“In nature, there are neither rewards nor punishments – there are consequences,” R.G. Ingersoll (1833-1899).
Environmental initiatives have been in vogue since the 25th Anniversary of Earth Day in 1995. Yet in the past five years, many environmental friendly programs have moved beyond fashion and fad to becoming socially acceptable and the norm. Even some large corporations are expanding their social responsibility programs by creating a triple bottom line focus on people, planet and profit.
Today, many event professionals consider green programs when planning their annual conferences or meetings. Reducing the overall environmental impact of a meeting can seem like a daunting and ambitious task. If you’re considering “greening your event,” start by implementing small changes and track their positive impact.
In the early 1990’s, I worked as a consultant, trainer, meeting professional and writer for Keep America Beautiful and Keep Texas Beautiful. I organized and implemented many litter-free and green friendly events and expos. During that time, I developed a three-prong philosophical approach to all of my meetings and events.
My Three Green Philosophies For Meetings And Events
1. Everything you do has an impact on the Earth.
There are degrees of that impact, some positive and some negative. There are also tradeoffs for everything you do.
For example, some conference organizers try to create a paperless event, reducing the amount of paper printed, shipped, used and disposed. Others believe that attendees need handouts for notes to retain learning. So, sometimes, the tradeoff of having paper at an event is to help with learning and retention. Ultimately, “Design for Eco-Efficiency” (DFE) and maximum learning is the best way to go.
2. Change is the constant.
Things are changing rapidly. What’s right today could be wrong tomorrow. And what’s wrong today could be right tomorrow. What is considered environmentally friendly in one town may not be the same practice in another town. When holding a meeting, learn the local initiatives and follow them. If your dead set on specific initiatives, be sure to include those in your rfp.
3. You have to think about what you are doing.
It’s easy to do things the way we’ve always done them when planning a meeting. Yet, we need to stop and think about the implications of our face-to-face meetings from the waste created, the food unused to the carbon footprint.
As a popular children’s song says, “Think, think, think, think about what you do. What if all 6 billion people did it too?”
What small steps can we take to lessen the impact of our meetings and events? How can we make meetings carbon neutral?
In addition to these three green philosophies, here are six environmental principles I embraced for my meetings and events.
1. Everything must go somewhere or we can never really throw anything away.
There is no away. Waste is either reduced, reused, recycled, landfilled, dumped or combusted. It’s best to start with trying to reduce the amount of waste from an event. Here are some simple practices conference and tradeshow organizers and can use:
- Collect and recycle the cardboard from your tradeshow and your shipping as most cities and venues have cardboard recycling. Check with your decorator to help you with this.
- Once the tradeshow ends, collect left-over tschotskes from exhibitors and give them to a local school or shelter.
- Create a litter-free event.
- Create signage that can be reused from event to event. In the tradeshow hall, use recycled content signage. Better yet go digital.
2. Everything is connected to everything else, but how?
3. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of a biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.
When holding an event outside, especially in a green area, try to preserve the integrity of the local habitat. For example, consider foot traffic patterns, the impact of staging and seating and the impact of ground transportation into the area. Also, make sure that the area is as clean, or cleaner, than when you found it.
4. Natural systems can take a lot of stress and abuse, but there are limits.
Regardless of human’s actions, nature will continue but in what form? The less impact and carbon footprint, the better.
5. Humans are just ordinary citizens of nature.
6. Up to a point, the bigger the better. Beyond that point, the bigger the worse.
Here are some additional green show trends that some shows are adopting:
- Moving the show guide from paper to mobile and touch screen kiosks
- Using onsite self-service badge pickup and registration instead of mailing registration packets and badges
- Securing exhibit service companies that lead the charge with using recycled carpet, reusable sign materials, electronic signs, etc.
If you’re looking for more concrete examples on how to green your meetings and events, consider attending the 2010 Sustainable Meetings Conference, February 9-11, in Denver, CO by the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC). GMIC Board member and Conference Co-Chair Mitchell Beer also shares Top 10 Reasons to Attend the Sustainable Meetings Conference.
What green initiatives have you implement in your meetings and events? What environmental friendly tips for your conferences have you learned? Share them with us.