The Intersection

Strategic Event Sustainability

Is sustainability a given at today's meetings and conferences, or do we have a ways to go? In the latest installment of The Intersection, Seventhwave Executive Vice President Marge Anderson weighs in on the latest tricks to encourage 'green' behavior.

Did you walk, drive, or take a taxi to your last meeting?

Marge Anderson, executive vice president of Seventhwave and chair of the board for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), hopes you hoofed it. “It’s healthier, it’s a way for [attendees] to get some exercise, and it’s also a way for them to experience wherever they are,” said Anderson. It’s also the greenest choice, Anderson pointed out in “Strategic Event Sustainability,” the latest video for The Intersection, presented by PCMA and PSAV. At USGBC’s last Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, attendees encountered a shoe check where they could swap out their walking shoes upon arrival “and still look great when they’re on site,” Anderson said. 

When asked if event sustainability is taking hold, Anderson had a mixed reaction: “Yes…and no.” Though buildings and conferences are becoming more sustainable, Anderson said, she thinks that individual behavior is still a spanner in the works. “In all sustainability, the real trick is people.” And when it comes to people, neuroscience and gamification can be powerful tools to drive change, she added.

Incentives can be a tool as well, said Nancy Zavada, CMP, and founder and director of MeetGreen, a Portland, Oregon–based sustainable events consultancy. “Whenever we can get the opportunity [use gamification] to drive behavior, we do,” said Zavada. At Event Camp Vancouver 2011, for instance, MeetGreen created an event-app-based game, Get Your Green On, that encouraged attendees (even remote ones) to engage in “Acts of Green.” Simple practices such as bringing your own lanyard or unplugging an appliance earned the user points, and sometimes even prizes. Attendees also exercised and used mass transit more, as well as tweeted about sustainability at least 83 times. “I think meeting attendees are changing from attendees to participants, and this is really what they want do. They want to know they’re participating in making a better world, and how they’re doing it, and they appreciate you giving them the option to do it,” Zavada said.

So how do planners “cement the emotional connection between the event and that attendee,” as Anderson asks in the video? She has a few pointers.

Marge’s Top Tips

1. When ‘thinking green,’ consider what will stimulate your attendees’ environmental well-being.

2. Be sure your event activities further your stated corporate social responsibility goals.

3. Consider a shoe check at your event to build awareness of your organization’s CSR stance.

4. Technology that promotes social interaction can be used to gasify meeting sustainability.

5. Consider rewarding attendees for more environmentally sound behavior.

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Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch is a writer who specializes in food and drink.