Thursday, April 25, 2013

4 Ways To Green Your Event

The average 2,500-person conference will go through 75,000 disposable cups. 75,000!

Does that number astound anyone else? With Earth Day putting sustainability back at the top of at least some minds this week, we thought we'd take a look at some easy ways that our industry can do better when it comes to respecting the environment.

Do you have a green target for your event?
(Image courtesy of  patpitchaya and
Face-to-Face meetings are great, but they also require a huge use of resources. From transportation to the event, to a conference hall full of people using single-serve beverage cups and food trays, it's amazing what we can plow through in a couple days.

So how, as an industry, can we change our habits so we can sleep at night knowing we aren’t piling up resources in landfills around the country? Here are some starter ideas to green your event, whether you're an attendee or an organizer.

How to Green Your Event

1. Use Technology 

How often do you ever refer to that big folder of paper you got at your last meeting?

Encourage your vendors and organizers to incorporate technology into their plans. Share documents on tablets, iPads or email information to attendees ahead of time. Incorporate trade show mobile apps into your plans. Not only will you save a bunch of waste, but your content is going to be far more engaging and memorable if you do it right.

2. Avoid the SSS: Single Serve Syndrome

This is harder than it sounds. Even for the conscientious, it's easy to inadvertently create a ton of garbage without realizing it, just by being the average consumer. We plow through coffee cups, napkins, plastic silverware, water bottles.

Try this. If you’re spending two nights in town for a conference, bring a coffee thermos and a water bottle. That step alone (and being vigilant about using them) will save you 2 - 6 paper coffee cups over two days if you’re an average coffee drinker. You’ll also save at least that many bottles of water. That’s 4 - 12 beverage containers spared from the trash - easily!

If you can avoid being that guy who takes a handful of napkins for a single sandwich or cookie, you’ll make a bigger dent. Then, when it’s time for happy hour, go for the draft beer. Yes, your mug will need a washing, but you’ll save a bottle from flying down the chute (and the back of the guy who has to haul them out of the basement!).

Event organizers can make an even larger dent by not offering these items in the first place. At the Microsoft Convergence conference in 2011, new strategies reduced waste by 4 tons compared to 2010.

3. Re-think those trinkets 

Yes, we all feel like we have to have something at our booth to give away to attendees. But nobody can argue that we could create more creative trade show swag. Just check your junk drawer. How many keychains, frisbees, or stress balls do you have in there? How many logo pens are sitting there destined for the garbage or notepads are simply taking up space?

We can come up with something better than the cheapest trinkets we can find. I’ve heard of some companies that gave away seed packets. What’s greener than that? Another gave a bamboo cutting board with their logo on it - now that’s original! If you want to be greener, think about what happens to what you give away after the show. Are you just adding junk to the pile? Then it might be time to think a little harder.

4. Communicate 

If you want to green your event, make it a priority and communicate your goals to your attendees. Include notes in your emails encouraging them to bring their own water bottles and coffee mugs. Tell them what you’re doing to reduce impact – most of them will appreciate it.

Check out the recycling efforts from the Philadelphia Marathon.  Not only are they recycling, but they’ve made it a priority to inform their participants with a great page and an ambitious goal of diverting 85% of their waste from landfills.

Just a few years ago your average running event mixed water bottles, banana peels, and wrappers into one big pile of landfill. More and more of these events are offering to compost food waste, keeping tons out of landfills.

As an industry, we have a long ways to go to earn our green stripes, but making some baby steps isn't too hard. What are you doing to leave less of a footprint behind when the show is over?