Going Green Should Should Not Make You Blue

Going green, buzz words that are sweeping the event industry and something that everyone who turns on the TV or opens an industry magazine is trying their hand at, unless you live under a rock, this is something that should be on your event planning radar.

It is truly a noble cause, helping the environment by doing what we as event professionals do best, plan events. By doing our part we are turning an industry that is seen as wasteful and un-eco-friendly into a model to be looked up to.

As an event professional, I make it a point to tell every client about how going green can positively affect their events in a variety of ways,  by taking the steps necessary to create a green and sustainable meeting environment, our clients find that they are saving money, creating good press and helping the environment. The world is starting to realize that going green is not just hype, going green is actually sound business.

But in the rush to be environmentally friendly and meet the mandates of our corporate or association’s policies,  event planners must ask ourselves the  hard questions.………..when is green, not green, am I telling the truth and might we actually be doing the environment a disservice.

Before you announce to the world, the industry or your mom that your event is green, be  100% sure to avoid embarrassment, harm to your brand or even legal action. Here are some thoughts to ponder as our industry embraces the rush to be green.

Is Your Meeting or Event  Green?

This is a “be 100% honest” with yourself moment because at the current time being green is purely subjective, so it is important to have an internal system to evaluate one’s “greenness”.

First, take the time to do the research and set up internal checks and balances to determine what is green. Work with industry resources such as the Green Meetings Industry Council to develop green practices in all of your meeting and event activities. Becoming green need not be a painful process, others have gone before us and have laid the groundwork for developing company or association-wide green meeting and event mandates. Basically, copy the success of others.

Second, once you have initiated green policies, walk through your event timeline minute by minute to uncover areas where you can make improvements because, the world is watching and you do not want to open yourself, your event or your organization up to unnecessary scrutiny or criticism.

Look at everything from transportation, shipping and registration to food and beverage service, marketing handouts, and giveaways. Are you serving water in bulk rather than in single serve plastic containers, are the event give-aways produced using sustainable methods. These are the things that sound internal policies will allow you to identify as you plan your event.

If you determine that portions of your event are not green and there are no alternatives to your course of action, don’t candy coat it or try and sweep it under the rug. State it as a fact, such as “We understand that our transportation options do not allow us to use busses that run on natural gas or bio-diesel, but in an effort to be as green as possible, we are scheduling attendee arrivals to make as few trips as possible to and from the airport which will reduce the overall carbon emissions of the program”.  You have just turned a negative into a forward thinking positive.

Don’t be a “greenwasher”  One of the biggest pitfalls in the rush to be green is “greenwashing”. This is something that we are beginning to see in every industry, not just the meeting and event world and greenwashing will come back to haunt you in the long run, especially if your company or association is mandating green policies or if it is part of a larger event marketing plan.

Greenwashing is the act of over-hyping or misrepresenting the greenness of your event, product or service. An example is announcing to the world that you are hosting an eco-friendly event simply because the convention center happens to recycle newspapers and soda cans.

As a planner, you did nothing to impact the green aspects of the event, but are taking credit for the actions of others.

Simply put, greenwashing is dishonest and in the long run can hurt your product or brand, especially if your competition, an industry group or the heaven forbid, the blogosphere gets hold of your deception. In today’s world, this is just about as bad as taking candy from a baby and will be treated with the same type of enthusiasm.

Rather than greenwash, it is better to give credit and put a positive spin on the effort put forth by the convention center. This can be done very simply by stating “We are proud to choose the Mars Convention Center as host of our 2008 conference because of their contributions in regards to environmental awareness and sound environmental policy”. The act of recognizing the convention center’s environmental policies shows that you are thinking green and establishes that you are not taking credit for someone else’s work.

If it looks green, it must be green……..right?

One aspect of the green event movement that is often overlooked by many, including companies and associations with sound environmental policies is the “it looks green, but it ain’t” scenario.

This is the hardest item to combat, both internally in the planning stages and in the realm of public opinion.

A good example of this scenario is transportation; let’s say for example that you have 20 attendees arriving throughout the day at the local airport. Is it better to send one hybrid Toyota Prius to pick up participants individually or send one twenty passenger bus running diesel fuel to pick them up all at once?

The sexy thing to do is to send the Prius and send out a press release and tell the world that you are using hybrid technology for airport arrivals, “aren’t we great!” you exclaim, but in reality, the diesel belching bus making one trip probably has a smaller carbon footprint. Another common example is paper vs. cloth napkins. Sometimes paper is actually greener when you factor in the transportation, water, detergent and bleach required to clean the cloth napkins.

The “it seems green” dilemma can run so deep as to make your head spin, I once tried to evaluate whether it is greener to have paper handouts at our conference or put the presentations on USB flash drives to be given to each attendee.

My thought was using less paper saves trees; therefore it must be good for the environment. What we found was that USB flash drives are produced in ways that are not green and that by using them, we might actually be doing more harm to the environment than good.

Now, it was decision time. Announcing that we were not having paper handouts would have made our client look very green and would probably have not been questioned by the event community. But, in an effort to actually practice what we preach, we decided on a multi-faceted approach.

The presentations were e-mailed to each attendee prior to the conference thus eliminating the need to give out paper handouts or USB flash drives, we had three USB flash drives to transfer presentations to attendee computers for those that did not receive the e-mail and we purchased carbon offset credits to cover ourselves just in case. Complicated, no. Required a little creative thinking, yes. Creative thinking is what event planners do best.

Green meeting and event planning were largely unheard of only a few short years ago, but today it is fast becoming the normal way to do business as more and more organizations discover that a positive impact on the environment can have a substantial impact on their bottom line.

Planners will find a treasure trove of resources to help them adopt green meeting and event practices. Planners that use a little common sense and take the time to understand the pitfalls and traps of green event planning will help ensure that our industry moves to the forefront of the green movement helping to make the world a better place.

For More Information on Sustainable Meetings:

Have a look at some honest to goodness greenwashing that I spotted at a Chicago Meeting Hotel in 2011.

From February 08

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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