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Simple Steps to Greening Your Meetings

Whether your organization is large or small, profit-centered or charitable, there are affordable options for green efforts in your face-to-face meetings with customers and employees. The only requirement is some new thinking.

With a recent study from Experian finding that 29 percent of US adults (more than 62 million people) claim to be green-aware, it doesn't take long for consumers' wants and preferences to move up the business ladder and into the world of B-to-B marketing.

Businesspeople are also consumers, and they bring their consumer attitudes with them to the workplace. So, if organizations are going to be greener, it makes good sense to include your B-to-B interactions -- such as meetings, conferences, trade shows and sales efforts -- in your green initiatives. This means making some changes to business as usual, and in the process can be very good for business and save money.

Opinion polls have been pointing out the burgeoning environmental consciousness trend since the turn of the millennium. A McKinsey & Co. global survey in 2007 showed an astounding 87 percent of consumers in 8 major economies around the world were concerned about the environmental impact of products they buy. Closer to home, an AMP Agency report found that 53 percent of consumers factor a company's social and environmental activities into their purchasing discussions.

Green Initiatives Must Be Cultivated

The first step on the journey to being able to present a green image in your meetings and events is to do your homework within your own organization. Is there a sustainability plan? Does your company have a Sustainability Officer? Is there a Green Team, and if so, how can you get on it?

Make a list of your company's green efforts so you can answer questions from customers or develop a promotional piece to highlight them. Today's audiences are very sensitive to "greenwashing," so don't exaggerate your efforts or their impact on the environment. Your customers realize that going green is a process so they will not expect you to have all programs fully operational right away.

In conducting your research, you may find that your company is greener than you think. For instance, does it encourage recycling of office paper or bottles and cans? Has your office installed water coolers in place of individual plastic bottles? You may find green tactics already in place that you can extend to your B-to-B efforts or others that you can highlight to increase your customer credibility.

Be assured that you are not alone in your quest to add green tactics to your face-to-face marketing efforts. There are plenty of websites that offer tips and ideas -- and answer questions -- about going green. See Exhibitor Online's Ask Mr. Green column, and the website.

How To Start Greening Your Meetings, Exhibits and Events

According to a profile of the convention and meeting industry in the San Francisco Chronicle, U.S. meetings are a $107 billion industry serving 136.5 million people attending 1.2 million business events annually.

Most of those meetings could benefit from signficant greening. So, what can be done right now that's cost-effective?

There are many small changes that can add up to some big savings in actual dollars as well as green credibility. Start as early as possible in your planning process to consider green tactics. Make sustainability a part of your RFP process as you speak with facilities and convention/visitors bureaus. Request suppliers that have sustainability practices in place, such as caterers. Keep insisting that facilities and suppliers tell you how they will help minimize the environmental impact of your gathering.

Ask each of the facilities and suppliers you're working with to tell you what they're already doing to be more sustainable. These four areas are a good place to start:

• Saving energy and water
• Reducing the environmental impact of transportation
• Recycling policies
• Donating leftover food to shelters

Tips for Greener Meetings and Conferences

When you are planning a meeting:

1. Consider "walkable" destinations to save money on transportation such as shuttle buses.
2. Ask hotels and caterers about their recycling policies.
3. Supply newspapers to rooms only on guest request and refrain from setting the room a/c to "frostbite" prior to guest arrival.
4. Request paperless signage (LCD screens) or design your signage to be reused. (Create arrows that can be removed from the sign; when room assignments change, simply reverse the arrows)

Travel and registration practices also can be greener:

1. Request paperless check in/out.
2. Supply meeting agendas by email or beamable to PDAs onsite.
3. Supply walking routes to/from convention center and other venues.
4. Try and find shuttle providers using cleaner energy sources such as natural gas, electricity, or biodiesel. Insist on a no-idling policy for vehicles when waiting for passengers or dropping off.
5. Provide a location for attendees to turn in their name badges for reuse -- collecting 1,300 name badges for reuse can save $975 at your next event.

In the meeting itself:

1. Serve bulk water not individual bottles.
2. Use smaller, biodegradable cups for hot and cold beverages when china is not available or appropriate.
3. Request seasonal menus with ingredients sourced locally wherever possible.
4. Serve at least one vegetarian meal such as pasta. Animal protein, particularly beef, is hard on the environment -- 150 percent more carbon-intensive than fish or chicken.
5. Choose responsibly grown flowers for centerpieces. Consider edible flowers.
6. Don't pre-fill water glasses at the tables.
7. Supply presentations on thumb drives or post to a website.
8. Use both sides of the paper for any necessary handouts.

Tips for Exhibits and Exhibit Managers

Spread the word on every communication you send that your exhibit is going green. Be sure to say that you consider this a process that will grow over time as you replace and update your booth architecture.

1. Ask exhibitors to minimize paper collateral materials or use recycled materials and vegetable based inks.
2. Encourage the use of recycled materials such as aluminum and polyester in booth design.
3. Insist on carpeting, made from recycled fibers such as soda bottles.
4. Provide the exhibitor and booth assignment list as a PDA download.
5. Lighten the load with careful choice of materials and crates. A lighter exhibit means better truck fuel economy and lower drayage costs.
6. Minimize giveaway literature. The Center for Exhibit Research estimates that 65 percent goes into the trash rather than the suitcase.
7. Consider a thumb drive with company or product logo as a giveaway. Pre-load literature/sales sheets that would have been printed for the exhibit.

Whatever you do will make a difference. Right now, the trade show industry is second only to the construction industry in the amount of waste generated.

Does any of this effort make a difference? Of course it does. The U.S. is the largest market for paper products in the world, consuming about 100 million tons annually. In a typical brochure run, using paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or recycled paper and soy based inks you can save 47 trees, enough water for 1,100 eight-minute showers, 75 large cans of garbage and equivalent exhaust emissions to driving a car for 5,322 miles. If enough companies progress beyond thinking green to actually being green, we'll all breathe and live easier.

However, green can't be your only strategy. As always, focus on your brand and what it means to your customer. Make sure your product message is coherent and consistent with your audiences' needs. Then, when you attract interest due to your green tactics, your customers will come back again and again because of the value of your product or service.

Remember, you need to start someplace. As the old saying goes: If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got. Don't hesitate. The best time to go green is now.

Photos by Goodwin Ogbuehi.

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