Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Two (More) Words

In article entitled, "Two Words," recently published in Smart Meetings, Jim Spellos taught us everything we need to know about the tech landscape as it relates to events, in just two words.  I highly recommend reading and adopting his wise words.  He included the words, Sustainable Events, understanding sustainability and technology are inseparably linked in this context. 

One of Jim's favorite projects, the Whole Earth Calculator, was recently endorsed by The White House as part of President Obama's directive on greenhouse gas emissions.  The Whole Earth Calculator converts the total pounds of paper products and plastics that are diverted from landfills into the amount of carbon dioxide that is not produced as a result, and then sends this information to social media. The tool can also be used to convert total pounds of donated food into meal equivalents and carbon dioxide averted equivalents.  Simply brilliant!

Moving forward, the two words, Sustainability and Technology, will remain inseparably linked.  They will provide tools to make meeting professionals lives easier and more environmentally friendly.  In fact, they already have, e.g. online registration, conference apps and hybrid meetings.

Jim Spellos talks about embracing change, because "you really don't have a choice." Certainly this is true for both technology and sustainability.  I would like to add my two words worth, "Start Today," because the future was never brighter for meeting professionals ready to make a change.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rockin' the Recycling

The long, hot days of summer are a perfect time to relax and enjoy live music in a beautiful outdoor setting. While listening to your favorite tunes, keep one eye focused on the environmental practices taking place at the festival. The good news is, here in the Pacific Northwest, festivals and events are going green this summer in record numbers. Hopefully, you are seeing this as well in your area.

If not, help the festival organizers along with these Top Ten Tips for Sustainable Events...

1. Talk to your waste/recycling hauler early in the planning process to develop a recycling program
2. Hire/appoint a recycling coordinator
3. Purchase green power for the stage and lighting
4. Use biodiesel to power generators
5. Require food vendors to serve local, sustainable food
6. Do not allow vendors or the venue to serve food in polystyrene and non-recyclable plastics
7. Provide incentives for the audience to use mass transit
8. Purchase carbon offsets to mitigate the travel by artists
9. Develop talking points for the artists to discuss what is being done to green the event
10. Just get started. Choosing even one idea from this list will have a huge impact. Measure what you have done and build on it next year.

As an audience member, don't forget to do your part by taking mass transit, bringing a reusable water bottle and using recycling bins provided.  We're in this together!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Ignore the Polar Bear

Last week I saw a consumer product with a photo of a polar bear.  Right next to the sweet polar bear was the tag line, "The Right Choice."  Searching the rest of the packaging, I was unable to find any reason this product was environmentally the right choice or better than the competition.  Polar bears have become the symbol for Saving the Earth and can be found on cleaning products, office supplies and even the back of buses.

In the past, we have talked about greenwashing, the practice of "advertising positive environmental practices while acting in the opposite way", and hoped it would subside. Sadly, it is alive and well in 2014 although as consumers have gotten more savvy, so have the claims being made. How can you avoid falling prey to greenwashing in the meeting and event industry?

Here are a few tips: 

Be informed. The first step is to make sure you research your supply chain. What does it mean when your suppliers say they are sustainable? Don’t be afraid to ask them about their specific practices.

Understand what terms such as ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ mean. Natural does not necessarily mean healthy--arsenic, uranium and formaldehyde are natural yet poisonous. And as far as non-toxic goes, everything is can be toxic, or deadly in sufficient dosages including oxygen, water and salt.

Be clear on the criteria used by ecolabels and certifications. The hotel sector has quite a few, such as Green Seal (US), Green Key (Canada) and Green Globe (Europe and Austral-asia). These are all third party certifications which look at sustainable operations. LEED certification looks at green construction. When researching ecolabels and certifications look for those using clear criteria, that adopt third party verification and report regularly on their environmental performance.

Participate in a back of house tour. This is the most effective way to ensure that vendors who claim to be green actually have sustainable practices in place. Ask to see the kitchen and areas where waste is sorted. Vendors who are being honest will not be fearful of letting you see what they do in the back of house. Note: this is a critical step which I missed once and learned the lesson the hard way.  Learn from my mistakes.

Be transparent in your own practices. Do what you say and be honest about what you do. Your risk of greenwashing in your organization is reduced when you are clear and up front about your commitment, intentions and actions.

Step away from the polar bear and remember the general rule of thumb applies: Caveat emptor – buyer beware!