Meet Eco-Conscious Event Planning Expert Natasha Thom

Photo © Secret Waters Photo

Natasha Thom is the founder of Vancouver-based Clearwater Events as well as the founder and creative director of The Good Green, a platform dedicated to bringing together eco-friendly vendors in the wedding and event space. I had the pleasure of interviewing Natasha to find out more about her entrepreneurial journey and her top conscious event planning tips.
Photo of Natasha Thom, an Asian woman with short hair, dark glasses, and a black outfit, smiling on a wooden floor in front of a white couch surrounded by plants and a coffee table with a The Good Green card on it

Hi Natasha! How do you explain what you do to someone you’re meeting for the first time?

I like to say that Clearwater Events is a boutique, full-service planning and production company. We specialize in helping eco-conscious couples host intentional, unique, environmentally-friendly weddings and events

I come from a background of community fundraising so, for me, intentionality has always been really important. As I shifted and added an awareness of sustainability to my business, that’s now become another essential core value for me. 

I love that! How did you transition from fundraising to event planning? 

It kind of happened by accident, actually. I had been helping organize plenty of events in high school as a part of my volunteer service hours for graduation. I found that I had a knack for it and really loved it. 

Then, I was a part of my college alma mater’s events team planning our orientation party for 10,000 students with musical performances, food trucks, games, and all the fun things you would expect for that type of event! 

My boss that summer said, “you have a really good knack for this. You should start a business”. So I did. It happened to be really good timing because friends of mine were also getting married, so it was the perfect way to jumpstart my portfolio. 

How has the entrepreneurial journey been, since starting your business in 2016? 

It’s definitely been interesting. Having three years of COVID smack in the middle of it has been challenging. But I will also say that I’m incredibly fortunate because I love technology. I’m kind of a nerd that way. So, for me, shifting to virtual events was easy. During lockdown, I was probably the busiest I’d been since I started because I could work from my “production studio” at home. 

Virtual events definitely had its challenges, mainly because that space was changing SO much. But working through those pain points with a digital lens has only strengthened my events toolkit.

What type of events have you organized virtually during the pandemic?

I hosted a couple of my own virtual summits in the planner-specific space, and I am grateful to the bigger event agencies that brought me on board as an event tech. My most memorable virtual event during the pandemic was Hootsuite. Their team is awesome, and they have an amazing company culture. I worked on their global company and sales kick-off for 1100 ‘owls’. 

That’s quite a few people to coordinate across many time zones!

Yes! We were streaming for three days, around 15 hours a day. So it was a grind, but it was so much fun. It was a great example of how engaging and exciting virtual events can be.

What do you like most about working in event planning? It’s often seen as a very stressful job.

I find it’s a really good balance of the left and right sides of my brain. I love digging into spreadsheets and project plans. It’s very satisfying to have a project management tool that I can work through and I love collaborating with a team. But I also crave the creative side of event planning, which is where weddings fit in well. 

As event people, we tend to be adrenaline junkies. For me, I love seeing everything come together during an event. The gratification of how happy people are, how they are experiencing all the things you thought of in your brain. Seeing that brought to life is a very special moment.

It seems to me like you have to have that vision for the event and be confident in your skills because everything really comes together at the last minute, like a beautiful puzzle, right?

True. That’s also why, with Clearwater Events, I always try to take on full-scope projects because it’s much easier for me to create an overall experience, and have a hand in all the pieces of that puzzle. 

What’s your favorite part of the event planning process? 

In terms of the roadmap, I like the kickoff calls and really diving into what the client’s priorities are. It’s a great time to see how we can bring in their sustainable values and bring those priorities to life. 

The sustainability element of your approach is really fascinating to me. How did that come about? 

This has been a conversation I’ve had a lot in the last couple of months. I think some people have sort of fallen into this [eco-conscious event] space or, as Gen Zers, it’s something that’s becoming increasingly more important to them as they’re seeing the impact of climate change. 

For me, there was one specific incident that banged me on top of the head. I was part of a team planning a big conference at our local convention center, back in 2018. We had about 2,000 attendees, and I remember going into our back office, and it was just floor-to-ceiling boxes of individually wrapped pieces of swag. And there was marketing collateral, like postcards, booklets, and brochures that nobody would see. 

I just thought: there has got to be a better way to do this. 

In Canada, at least, I think the meeting and events industry pre-COVID ranked in the top five, GDP-wise. So when we think about industries causing an impact on the environment, we are a big piece of that. 

What are your favorite ways to leave a piece of the event with people without contributing to more waste?

Likely no surprise, but I’m an experiential person so, for me, if you’re going to do a photo booth, for instance, can we make it digital? That way people are still getting a moment, but it’s more of a memory of the event itself versus something physical that’s perhaps branded with your company logo on it. 

How did you go from founding Clearwater Events to launching The Good Green and mounting more of a collective?

In the event planner professional space,  networking is gold. So I started following and connecting with my fellow planners and professionals in the event space in the States. 

With Praise, who runs a photography business out of San Francisco, and Ellen, who formerly ran an event planning company based in New Jersey, we had a lot of similar kinds of conversations and similar values. We all came from an impact space and loved that community side. So The Good Green was a really natural evolution towards how we could pair sustainability, impact, and community. They’ve both now moved on to other passion projects, but it’s been fun for me to resurrect it post-COVID.

I find there are lots of great local collectives out there. The Midwest is doing some really cool things. Australia and the UK too. But there’s not really anything when you zoom out past that, that doesn’t have a city-specific focus. 

It’s great to bring everyone together! I see that in the social media space too, it’s hard to find those crossovers and communities. It can be very competitive, yet we all grow and do better from sharing the information and expertise we have. We each have our own thing to bring to the table, anyway. 

Exactly. When people are hiring you, they’re not just hiring you for what you do, they’re also hiring you for you. So, with The Good Green, it’s about how we can provide an upstream and downstream option for sustainable event professionals, depending on where they’re at in their sustainability journey. If they’re looking for local resources, we can tie them into that collective, and if they’re looking to mastermind and connect with others on a larger scale, they can funnel into us.

What are some of the core services you offer with The Good Green? 

With Praise and Ellen, it started as a vendor directory, and a way for vendors to connect with other vendors more independently. 

We’ve relaunched the website with bigger goals for 2023. The blog now has more educational and informational content. We’re looking to launch creative submissions so we can share styled shoots and real wedding inspiration for both planners and clients landing on the site. We’re also looking to launch a membership so that will be really exciting as a tangible, intentional way to gather people on a regular basis. 

That’d be really great! Having those moments to network, exchange, and brainstorm… We can learn so much from what worked or didn’t work for other people. It can save us so much time and so many headaches. 

In the event space, things are always evolving. Being able to talk through those things with other people who get it is really helpful. 

Fantastic! What are your top tips to incorporate more sustainability into an event, for someone starting out in the industry or someone who’s organizing their own event?

As part of my onboarding process, I like to approach it in one of two ways. The first is thinking about your priorities, and how you want to experience your event. Are you foodies, so the meal is really important? Are you like me and love all things paper and stationery? Let’s use those priorities as our base and put a sustainable twist on them. Or, if you already live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, let’s take your eco values and place them into the various areas of your event.

The things I always recommend: 

Think local and in season while reducing shipping and transportation costs for food, for florals, and also when bringing in materials and products. Even down to your favors. 

Renting over purchasing always. There are event rental companies in all the major cities so at least try and rent from one of those vendors, if possible. 

Be mindful of how much you’re printing. Even with an event like a wedding, you have menus, place cards, seating chart programs… All these things, right? If you have to print anything, consider more sustainable options like FSC paper, seed paper, and other eco paper alternatives like cotton and hemp.

I also have four guiding questions I like to use:

  1. What is the effect of this choice that I’m making on the environment? 
  2. How much waste is generated or produced by the choice that I’m making about a given item? 
  3. Can I reuse, recycle, repurpose, or resell this item after my event? 
  4. Is there a more eco-friendly alternative to this purchase, service, or good? 

Do you have any tips of things people should look out for when selecting a vendor/partner/planner for their events? 

Sustainable vendors are still the minority, so finding vendors that align with your values can be challenging.

In terms of choosing vendors and trying to weed through all the noise, I recommend asking them lots of questions about what they do and how they’re actually incorporating sustainability into their business in a tangible way

So for a florist, are they using local products? Are the blooms coming from somewhere farms? Are they avoiding pesticides wherever they can? Are the dried flowers in your arrangements bleached? Are they using floral foam?

If you deep dive into whatever vendor it is, you should be able to pretty quickly find out how sustainable they really are by how specific they are with their responses

I know some couples or clients are worried about asking questions because they don’t want to feel like they’re badgering or being rude to a professional. But I say ask the questions. It’s really important to be hiring people that you like, know and trust. Right? 

I love that. And it’s so true. Finding someone that you work well with and where your values are aligned makes such a difference. What have been some of the major lessons you’ve learned since starting your own business? 

When I made the shift in my business in 2019, there wasn’t really anyone in Vancouver that branded themselves as sustainable, even across vendor categories.

I knew I needed to make a change, I wanted to make a difference, and be more selective with who I was working with, but there weren’t a ton of options out there. Then, when you add in the client and their very specific needs, it’s another layer of complexity. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a challenge to source vendors in this space that you don’t have to give the 101 to. They just get it.

On the client side, it’s been hard from the buy-in perspective too. I’m lucky to be in a place now where I’ve talked about it enough, and the people that come to me know this is my jam. But there are definitely moments where a family member or friend asks “why are you doing it this way?” So having couples be able to go to bat for themselves and share the story about why they’re planning an [eco-friendly wedding] has been really rewarding.

I think, too, there was this myth that sustainable weddings or events are all about mason jars and burlap and rustic or DIY. Can we just break through the stereotype, please? I have a huge appreciation for the DIY-er because that’s not my strength. But I’m a big believer in the Eco Luxe movement, so if you want to have a modern wedding and do something a little different, let’s make it happen.

I love that! Cheers to breaking the crunchy granola, burlap eco stereotype.
What role has social media played in your entrepreneurial journey? 

When I started my business, I was on social all the time because it was a great way to connect with vendors. Before sending a formal email to ask “Can I come in?” “Can I try this thing?” “Can I do a site visit with you?”, if they start to see your name pop up on Instagram or in the DMs, they at least know who you are. Now I use it to continue to cultivate the relationships I have, and connect with other sustainable planners beyond my local area.

[Being on social media for] The Good Green has been so much fun. It’s been a way for us to share lots of tips and tricks. We share those “international day of”-whatever posts, courtesy of many of your days to remember posts, which is great.

Aww I’m always happy to see people make them their own! And I am a big advocate for more positivity on social media in particular, so it’s always nice to see people like you putting out good news and uplifting, educational content. 

I also find that in the events world, a lot of planners hold all their knowledge close to the vest. For us at The Good Green, it’s really important to share our tips. Obviously, you can’t dive too deep with the character limits of a caption. But they can take those snippets and go do their own research, or dive into pieces that are of interest to them. The more we start to talk and share about [eco-conscious event planning], the more accessible it will become, and the more normal it will be. 

I agree. I think collaboration and education is key for more sustainability. It can be very intimidating when you’re contemplating how to start incorporating more sustainability into what you’re doing. 

There’s some people in this space that think of sustainability as very black and white, an all or nothing thing. I come at it from an accessible point of view. I try to approach people where they’re at, not shaming or judging them for the choices that they’ve made. If they’re curious about sustainability, they want to dip their toe into it, that’s awesome. How can we help facilitate those changes? If we’re making three eco-friendly changes to one event, hopefully they can build upon that for years to come. Or maybe they’re taking that knowledge and implementing it in their daily life, which is much more important to me than trying to change everything overnight.

Final question: What are some of the things that you’ve got in the works? What can we have to look forward to? How can people connect with you? 

For The Good Green, we’re revamping our online vendor directory, and we’re starting a Brands We Love section for people looking for brands that have good ethical values. We’re also launching a community in 2023. And we’re excited about providing a space for our fellow sustainable event pros to share their work! So stay tuned for more details on how to submit your work.

On the Clearwater side, I feel like COVID aged me like, seven years. So I’m just trying to find a way to adapt and evolve. The hope is to still do a select number of weddings, but shift back to more community impact events, being more intentional with my time, and giving myself the freedom to say no to things that maybe aren’t quite the right fit.

Thank you so much for sharing all of this with me Natasha! I look forward to seeing all the wonderful things you, Clearwater Events, and The Good Green are going to be up to in the coming months.

My main takeaways after talking to Natasha:
Organizing a more sustainable event can look many different ways that don’t have to break the bank or be an ‘all or nothing’ situation. The main thing is for the event to feel aligned with the person, the couple, or the company that’s hosting it. Also, don’t be afraid to dive deep and ask questions!

Want to find out more about Natasha and eco-conscious event planning? I recommend following Clearwater Events and The Good Green on Instagram and checking out +