It is a simple fact today that the meetings industry must move towards more sustainable green business practices. We have witnessed the huge environmental impact of the meetings industry in the areas of transportation, water, electricity, paper, plastic, and other resources. The recent slow economy has forced many businesses to evaluate costs and seek resource saving alternatives. This economic climate is just the extra push the meetings industry needs to move in the right direction much faster.
Why Green Meetings?
The “Green Events Sourcebook” presents the following case for green meetings:
- Green Meetings Are In Demand – Meeting attendees are consumers. As consumers become more interested in green practices, they demand the same from the products and services they buy and use. In addition, there is a trickle-down through the industries. For example, as airlines raise passenger baggage fees in response to rising fuel and energy costs, passengers demand less paper meeting materials to pack to avoid extra charges.
- Green Meetings Can Save Time and Money – Saving resources saves money, and everyone wants to save money. Eliminating printed meeting materials, such as brochures, announcements, etc. by switching to electronic communications saves printing costs and the time to print and mail the materials to participants. Recycling supplies such as badge holders and signs saves money and the time it takes to reorder these for the next event. Virtual meetings can save time and money in planning and travelling to attend meetings. A 1-hour webinar can be faster, cheaper, and more convenient than planning a half-day around the same 1-hour live meeting.
- Green Meetings Engage Participants – Greening a meeting gets everyone involved in the process of reducing, reusing, recycling. Actively engaged participants are probably more likely to feel they got some value out of the meeting experience and more likely to participate again.
- Green Meetings Help Fight Global Warming – The meetings industry is a top generator of waste from “one-time-use” items, ranging from the little plastic bottles of hotel shampoo to disposable cups for every break. Using bulk items can reduce the amount of waste that goes into the landfill. The fuel and energy used to transport people to a meeting contributes to global climate change. Holding meetings in a central location can reduce transportation and energy consumption costs. Virtual meetings can significantly reduce global climate change by eliminating fuel energy consumption.
- Green Meetings Are Here to Stay – The benefits and cost savings of sustainable green business practices will remain in the meeting industry long after the current “green” marketing trend has passed. Resource savings, such as using china ware instead of plastic ware at event venues, will become institutionalized.
Role of Technology
In addition to the reducing, recycling, and reusing recommendations for green on-site meetings, meeting planners have a wealth of technology to utilize throughout the meeting process, according to Corbin Ball, a green meetings leader:
- Before the Meeting – Prior to a meeting, meeting planners can utilize electronic communications for site inspections, requests for proposals, booking space and rooms, attendee communication and registration, project management, etc.
- On-site – During the meeting, participants can utilize electronic programs and materials, surveys and voting, message centers, course and session materials, etc. The widespread use of personal mobile devices, such as cell phones, PDAs, and laptops, provide a wealth of opportunities for communicating with participants using electronic means.
- After the Meeting – After the meeting, planners can utilize electronic tools for reconciliation and post-conference reporting. Proceedings and materials can be made available to participants in electronic form on the website.
- Instead of the Meeting – The world of gaming technology has produced a wealth of virtual conferencing opportunities including video conferencing, web conferencing, webcasts, and virtual trade shows where participants can interact with each other. Effectively utilizing virtual meeting technology can significantly reduce the energy consumption and solid waste production associated with on-site meetings.
Need for On-Site Meetings Remains
On-site meetings and virtual meetings both have a place in the future green meetings industry. Humans are social beings, and technology will not replace the value of live interpersonal networking that face-to-face on-site meetings offer. However, technology can be utilized throughout the event management process to help minimize the waste associated with producing an on-site meeting.
As businesses look to control costs, they may schedule less frequent on-site meetings and look to virtual meetings. There is huge potential for virtual meetings for staff meetings, conferencing, etc. as more and more companies move towards teleworking, global offices, outsourcing functions, etc.
As far as moving towards “carbon-free” meetings, organizations providing carbon offsets, such as Carbonfund.org, need to do a better job of making the mainstream mass public aware of what “carbon neutral” means to them. Many meeting attendees do not see the value of their mission because they do not really understand the green jargon.
However, the current market is right for this type of campaign. Carbonfund.org and similar organizations should reach out to the meetings and tourism industry to somehow incorporate the carbon neural offsets into the cost of doing business, as opposed to an optional add-on expense. So, if a traveler purchases an airline ticket, the carbon offset costs are part of the ticket price, if a traveler purchases a hotel room, it is part of the price, etc. The company could then promote these carbon offsets as part of their green marketing.
Green meetings can be both cost-effective and environmentally friendly if done right and done well. Several options and tools exist to assist meeting planners with planning and executing a green meeting. Current economic conditions can move the meetings industry towards more sustainable meetings. However, better communication to the meeting attendee about their role in green meetings is still necessary to ensure that the meeting is truly as sustainable as the meeting planner and host organization intended.
Ball, C. (2011). “45 Ways to Use Technology to Green Meetings.” Corbin Ball Associates Website www.corbinball.com.
Carbonfund.org. (2011). Carbonfund.org Website www.carbonfund.org.
Green Events Source. (2008). “The Green Events Sourcebook” brochure. Green Events Source Website www.greeneventssource.com.