Intel saves money and energy with greener events

Intel saves money and energy with greener events

[Editor's Note: Shawna McKinley, director of sustainability for MeetGreen, writes about what prompted Intel -- one of MeetGreen's sustainability clients -- to go beyond "checklist tactics" to create greener events.]

The road to green events is paved with checklists. Green catering checklists. Green stuff we communicate to attendees checklists. Green transportation checklists. Vendor contract checklists. Exhibitor best practice checklists.

Sometimes we get so focused on checklists we lose sight of the bigger picture of what we’re trying to achieve by integrating sustainability into events: making them better and smarter ways to inspire, engage and learn. However, with the pending launch of the ISO 20121 Event Sustainability Management System Standard, planners are waking up to the value of sustainability as a business strategy for events, rather than a mere checklist of green tactics.

Intel has been bucking the green event checklist trend by empowering staff and vendors to strategically improve events through sustainability. Does this mean Intel events are checklist-free zones? No. But it means the company is taking progressive steps to make sustainable event planning more circular and integrated and ensure the results contribute to broader company objectives.

Since beginning to measure their impacts over a small number of events in 2010, Intel has:

  • Avoided 10,478 MT of carbon dioxide
  • Saved $200,000
  • Avoided 330,000 kWh energy use
  • Conserved 350,000 gallons of water
  • Prevented 72 MT of waste

How did they get there? A few checklists, yes: provide recycling, repurpose graphics, reuse event materials, practice paperless meetings and eliminate bottled water, to name a few. But also through some innovative system solutions: standardizing green event planning processes, training and mentoring event owners, developing a property reuse program, requiring measurement by vendors and improving shipment consolidation practices.

Lou Cozzo and Regan Rhodes are leading the charge at Intel and represent a unique duo in the sustainable event space. Cozzo works in Intel Corporate Event Marketing as manager of executive speech strategy and event services. Rhodes works in Intel   corporate strategic procurement and is responsible for managing sourcing for events and retail globally, focusing on environmental social governance. Their mission? To ensure event planners and procurement work hand-in-hand to integrate sustainability into events and communicate the value of this work back into Intel’s corporate responsibility strategy.

Now, sustainability professionals might be thinking this is nothing revolutionary: Integration of sustainability across the organization is key to realizing value. However while many companies pay close attention to how sustainability relates to their products, as is the case with Intel’s processors, few organizations are considering how support services like event marketing factor in.

Cozzo describes how a personal epiphany while attending an external seminar about the environmental impact of events woke him up to the problem of waste:

 “They talked a lot about plastic waste, how it doesn’t degrade, pollutes the ocean and harms wildlife. And as I’m listening from an event perspective, I’m thinking about all the waste that is generated when planning and executing events. It’s not like it was new information, but I’d never thought about it within events. So I realized there was a good opportunity to address the problems by planning and executing events in a more sustainable way.”

And taking action is exactly what Cozzo and Rhodes have done over the last three years. Rhodes describes a four-step process that has evolved in a responsive and continual way. Intel has:

  1. Implemented a green plan for Intel’s Developer Forum (IDF), the company’s largest event.
  2. Created a cross-functional collaborative team to share best practices and inspire planners to expand the effort to other events.
  3. Developed a green event handbook, “The Blue Guide to Being Green,” which has over 70 tools to help planners through a step-by-step sustainable event process.
  4. Educated event program owners through webinars and a newly created mentorship program that provides one-on-one support.

Integration and measurement have been cornerstones of the process. From Cozzo’s perspective: “It was critical to measure the impact on the event side. And from procurement’s perspective it was important agencies contribute. We’ve integrated standards into contracts and agency scorecards. This means when we look into the performance of an agency for a particular event we evaluate how well they were able to implement sustainable practices and report out.”

Cozzo points to other aspects of the business case: “Our investors, shareholders and the general public expect us to be responsible in everything we do. From a corporate responsibility and reputational standpoint we clearly benefit. Doing the right thing feels good, and it impacts the triple bottom line.”

In fact, attendee ratings of Intel’s sustainability efforts at events are even tracked: 77 percent of attendees are satisfied with the efforts being taken at IDF, improving slightly year to year.

But solutions are not as easy as “Build a Checklist; they will come.” Rhodes emphasizes it takes on-going commitment to train and communicate the program. “Creation of the guide to help program owners is a big accomplishment. Being able to inspire them through the one-on-one mentorship that has followed has been an important way to support them. Understanding their event, where they are, then giving them standard practices and helping them measure are all really important steps.”

“You have to keep at it,” Cozzo agrees. Three regular checkpoints with event owners are embedded in the system. They are exposed to sustainability during the early scoping for their event, then required to document a sustainability plan before the event is executed and afterwards submit lessons learned and metrics for carbon, waste, water, energy and cost.

“All of these things have also been achieved within the existing budget we’ve had. We actively look at how we can better optimize the budget. There are not added costs,” Rhodes adds.

Intel’s Event Express Program is arguably one of the company’s most successful sustainable event innovations. IEE is a property reuse strategy that was created in partnership with Taylor Inc. to address a big environmental problem: tradeshow waste. The program considers how to reduce footprint and cost by planning for exhibit reuse, storage and shipment consolidation.

For example, at IDF 2011 in San Francisco only two of seven Intel Pavilions were new builds. Two made use of 50 percent re-purposed components and three made use of 90 percent re-purposed components. All seven displays are anticipated to be reused extensively over the next two years. Through better shipment scheduling and storage plans organizers were also able to shave an estimated 33,500 miles and 5,800 gallons of fuel use in getting displays to and from IDF. Since being implemented in 2003 IEE has helped reduce waste and disposal costs by 95 percent.

But let’s be serious. It can’t always be a sunny day in the swamp of event sustainability, can it?

“We face a lot of obvious challenges: lack of resources, mainly bandwidth, but sometimes money,” Cozzo states. “The mentorship program is helping to over-come this hurdle. It’s a corporate-subsidized program for event owners to kick start their event plan and develop their own sustainability skills. It also provides recognition, rewards and executive visibility to promote performance. So although we acknowledge there are challenges, we’re putting measures in place to help. We’re asking for feedback and responding accordingly when we hit roadblocks.”

In this way Intel appears to be focussing on agile, proactive and responsive event sustainability systems, followed by checklists.  “Asking for help from outside, listening to what is working for others, being patient to probe our team about the right steps that were appropriate for Intel have all helped us progress,” Cozzo adds.

Rhodes stresses the importance of steadily working toward the focussed goal of smarter, more sustainable events that tap specific, important drivers, like reducing carbon emissions and rewarding performance. “It’s the right thing to do. We are accountable for the change. Our agencies are accountable for the change. Be smarter. Be creative. There are cost-saving opportunities that are possible.”

Cozzo also encourages long time planners to be willing to stop and take a step back from the checklist. “If you’ve been doing events for a long time it can be hard to challenge yourself to do it differently. But when you think about it, this all helps reduce the clutter and can create a richer experience. It’s inspiring. You have to have a passion for it. It takes time and energy, but it pays off.”

Image Credits -- Photos of a program to eiiminate disposable bottles at Intel’s Developer Forum 2011 in Beijing 2011 and recycling bins for a pilot program at IDF Beijing 2010 courtesy of Intel.