Bags, Bottles and Books

The Green Meetings Industry Council serves a very important purpose in the meetings industry: facilitating the conversation. If this organization didn’t exist, I wonder if the same number of people would be discussing how to make meetings more sustainable. Everything I have learned about green meetings, I have learned from the GMIC community.

During this year’s annual conference, I caught a comment on the twitter feed about making conference bags out of more sustainable materials. I tried to engage in a conversation about eliminating the bags instead of focusing on making them out of recycled materials. However, it is hard to have a lengthy, detailed conversation on twitter. Social media tip: have a site where a social media moderator can move a conversation during your conference if people need more real estate than 140 characters.

Back to the topic of the day! Admittedly, I attend more conferences than the average person, but I currently own and have given away more conference bags than one person could ever possibly use. Therefore, the rationale that conference bags are sustainable because people can re-use them at home doesn’t hold up.
Remember the three R’s (Reduce, Re-use and Recycle)? What happened to reduce? Instead of trying to do every single thing we always did before more sustainably, let’s look at whether or not every single thing we always did is supporting the goals and objectives of the meeting. Here are some potential uses for the conference bag: trade-show give-aways, speaker hand-outs, vehicle for sponsor logos. Now think about today’s conference.  Trade-show give-aways need to be more digital, less land-fill bound. Speaker hand-outs are almost completely non-existent and most people bring their own bags that hold their laptops or tablets or notebooks (which is why you don’t need to provide notebooks and pens, either). Can you find another vehicle for your sponsor logos? Or is that the only purpose for the conference bag?

Eliminating bottled water is another easy change you can make that will most often times save you money on your event in addition to creating less waste. Is it necessary, then, to provide a water bottle for people to use at the bulk water containers? Clearly, my viewpoint on the water bottles is the same as the conference bags. I have given away more than I currently own and I still have more than I need. 
At the MPISCC EdCon, we did not seek vendors to provide conference bags, water bottles, pens, tablets or lanyards that we felt were not essential to the logistics of our program. We found other ways to display the logos of our sponsors, including digital signage throughout the venue.

Instead of thinking you are greening your meeting by choosing bags or bottles made of recycled material, take a hard look at whether or not you need to provide these items in the first place. Do they contribute to the goals and objectives of the event?

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