How Green is Your Green Conference?

Not all green conferences walk the walk.  I have attended many conferences where the speakers lecture about sustainability, recycling, and minimizing environmental impacts, while the organizers and expo vendors are handing out marketing materials and swag like it’s candy.  All the while the trash bins are overflowing with unnecessary waste and the irony of a green conference not being green is lost in the shuffle.

Occasionally you will find a conference that understands that the greatest impact can be made not just by talking, but by demonstrating how to actually “be” green.  The 2010 Green Business Forum held in Baltimore was one such conference that led by example.

According to Stephanie Meittinis, of Terrachord,  they put a great deal of thought and effort into greening the conference itself.  These efforts began with choosing a location to host the event.  The Engineers Club was chosen for several reasons; it is committed to preserving the historical nature of the building, its buys local foods, and it was willing to work with Terrachord on reducing the environmental impact of the conference.

The catering was geared towards limiting waste.  The plates were china, the utensils stainless, and the napkins linen.  There was not a Styrofoam or paper plate to be found.  Coffee and tea were served with cups and saucers – both environmentally friendly and elegant.   Instead of providing soda in single serving plastic bottles, two liter soda bottles were available for pouring into a glass.

When marketing the event, Terrachord relied heavily on electronic media. Registration was handled online. On the transportation front, electric cars provided by eCruisers were available to transport attendees (for free) from local hotels. Finally, on the day of the event, name badges were created using attendees business cards and the plastic holders were collected at the end of the conference to be re-used at the next event. There were no redundant handouts available at check-in.

Before planning or attending your next “green” conference consider the following tips for walking the talk:

Facility Operations

  • Is there an overall environmental policy?
  • Do they have a recycling program?
  • Do they use an energy management plan or a water conservation program?
  • Is there an employee training program for environmental practices?
  • Do they purchase environmentally friendly products (cleaning, paper, linens etc)?

Food Service

  • Does the food service use re-usable plates and tableware or compostable disposable plates and tableware?
  • Are bulk condiments served in non-disposable containers rather than individual packets?
  • Are 2-liter bottle of soda and glasses rather than individual-size plastic bottles?
  • Do they use cloth napkins rather than paper?
  • Does the food service purchase local food where possible?
  • Will un-served meals be donated to a local food bank or shelter?
  • Will food waste be composted?
  • Are recycling bins readily available in high traffic areas?
  • Are recycling bins well marked and understandable?


  • Is the conference located in a centrally located, easily accessible facility?
  • Do the transportation options include: public transportation, ride-sharing and/or carpooling, or shuttle service with alternative fuel vehicles from park-n-ride areas?
  • Does the event manager promote and/or arrange alternative methods of transportation to the event?


  • How much of the marketing is done electronically?
  • Is registration electronic?
  • Are there excessive or redundant printed handouts used at the conference?
  • Are the materials printed double-sided and on recycled paper?
  • What materials are being re-used (signs, name badges)?
  • Are exhibitor give-aways environmentally friendly?


  • Are speakers using electronic material instead of flip-charts or handouts?
  • Are speakers willing to e-mail presentation materials to attendees?
  • Are there teleconferencing facilities so not all attendees have to travel to the event?

For more information about greening your conference or event check out the following resources:

Oceans Blue Foundation

US Environmental Protection Agency

Jennifer is a CPA, CMA, CIA, CFF with a passion for how sustainability can improve a business. She is the owner and President of The Sustainable CFO, making the world better one business at a time. The Sustainable CFO provides consulting, on-demand CFO services, and business coaching to sustainably themed small business. Jennifer has 24 years of experience improving the business operations for a variety of companies in industries such as construction, legal services, and hi-tech. She also teaches finance in the Green MBA program at Antioch University New England. You can visit the website at or follow her on twitter @sustainablecfo.