Imagine the Limits
“Some companies get sustainability and some don’t get it at all,” says Chris Hill, founder of Hands Up Incentives in the U.K. “On the client side, it comes down to philosophy. As a planner, sustainability differentiates us in a crowded marketplace. We are the people who can help a company do good while they are being good.”

Building projects are particularly good teambuilders, he says, because teamwork comes naturally. Where employees might roll their eyes at a ropes course, they are immediately engaged in building a school playground.

“People can push out of their comfort zone when they are building something,” he says. “It is extra powerful to be doing something that helps other people. It is teambuilding by stealth.”

Adding sustainability to event activities doesn’t have to add cost. Every teambuilding activity has a cost, but most companies are more concerned about the potential impact.

“Cost is not the first question I get from companies,” says Alan Ranzer, founder and managing partner of Impact 4 Good. “The first question is what can I do that is green and does it make sense for the company? You have to look at who is going to be at the event and what would hook their interest.”

Patrick Lussier, president of Outeractive Experience in Quebec, has had great success with bike building programs. Assembling bicycles to donate to charity may look complicated, but it’s easy enough for almost any corporate group from any department.

“Building bikes provides a feel-good ending to your teambuilding,” he says. “It makes your participants feel good, it is non-polluting, and it is very efficient at delivering good.”

Unless your participants are engineers, for whom bike building may not be much of a challenge. They might respond better to a more complex challenge like building race cars from recycled materials and racing them, suggests Janet Rudolph, owner and director of TeamBuilding Unlimited. Other groups might respond better to a takeoff from Project Runway, Project Recycled Runway, creating couture from newspaper, cardboard, garbage bags, scraps of cloth, duct tape and recycled accessories.

“Finding ways to use materials that others have already thrown away is fun, but it’s a concept attendees can take back to the workplace,” she says. “Our primary goal is bonding while people rethink the ordinary. Green is a no-brainer, but the top requirement for teambuilding is fun.”

Alan Muskat takes sustainable fun in a different direction. He leads groups foraging for wild foods around Asheville, N.C. He can cook a quick sampling of wild mushrooms and other edibles attendees find or they can take them to one of several local restaurants to be turned into appetizers for an event meal.

“Look for a project that plays to the strengths and skills of your attendees,” Zavada suggests. “If you’re a tech company, your greatest contribution might be a half-day hacking computer code for a school. Or it might be rebuilding a playground. Either way, the people who do it feel better, the organization has a story to tell and the world is a better place. It makes a ropes course look pretty old-fashioned.”

FRED GEBHART is a longtime contributor to Meetings Focus who has covered nearly every meetings topic.

Sustainable Meetings
Presenters: Kate Hurst & Jeff Chase
Sept. 30, 2015 | 1:00 PM EDT