Greener communications

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If the events industry needs an affirmation that its allure remains intact in a carbon credit-counting world, it soon will have SustainCommWorld.

The event, dubbed the "Green Media Show" and debuting in October, will bring under one roof media companies, marketers, and print and digital production professionals to explore sustainable communications—how best to decrease the carbon footprint of our marketing and editorial collateral.

The event has been sponsored by the Institute for Sustainable Communication, an organization currently mulling the carbon footprint of a one-page advertisement in The Economist, as well as a banner ad on a Web page.

An organization with that focus may sound like a strange bedfellow for a live event that will bear the environmental burden of travel and consumption that typically is associated with a trade show. But the show producers have decided that the pluses outweigh the negatives—and many of the negatives can be mitigated.

"The reality is experiential learning is the most effective solution," said Don Carli, conference chairman and senior research fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Communication. "It's still one of the most attractive ways to educate people."

The event will not offer single, hard-and-fast solutions for greening the communications industry, Carli said. It will instead focus on creating a forum for networking, for finding new vendors doing innovative things or companies facing similar challenges, for learning how to implement green initiatives that also meet the demands of the bottom line.

The event also will not villainize the usual suspects. "A common misperception—print is bad, digital is good," Carli said. "Digital media has a very significant environmental footprint from an energy and toxic waste perspective."

The conference and trade show will focus on practical solutions, paying attention to credibility and economics. "The important thing is not to be too strident or preachy," Carli said. "Hopefully we'll provide people with examples of preferable methods. We have to do the best we can to minimize the environmental impact, but the world we live in is not a perfect world."

SustainCommWorld, for example, will aggressively tackle its own footprint, attaining a projected 40% to 50% level of sustainability in its first year "if we're lucky," said Kathleen Kaiser, exec VP-business development for the show.

That isn't a perfect score, but it's a push in the right direction; and the movement demonstrates a few practical steps attendees and exhibitors can take back to the office with them.

Booths, for example, will be purchased from a local company and will be broken down after the show for storage and reuse the following year—something that cuts down on the cost and impact associated with exhibitors shipping and setting up custom booths.

The same company, Champion Nationwide Contractor, will provide signage made from a printable, coated recycled cardboard, eliminating the need for foam core materials that cannot be reused.

Exhibitors also have the option of transporting only digital white papers and brochures. Near field communication (NFC) technology will allow attendees to tap their badges against mobile phones at the event and request that selected documents be e-mailed to their accounts—slimming their own suitcases.

SustainCommWorld will market itself digitally and use solar energy to power the server that houses its Web site. The materials it prints will appear on certified, chlorine-free paper. Show organizers are looking at soy inks and considering printers near the middle of the country, where materials can be created closer to their shipping destinations.

The list of initiatives goes on: carbon credits, Amtrak incentives, glassware, cloth napkins.

"There are so many things to learn," Kaiser said. "If you are really doing it, you've got to be looking at all of that."

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