First and foremost, said Scott Schenker, VP-program strategy and experience at George P. Johnson, an experience marketing firm, it is essential to ask: Why a green event? "Your brand is your identity. These are all extensions of your brand. Is being green an extension of your brand and, if so, how? Don't do it just because it's a fad," he said. "I fear sometimes that some companies have just decided an event needs to be green and haven't asked how does this [tie in strategically], and am I really doing the right thing for the organization."
He added: "You have to answer these questions yourself: `What is its economic impact, what is its brand impact, what is its impact on the attendees' experience?' "
According to Schenker, a green event can be an invitation to a problem for some companies. It is important to remember, he said, that a green event must match the brand and, at the same time, not raise issues that a company is not ready to deal with on a public level.
Mull over in advance how much of the greening process will even be revealed to attendees. Some attendees may not appreciate that a green event will draw attention to how socially conscious—or not—they are at home, Schenker said.
"It is worth at the beginning of this type of pursuit [to remember] that not everyone will view it the way that you do," he said. "There will be people out there who disagree with you. [Your company can] view it as a serious way of being more quietly socially conscious."
Once it is decided that organizing a green event fits in strategically, there are quite a few steps a company can take to reduce the carbon footprint of an event and, additionally, save money in the long term. Amy Spatrisano, president of the Green Meeting Industry Council, an organization that provides strategies for greening events, suggests that even changing one small aspect of an event is a good way to get started.
The process of greening, she said, is ongoing. "An event of any size is virtually impossible to [green] 100%," Spatrisano said. "Let go of that and do what you can to push the envelope. Just start anywhere. The best place to start is in the preplanning stages but the reality is that's probably not going to happen, so start wherever you are in the process."
Spatrisano suggested event marketers, during preplanning stages, begin by making sure every question asked has a green answer. "What I think people find challenging is it's a new way of doing things," she said. "But you're still picking a facility [and] you're still asking the same kinds of questions—just with a green filter. Ask if [a hotel has] a towel and sheet reuse program, or ask them to have green service. Instead of using disposable [plates] you would ask for china services, which looks better anyway."
Use electronic forms of communication for inviting attendees instead of paper. Pick a hotel that is close to public transportation and provide attendees with transit information. If you are using a shuttle, ask the company providing it to use biodiesel.
"The easier you make it for people, the more they will be engaged," Spatrisano said. "If you have to do shuttles and you have to use buses, ask for alternative fuel transportation. … If it's a diesel truck, they can use biodiesels—[all] they need to [do is] change the filters; they're going to tell you that they can't, but the reality is that they can."
Schenker also recommended examining what will be consumed at the event. "Under each of these areas of consumption you can reduce that consumption," he said. "Double-sided paper can save 40% on your paper usage."
Additionally, he said, choose signage that can be reused year after year. Even using a chalkboard to direct attendees can greatly reduce consumption. Consider removing the dates from signage, he said. Rather then writing "Event Expo 2007" simply write "Event Expo"—not only will signs be reusable, but companies will save on the cost of sign production for the next year.
And for your attendees, Schenker said, "Enable them. Give them metro cards or prepaid tokens. Or have greeters [at the airport] with signs giving them a map that takes them to public transportation. Look at providing diesel buses or reduced-carbon vehicles; and for VIPs find a fleet of alternative vehicles." Additionally, he said, give attendees opportunities to offset the carbon they used while traveling to the event.
Exhibitors and presenters
Matthew Dufon, greening manager at Seven Star Events, a green event production company, also noted that event exhibitors and presenters must sign a contract before setting up booths at an event. It is not out of the question to write recycling and reduction regulations into these contracts. He said to tell the exhibitors: "Here's an opportunity for your organization to take part and to adhere to rules, be conscious of what you're bringing. Here are some guidelines; here are some sources where you can find biodegradable products. Integrate [green thinking] into all the materials that the exhibitors read and integrate it into the initial conversations before they even get involved."
At the event, exhibitors can be asked to be more conscious of their giveaways. According to George P. Johnson's Schenker, hotels tend to increase the number of dumpsters they have to handle the amount of waste from giveaways when an event is in town. Ask exhibitors to reduce their use of giveaways or eliminate them completely. Additionally, exhibitors can be asked to recycle all cardboard and packaging materials, or to use green builders when setting up their exhibits.
More ideas for greening an event can be found at the Green Meeting Industry Council's Web site: www.greenmeetings.info/tentips.htm.