Creating a Green Conference or Seminar: Make your next big meeting or event eco-friendly! by Jessica Hodges
Picture this: a pyramid of 1,200 Styrofoam cups sitting atop 600 plastic water bottles, thousands of plastic utensils, stacks upon stacks of printed brochures and a truckload of promotional gizmos such as pens, key chains, mousepads and magnets.
Now multiply that by a million and ship it out to landfills nationwide.
This is just a quick exercise to illuminate a growing problem: the impact of America’s convention & meeting industry, a $107 billion industry that serves 136.5 million people attending 1.2 million business events annually.
Many of us in the corporate world attend annual tradeshows hosting thousands of vendors, clients and potential business associates within our industries. So you can only begin to conceive of the waste such events produce – imagine each event as the building and deconstruction of a small city, consuming a vast array of disposable products within just a matter of days. The country’s 1.2 million business meetings, trade shows and conventions affect the environment in a number of ways – through the greenhouse gases emitted during travel, the electricity and water consumed during events and hotel stays, the exhibit booths built from scratch and then dismantled, and the countless brochures, PowerPoint handouts, promotional giveaways, meals & bottled beverages that are consumed and disposed of. Over the years, these events have congested countless landfills and depleted or misused many of our natural resources, which directly impacts our environment. The industry is so large that seemingly minor things add up to substantial impacts.
The best contacts and resources to help you get it done
Putting Things in Perspective
To put things in perspective, it’s estimated that 2,500 people attending a five-day conference – with three meals and two coffee breaks each day , this can use up to 62,500 plates, 87,500 napkins, 75,000 cups or glasses, & 90,000 cans or bottles. That’s a LOT of potential garbage! Although the popularity of incorporating ‘green’ practices has continued to rise, the main concerns for most businesses attending seminars is a) the bottom line and b), how it will affect an individual’s experience while attending. According to Bruce Tepper, author of ‘The Complete Guide to Selling Meetings, Incentives and Corporate Events’, “It is the topic du jour for every conference this year in the meeting and incentive travel industry.” But Tepper believes that much of the industry buzz about green meetings is simply smoke and hype: “Every other association is doing this. There’ll be a new cause down the line – clients just don’t care. It comes back to money.”
Turn Your Meetings Green!
Only 16% of U.S. meeting planners cited environmental concerns as one of the top three external factors affecting their work – compared with 30% in Europe and Canada, according to a recent survey by Meeting Planners International. If you fall under the 16% statistic (and hope to see these numbers improve in the U.S.), you might still be wondering: how do you go about organizing a successful green conference, seminar or meeting, and if possible, do it in a cost-effective (and appealing) way?
The following tips are by no means an exhaustive list, but an outline to get you on your way to a more environmentally-friendly seminar, meeting or conference:
- All handouts to be printed on two sides using post-consumer recycled paper, or better still, provide all handouts afterwards online.
- Arrange for exhibitors to donate leftover flowers, giveaways or booth decorations to local schools or nonprofit organizations. Donate leftover food to soup kitchens.
- Ask exhibitors to minimize packing materials, and use recycled and reusable materials in their booths. If you need to hand out promotional products, consider items made from recycled or sustainable materials. Some great earth-friendly options are available at ePromos
- Ask hotel’s housekeeping staff to shut blinds and turn down the heat/air conditioning during the day in rooms while attendees are gone.
- Ask hotels not to change the sheets and towels daily unless requested by the guest.
- Ask hotels not to replace the amenities daily unless they are gone. Use of soap and shampoo dispensers would be optimal. Choose a location that’s close to where most participants live to minimize fuel consumption during travel.
- Choose meeting rooms, hotels and restaurants that are within walking distance of each other, or provide shuttle services to minimize car trips if walking isn’t feasible.
- Collect and recycle plastic name badges as people leave the event.
- Consider using carbon-offset programs to make up for the fuel burned by people traveling to the event. There are a number of companies that can estimate the amount of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming) created by travel to your event and will let you or participants donate a corresponding amount of money to plant trees, buy wind energy, etc.
- Feature information about the facilities’ recycling program for all areas.
- Offer drinking water in pitchers or water coolers rather than plastic bottles.
- Opt for reusable or recyclable signs.
- Provide well-labeled recycling bins for recycling and composting, as well as for trash.
- Select hotels that have detailed environmental policies such as energy-conservation programs, low-flow bathroom fixtures, on-site recycling, and that give guests the option of reusing their sheets and towels.
- Separate recycling bins for attendees to use at all catered functions, registration, and especially on the exhibit floor.
- Use non-toxic, biodegradable and green cleaning products: Encourage your cleaning company to use environmentally-friendly cleaning and paper products – if they won’t, switch to one of the many companies that do!
Tips & Tactics
Helpful advice for making the most of this Guide
- Catering: A few more hints to improve your green efforts: 1. Request locally-grown and organic food. 2. Condiments to be served in bulk containers, not individual servings, to save packaging. This includes sugar, creamer, butter, cream cheese, etc. 3. All napkins to be cloth whenever possible. Use coasters instead of cocktail napkins. 4. Request reusable, non-disposable dishes, glasses and linens for food service. If reusable isn’t an option, ask for compostable items such as paper plates and utensils made out of corn starch. If plastic, they must be washable (biodegradable or compostable is better). NO Styrofoam under any circumstances.
- Green Hotels Association – www.greenhotels.com: this site has tips for meeting planners on environmental considerations in choosing a hotel.
- Convention Industry Council – http://www.conventionindustry.org/: the Convention Industry Council’s 31 member organizations represent more than 103,500 individuals and over 17,300 firms and properties involved in the meetings, conventions and exhibitions industry.
- Green Meeting Industry Council – www.greenmeetings.info: the council also runs a site, www.bluegreenmeetings.org, with information on how to make meetings more environmentally friendly.