How to practice event sustainability for incentive travel

By: Meredith Peck

What you need to know      

  • Multi-use materials reduce waste and save money in the long run.
  • Creativity with the event’s theme and branding can further tie into the event’s sustainability goals, setting a precedent for future programs.
  • Partnering with a local artist or vendor further connects attendees to the destination.



outdoor event space created using sustainable materials

Going on an incentive trip is an incredible experience for many attendees. But making it a sustainable experience is now an expectation. Extra costs and effort are a real concern, so it’s worth acknowledging that a sustainability-driven incentive program does demand creative sourcing and planning, especially for a remote locale like Hawaii. 

Sustainable incentive travel is doable, especially when you break down how to reallocate spend toward experiences, signage and awards that resonate with attendees and your brand’s long-term commitments. 

From sourcing low-waste materials, reducing the environmental impact from shipping and putting more intention behind digital communications, you can offer attendees the same all-out experience. Plus, they’ll appreciate knowing rationale that supports your investment in more sustainable programming. A true win-win for all audiences—attendees and program decision-makers, who often look to prove the event ROI. 

Throughout this article, we’ll tie recommendations to how we implemented sustainable practices into a Hawaiian incentive trip.

Sustainable vision guides the event design

Upfront event design helps center your sustainability efforts—making it easier to share rationale with attendees during the program. 

A client came to us during their second inaugural incentive trip and wanted guidance on how to infuse their ESG initiatives into an immersive incentive trip in Hawaii. They wanted a clear messaging strategy and theme, a boutique experience, and a central focus on local, sustainable sourcing The words “authentic” and “discovery” were used to describe the type of experience their employees would love. Sound familiar? So the theme "It all starts here" was born.

incentive travel trip signage featuring QR code for event itinerarySignage incorporating QR codes helped reduce waste and communicate key details to attendees.

Multi-use materials minimize waste and maximize impact

Beyond sourcing the destination, consider materials. Sourcing low-waste materials was a big undertaking for our team, especially considering the program’s location in Hawaii. 

We wanted to minimize shipping in traditional materials as much as possible. We also wanted to reduce waste by using more digital assets and QR codes to provide ease of use and attendee clarity on the agenda, general navigation and attendee-generated content. One digital activity encouraged attendees to share their moment of “aloha spirit” by submitting a photo to be a part of the farewell event’s grand finale.

To minimize the environmental footprint, we proposed recycling logos and assets year after year, making them a part of the client’s sustainable toolkit and not tied to a specific program year. 

Related: 4 sustainable event design strategies to reduce food waste.

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event directional signage made from sustainable materialsReusable signage was shipped in flat packages to reduce environmental impact.

Eco-friendly and cost-effective signage saves client in the long term

Leaning on a partner with an in-house print center can play a significant role in your sustainability efforts. During initial discussions around the budget, we helped our client understand that although there was a slightly higher up-front cost to source sturdier, reusable materials, it was a smart move, proving overall year-over-year cost decreases. 

Instead of traditional plastic signage, our team created wood signs and sourced reusable metal signs with removable die-cut vinyl logos. We took extra care to ship the signs in flat packs, further reducing the environmental impact. The signage also reinforced good sustainability practices.

  • Navigating the destination: Refill your reusable water bottle here! 
  • Recycling mailing materials: Recycle this box!

While we produced everything we could in-house, we looked at what made the most sense to source in Hawaii—from a financial perspective of shipping costs to a sustainable lens of utilizing local resources.

gift bags filled with locally-sourced giftsEco-friendly bags filled with locally-sourced gifts from companies who value sustainability.

Local partnerships bring authenticity to the experience

Another opportunity to reduce waste is to collaborate with artists local to the incentive trip location. And while it’s your trip, it’s their home. Their involvement adds an irreplaceable, special touch to your program that gets attendees talking.

It’s why we collaborated with a Hawaiian chalk artist. Their talent brought signage and informational elements to life on reusable chalkboards. This not only further integrated the program into Hawaiian culture and paid respect to a local artist but also set a precedent with the client for reusing the chalkboards during future programs with new artists. 

It's also worth locally sourcing gifts, or recognition awards. For a pop-up welcome market, we sourced from companies that also had an intentional focus on sustainability, like a certified B Corp. Attendees were also given marketplace tokens as they completed a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activity, which they could spend on:

Related: How purposeful event gifting takes memories to the next level.

handmade luggage tags locally sourced for sustainabilityLocally-sourced vendors created handmade, reusable luggage tags.

Reusable branding aligns with the destination

Think of your next incentive trip location. Is it on the coast and able to reflect a culture of craftmanship and hand-made goods? Does the site’s natural environment create an opportunity to sustainably source materials?

Hawaii is home to many native florals, trees and plants, so we created mood boards to know exactly what natural elements we could source in the area. In fact, native Hawaiian plants transformed a logo installation into a living, branded wall.

Our approach toward sustainable branding also reduced our environmental and carbon footprint, and supported Hawaiian vendors. Items like locally sourced, client-branded cutting boards, aprons and messaging empowering participants to use reusable items added depth to the program.

The creative problem-solving sparked discussions with the client about long-term reusability, locally sourced materials and the cost implications, aligning our vision. Doing good simply felt good, too. 

I think it would be worth mentioning here and tying back to the beginning of the article, the positive impact for reducing shipping as well. not just the costs, but the carbon footprint that creates.

Creative strategy sets a precedent for future events 

Any destination or program holds the possibility to be more sustainable—and the events industry shares a responsibility to continue pushing for more sustainable programs. But any step toward sustainability should feel encouraging.

The vision and implementation of our client’s program is a testament to the power of sustainability in event planning, and the kind of work we intend to do more of.

By creatively integrating multi-use, eco-friendly materials, local partnerships and reusable branding, we delivered on our client’s vision while building a program that supports even more sustainable practices in the future. 

Want help building your own sustainability-driven incentive trip? See how our incentive travel experts can support you.  

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Meredith Peck

Creative Director. Former designer. All-around travel enthusiast. Meredith is the go-to for events and incentive travel programs that need a creative campaign to transform the experience. She gets that a human touch goes a long way—from the time we drop a mailer at attendees’ doors to the arrival experience to sending a post-trip survey. Every touchpoint and decision matters, like creating a theme and story that resonates, sourcing gifts that don’t get thrown away and connecting attendees back to the brand’s values. Her personal travel motto is: see it all, eat it all.