Minimizing conference footprint
The next step to take is to figure out where the conference can be improved from an environmental point of view. Every item of the status-quo list should now be considered while asking the following questions in the order given. Many of the measures mentioned below will involve participants’ behavior but this section just focuses on deciding on certain measures whereas the next chapter then covers communication with participants and other partners.
What can be reduced?
The question of reduction is the most basic one and the most essential one. Everything that can be reduced will reduce the conference’s footprint at once and directly. When thinking about reduction some cases might seem to be a trade-off between becoming greener and maintaining conference quality. Although a conference can face a lot of reductions without losing quality, the planning team should feel comfortable with each decision. Green Conferences are meant to emphasize how environmentally friendly behavior can be introduced in existing processes without degrading them.
The most obvious reduction probably concerns the use of paper before and during the conference. The amount of consumed paper can be easily reduced by setting up clear rules on what should be printed and in which cases a digital version is enough.
Other sources of possible reduction depend on the actual conference lay-out.
What can be replaced?
Many parts of a conference that cannot be reduced by a substantial degree can often be replaced by alternatives with a lower environmental impact. However, good alternatives should not lead to extensive consumption or to disregard of the question of reducing.
Examples for replacements are numerous and for almost every item a conference could need to consume there will exist an environmental alternative. With the list of status-quo at hand some research will give plenty of options. Here are some of the most common examples:
- Paper: Recycled paper is nowadays produced with really high quality standards that can easily compete with not-recycled paper. The argument that printers might be damaged by recycled paper is not valid anymore and it is also not necessary to have greyish paper for environmental reasons as recycled paper can be bought in bright white.
- Traveling: Whenever possible participants and the organizational team should try to use trains, car sharing or public buses to keep the conference footprint as small as possible. Every flight will raise the overall footprint considerably.
- One-way items: One-way items used during the conference, like paper cups, plastic forks, etc, should be replaced with reusable items.
- Stationary: For many stationary items there is an ecological alternative, e.g. pens from recycled paper or recycled PET-bottles instead of plastics or badge covers made from biodegradable materials. The easiest way and the least complicated for the flow of the conference is to find one internet shop supplying those products and making this the main supplier so no more thought has to be given to single products.
- Food: As mentioned before private meals of participants are difficult to include in the Green Conference but for all meals supplied at the conference some standards should be considered. For keeping the footprint low, meat should be reduced to the lowest level acceptable and be replaced by vegetables. This could for example mean to offer a broader range of vegetarian meals just accompanied by one meal including meat. In general the ingredients should come from local suppliers or even fulfill bio-standards.
What can be compensated?
Compensating the impact of the conference should always be the last step to take. Compensating means that the overall impact of the conference is compensated by investing in reforestation programs. The basis of such compensation is always the CO2 emitted during the conference and the idea is that the amount of trees planted should more or less balance this amount. The whole process of calculating the conference emissions and considering the necessary compensating amount of trees can be quite complicated but there are companies specialized in this procedure. Those companies will have partner organizations in rainforest areas where the money from compensating conferences and other businesses will go.
While deciding for one company it is useful to look for local companies because they might already have the data of the conference venue. Another point that should be considered is that the company actually has definite partner organizations so that it is a transparent process where the money is going. Such a partner organization can also play an important role in communicating the Green Conference.
Compensation companies that have some experience with conferences could also be a valuable source of ideas on how to improve the conference. Therefore, it makes sense to get such a company involved at an early stage.