Green Meetings and Conferences – Earth Day 2011 and We are Failing


Last week saw another Earth Day come and go. I won’t say it was a happy Earth Day because we are still failing badly as an industry.

This is a rant. This is a rant at all of you that are doing nothing.. just sitting and waiting around for someone else to do something about greening our industry. I am disappointed in most of you and would like to say thank you to the ones that are trying hard.

I know that the folks that are trying hard sometimes feel that there is so little progress it makes them want to bang their collective heads against the wall. To all of those that are really making an effort and watching as everyone else slacks off, consider this thanks a pillow you can stick to your forehead, it won’t make you stop banging, it will just make it a little less painful.

To the rest of you… shame on you. We, as meeting and event professionals have done nothing to help the people that are trying to move our industry forward and ensure the survival of or our children or grandchildren. I will not even mention great grandchildren because, frankly, we will probably not make it that long at the rate we are going. Have a look at the Wikipedia article on Global Warming for some really scary stuff.

As a nation, we elect useless leaders, we fail to educate our children and we treat the planet like it is a freaking takeout joint that has a never ending supply of resources. How much take out are we going to consume before they have to close the restaurant? Only time will tell but we can see it happening everyday.

There are people that are working on standards for sustainable meetings and that is good, taking a little long, but good. But will standards actually help? As my saying goes, you can lead an idiot to the fountain of youth but the idiot won’t drink because it isn’t flavored like cherry cola.

Let’s have a hard look at the reality. The reality is, that in the past 10 years, not enough has been done by the average planner, yes the committed and the die hard are working on the issue but how many average planners have sought out organizations like the Green Meetings Industry Council (and joined), how many people have actually made greening their meetings part of their planning process and how many people have actually paid attention. How many of you have actually done something on your own. Not very many of you.

There are people out there that say “it takes time”, “people are learning”, “look at how far we have come” but the truth is, how long should it take? I think a decade is enough…

If the industry as a whole were REALLY taking this seriously, our major industry associations would be cramming green meetings down our throats (they don’ take a stand on anything that matters), major corporations would be behind the effort and taking MAJOR steps (not candy coated, half steps) and hotel chains and conference centers would be requiring that any meeting taking place in their facilities were responsible stewards of the environment. We would be forcing this on ourselves and we would not need to wait around for the people that take years to develop standards that may or may not happen. We would already be doing it on our own.

Seat belt laws are meant to get the last few idiots that are still not wearing one to strap in, they are not aimed at the greater majority that have already buckled up.

If we were serious, we would be ostracizing those that were not greening their meetings and events. Yep, you heard me right, we would be calling out those that were not doing their part and we would be shaming them….. Guilt and public humiliation are great motivators and have done more for moving things forward than hugs, kisses and a big “come on, you can do it”. It certainly does more than handing someone checklist.

Instead, we can only celebrate the few who are doing something and hold them up as champions when they should be the NORM, not the exception to the rule… we should ALL be doing our part, not waiting for others to do it for us.

You do know that you are allowed to act on your own don’t you, no one is stopping you from greening your meetings.

If you think that greening a meeting or event is some difficult task, I would like to remind you that it took the United States four years to build an Atom Bomb. It took the United States eight years to put a man on the moon and frankly, shooting a man into space and landing him on a huge rock and returning him home is  WAY more complicated than greening a freaking meeting or conference…

We got to the big spooky rock in the sky a whole bunch of times and got people back a whole bunch of times, yet we as an industry can’t get our shit straight about not using plastic water bottles or using one bus instead of forty cars.

The problem is, we are afraid. Afraid that we will actually get it done and afraid that the political winds will shift and we might be on the wrong end of the stick. We are afraid that we might offend someone. We are afraid that some big almighty industry giant might get pissed off. We are afraid of more work. We are afraid of the Boss. We are afraid of our own shadows. You name it and it causes fear and fear leads to inaction.

If we were serious, we would not care what people thought, we would not care who we pissed off, we would simply get it done as quickly as possible and be damned what people, the boss and politicians think about it.

The house is on fire right now….What are we doing? We are arguing over the proper size of bucket to carry the water and discussing the best way to scoop the water and worrying about what John will think if we don’t include him in the bucket brigade and sitting down with Sally to make sure that she understands why we did not pick her to be the lead bucket carrier and we certainly cannot leave out Frank and Dolly over there……….Oooops, because Frank and Dolly are not participating,  nothing can get done and we have to stop anything that involves water to put out the fire because they might not like it….and now Roger is pissed because he cannot accurately tell you how much water is being expended and Bob is mad because you are not buying the water from him……meanwhile, the house has burned to the ground and everyone is now arguing about where they are all going to live………….and they will argue about it until the snow flies and they all freeze to death because no one could ever agree on how to rebuild the house or if they should just move to a new house.

All they had to do was throw some water on the fire when it started……….

Happy Week After Earth Day

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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