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April 16, 2008
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Karen Tocher:Making your conference green




You may be planning a large event. The venue may be vast in capacity and the number of delegates you are anticipating may be significant. How can you ensure the impact you have on the environment is not also sizeable?

The first task should be to calculate the anticipated carbon emissions and then analyse where alterations and reductions can be made. So first measure the emissions from all sources involved in the event. Factors such as transportation, accommodation and the amount of literature involved are just some of the elements that require careful consideration.

Once this has been established, the appropriate measures can be taken to reduce these emissions so the event is as low-carbon as possible. For a completely carbon neutral event, planners can take the further step of offsetting any emissions that could not be eliminated, following the event. There are a number of ways in which offsetting can be achieved, including forest restoration and investment in renewable energy, such as wind and solar power. In making the relevant changes, conference planners have the opportunity to publicly demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, spread the message and potentially inspire attendees to choose low environmental impact options in their own lives.

Cost and time implications
Creating a carbon neutral conference should not necessarily lead to higher costs. Taking time to undertake careful research and planning will pay financial dividends. With detailed investigation, using recycled paper or the booking of a carbon friendly venue should not add to the cost. Plus many items can be hired instead of bought, which is positive both in terms of costs and environmental impact.

Any conference takes significant planning time. When planning a carbon neutral conference the merit is often in the detail and this should be incorporated into the planning schedule. However, once the initial calculations with regards to emissions have been measured, and the reductions and alterations required to create a carbon neutral event have been identified, the timescale of planning for this kind of event should be very similar to a non-sustainable conference. Also, today, the mechanics of creating this type of event are generally in place.

“Involving delegates in the conference by encouraging them to offset their own emissions is an important element when planning this kind of conference, and planners should include this information within the initial registration or ticketing. However, not all participants may choose this option, so it is crucial that organisers factor this into the planning of the event. If organisers choose to offset any leftover emissions following the event, then this cost can be built into the ticket price of the conference.

Once you have established your aims in making a low-carbon or carbon neutral conference, it is vital to inject these changes into every element of the event:

The delegates
Electronic registration is a positive way of reducing waste paper, and can be used for all delegate correspondence in advance of the event – email blasts can be an effective tool in keeping attendees up to date while avoiding excessive printed materials.

Delegates should also be informed that the conference will be environmentally friendly from the outset. Aiming to enthuse and inspire attendees to get involved in the spirit of the conference will be conducive towards the success of the event. Locating recycling bins for various materials throughout the actual conference venue is just way one to encourage delegates to think green during the event. Many organisers appoint a member of staff as a ‘green ambassador’ throughout the event to proactively reiterate the carbon friendly undertone.

The venue

Before proceeding with a booking, check the venue’s environmental policies to ensure they are in line with your requirements. Selecting a site that employs energy and water-efficient equipment and practices, and schedules heating and air conditioning resources around meeting requirements is also crucial.

When it comes to location, consider how convenient a venue is in terms of public transport links. This will reduce the need for individuals to travel independently to the event.

Getting there
Transportation is one of the largest contributing factors to carbon emissions. So choose a destination with direct travel links, as multiple landings and take offs result in higher emissions from air travel. Consider operating a park and ride or shuttle bus service to transport delegates to and from the event, or ensure detailed information on public transport options is provided to delegates. Should taxis be the most convenient option in a given scenario, employ a company that operates hybrid vehicles.

Cut down on paper
Supplying information electronically in advance of the conference is preferable. However, if a delegate pack is required, ensure it only contains the necessary information, is printed on recycled paper and is in a double-sided format to reduce paper volume. During the event, handouts should only be provided if necessary or requested. Alternatively, flash drives can be provided as a useful substitute to paper copies of the conference literature. Reusable delegate name tags and recycled or reusable registration bags are simple and environmentally efficient, while whiteboards are an advisable replacement for flipcharts.

The catering

Ask your chosen caterers to use organic and locally produced food. This will not only cut emissions by eliminating the transportation of food, but also support the local economy. What’s more, organic foods are preferable, as they do not use synthetically produced fertilizers or chemicals from fossil fuels.

Disposable crockery and cutlery should be eliminated from the event while food served in individual wrappers should also be avoided – by cutting down on package you are also cutting down on waste. Setting up a compost programme for all food waste will also contribute positively towards ensuring your event is a ‘green’ success.

The accommodation
Choose places with environmental certification or environmental policies and practices, and supply your delegates with a list of these preferred hotels. Agree block bookings that are within easy walking distance of the conference location and ask delegates to actively participate during their stay by turning out lights, switching off televisions, air conditioners and heaters when they leave their rooms – and also taking part in any linen and towel reuse programmes in operation.

Karen Tocher is the manager of the Dundee & Angus Convention Bureau.


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