Throwing a greener gala in the Vail Valley
Avon, CO Colorado
AVON, Colorado – At the EverGreen Ball fundraiser last weekend, there were no programs printed to tell guests the night’s agenda. No menus were printed highlighting the out-coming meal. In fact, there were no formal invitations printed, either.
The minimal amount of “save-the-date” cards that were mailed out were created using soy ink on postcards embedded with wildflower seeds. People who received them were free to plant the postcards in the ground. All the extras – a common casualty of party printing – were cut up and re-used either as seating cards or as decor. The postcards’ blank sides were adorned with eco-tips and inspirational quotes and then scattered around the ballroom at the Westin, where the event was held.
Yet, not one of the 219 people who attended the first-year event seemed to miss any of the paper products that have come to be mandatory at affairs like these. No one panicked without a program, and everyone found the place without directions printed on cardstock. For as little effect they have when used, these party paper products make a huge impact on energy savings when not used.
When it comes to throwing a greener gala, “it’s all about thinking outside the box,” says Julie Norberg of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability. “We had to rethink the old way of doing everything and find new learning. We had to work harder to do it right because you can’t go by past experience.”
The alliance, the Eagle Valley Land Trust and the Eagle River Watershed Council were the three beneficiaries of The EverGreen Ball. Because the event was in support of conservation, organizers wanted to take the opportunity to use the event to educate on conservation, too. Billed as the Vail Valley first sustainable soiree, The EverGreen Ball’s mission in part was to show the general public how to throw a party without the typical party waste and energy usage. Its mission was to show guests better choices – even while carefree and dancing at a gala.
To help keep the organization on track, a sustainability committee was formed to audit all of the decisions. This hard-nosed group of environmentalists, headed up by Matt Scherr, executive director of the alliance, was the toughest part about throwing a sustainable soiree, says New New Wallace, Eagle Valley Land Trust development and marketing director.
“They were steadfast and inflexible,” Wallace says, who headed up the event. “We were offered a corporate jet, for example, to auction off a lavish trip, and we had to say no for obvious reasons. It was tough, in a sense, to pass on auction items and various other party elements because they weren’t green. We saw dollars floating away because we insisted on walking our talk. Ultimately of course, we need funds to run our organizations, but not at the expense of our integrity and our environment.”
Instead, organizers took creative license with the silent auction items. There was an eco-coffin to bid on, green cleaning services, other zero-waste items like organizational services, and probably most visionary – a vasectomy. The growing population is one of the biggest problems facing the environment.
“We were constantly having to think differently about everything we were doing, and often having to stop things in process to change,” Scherr says. “Processes have great inertia that take great force to redirect.”
Organizers also had to balance pulling off a carbon-neutral event while not coming across as too preachy, Wallace says. They had to consider quality, price and what guests would really accept just because it’s green. After all – The EverGreen Ball is still a party.
“I wanted to steer clear of the Birkenstock-wearing crunchy folks handing out brochures to an unwitting, yawning crowd,” Wallace says. “Our Green Team managed to enlighten and entertain – a Herculean feat.”
From a distance, The EverGreen Ball appeared like most other fundraising soirees. Servers poured wine and beer. There was dinner, music and dancing. Centerpieces embellished each table. But the difference between The EverGreen Ball and other galas is this: Choices concerning these fun factors were made with the environment at the forefront.
The wine for example, was local and organic, provided by Jack Rabbit Hills out of Hotchkiss. Sierra Nevada provided the beer. A green company, Sierra Nevada has one of the largest private solar arrays in the United States, providing the majority of the brewery’s electrical energy needs with clean power produced on-site.
With the help of the eco-design group Associates III out of Denver, the centerpieces were created using pinwheels made from recycled paper, which were then stuck in grasses, given to the ball on loan from Johnie’s Gardens in Minturn. The grasses’ roots were wrapped in burlap coffee sacks that Vail Mountain Roasters in Minturn weren’t using anymore. Then the whole decorative package was perched on local rock loaned to the event by Gallegos Construction.
Seating cards were held in place at tables using wine corks, which organizers had plenty of at their own homes. Outside cocktail tables were decorated with slick river rock, wood pieces and votives, borrowed from Destination Services’ party storage. All of the decor was fashioned from reusable materials or borrowed and on-loan items. In other words, nothing new was purchased.
Even attendees helped to create the green scene with special attire, ranging from 20-year-old suits purchased at the thrifty shop to a dress fashioned from plastic milk containers to green boas and wigs.
Arguably, the most popular sustainable entertainment at the party were the Incredible Green Hunks, handsome bike and ski racers dressed in skin-tight green body suits pedaling a bike blender to whip up cocktails made with Square One Organic Vodka. The signature EverGreen Ball drink was served in wacky donated fish mugs. In a sense, that image sums up the essence of throwing a green party.
“That was my favorite part – the green men transferring their locally grown food into energy and using that energy to power a bike that turned a blender and made drinks with organic vodka,” Scherr says. “It could have been coal-burned in Pueblo to make steam to turn giant turbines to send electricity 150 miles to an outlet to turn a blender.”
Cassie Pence is a freelance writer based in Vail and helped to organize the EverGreen Ball.
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