Going “green” is no longer an option – it’s a must! Adam Fidler gives us the lowdown on arranging sustainable conferences and meetings

Most organisations today have a policy on sustainability, but for the Management Assistant, or conference organiser, being asked to arrange a sustainable event or “green” conference can add another strand to what is already an onerous task.

At European Management Assistants (EUMA), we encourage all our members – who are top-level Management Assistants, PAs and Executive Assistants from all over Europe – to be mindful of how they can consider the environment and sustainability in their everyday jobs. Indeed, when EUMA arrange its two main European annual events, the conference organising committees have to be aware of EUMA’s commitment to sustainability.

For the conference arranger, you’ll need to plan well ahead for your conference to have minimum impact on the environment and for an organisation to demonstrate that its conference is sustainable is becoming increasingly important in winning new business, attracting sponsors and meeting delegates’ expectations. Today, being “green” is no longer an option.

Above all, designing, organising and implementing a sustainable event means creating an event that minimises negative environmental and social impacts and leaves a positive legacy for the host community. Consideration needs to be paid to: minimising GHG emissions (eg CO2); minimising natural resource consumption (ie water and energy); avoiding waste generation and re-using or recycling residual waste; causing minimal environmental damage; fostering economic, social and environmental benefits for local communities; applying these principals to the purchase of goods and services; and increasing the awareness of participants, staff, service providers and sponsors.

For the conference organiser who is new to arranging “green” conferences and meetings, here are some key practical things to consider:

Conference organisation

Determine if face-to-face meetings are essential for the conference organising committee. Could they meet up by videoconferencing, webcast, or teleconference? If a face-to-face meeting is necessary, choose a location that minimizes the distance attendees have to travel. Above all, the conference organising committee must “walk the talk”, so the rules about sustainable meetings and ideas below must apply as much to them, in their conference preparation, as the main conference itself!

Online and digital conference materials

Present information electronically and digitally as much as possible. This would include a conference website, email updates, online registration and the ability to download conference packs, or save conference papers to iPad or laptops rather than printing them out.

Transportation

Select a venue that is easy to get to via public transport with accommodation within walking distance. If that isn’t possible, arrange transport to and from the venue and social events with local carriers and encourage delegates to make use of public transport at low cost. For example, when EUMA arrange their European Conferences, we always ensure our delegates are given local Travel Passes at discounted rates to make the most of public transport.

Paper

Ensure all paper products at the conference are environmentally sound, and if the information has to be printed, print it double sided.

Re-use and recycle

Use catering supplies, such as napkins, crockery, cutlery and glasses that are reusable and not disposable. Have any conference catering that is left over composted and encourage delegates to put all their paper waste into recycling bins.

Local produce

Cut down on food sourced from miles away by sourcing local, seasonal dishes that support the local economy and giving attendees a great taste at the same time. At EUMA’s recent Annual Conference held in Reykjavik in Iceland in October 2012, all the food was sourced locally with fish dishes, fresh vegetables and plenty of organic ingredients. This became part of the conference experience, and reflected Iceland’s commitment to “green”.

Catering

Use Fairtrade tea and coffee, and avoid using individual bottles of water; refillable water jugs with spouts and stands are more environmentally friendly. They also avoid waste. Ensure that any food items are packaged in recyclable or compostable materials. If there is likely to be food left over, arrange to have it delivered to a local shelter for the homeless, or to be donated to another good cause. This can all be arranged beforehand.

Involve the delegates

A main feature of a “green” conference is getting the delegates to understand what you are attempting to do. So, let the delegates, sponsors and presenters know “this is a green conference” and ask them if they can be involved and encourage them to be a sustainable partner.

Create an environmental guidebook or policy

Create a document for the event to give to suppliers, delegates and speakers to show them the conference expectations about sustainable, economically friendly working.

Suppliers need to buy into being “green” too

When selecting hotels, speakers or suppliers, ask to see their sustainability policies, or ask them their views. Are they also committed to working in a “green” way? Are there any recent press articles that show them in a different light? What is their reputation when it comes to being “green”? Being “green” must apply to every strand of your conference – this, linked into a targeted PR/marketing strategy will attract participants and show your organisation in a good light.

Conference environment

On the day of the conference itself, have lights and air conditioning turned off when they are not needed and the heating set properly to save turning it up and down.

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Adam Fidler is the Principal and Founder of Adam Fidler Academy, which offers inspirational teaching and learning for PAs, EAs and business support professionals. His most popular courses ‘Get Ahead as an Executive PA’ and ‘The Strategic Executive ... (Read More)

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