grid, consider metering the power and purchasing renewable energy credits or carbon offsets to neutralize your consumption.
  7. Rent equipment instead of buying. This is what the vast majority of event organizers do and for good reason. In addition to the favorable cost implications of renting, it also maximizes the useful life of the product, which is environmentally responsible so long the rental company disposes of materials responsibly.
  8. Partner with and buy products from companies that have adopted formal and transparent environmental and social responsibility business practices. Your organization should adopt these practices too.

FitPlanet recommends you consider adopting formal green purchasing guidelines or standards that make sense for your business. Industry trade associations are developing these standards as are local, state and federal government agencies. FitPlanet recommends you research some of these standards and develop guidelines that work for your organization.

A useful starting point is the US Environmental Protection Agency's Environmentally Preferable Purchasing guidelines for the federal government. You should also look at green purchasing practices at major corporations such as IBM, Intel, and Nike. Also, check out some purchasing-specific publications. You can find useful information on green purchasing practices at Purchasing magazine's website. Click here for one such example.

Besides purchasing and renting equipment and materials, there is one other option: variations on the borrowing-and-lending model. This is a very practical option for small events that have small budgets and limited resources. Reach out to other event organizers in your region and develop a network to share equipment.

Taking the borrowing-and-lending model to the extreme, you might consider creating a regional cooperative. By pooling resources with other event organizers, you can build an inventory of equipment and materials that all can share, which can lower your total cost of ownership. But like any social contract, cooperatives require a high degree of commitment, trust, and communication and are not for everyone