Slashing a Conference’s Footprint: Going Greener at the 2012 Net Impact Conference

The following article was originally published on the Net Impact Blog.

Think about the last big event you attended – low impact is probably not the first phrase that pops into your head. Event planning leaves a heavy footprint – you’re essentially convening a small town for three days straight while thousands of people gulp down food, flush toilets, and leave their trash behind.

Net Impact knows that better than anyone – after all, we’ve been hosting the Net Impact Conference for twenty years (and not without the occasional criticism along the way). Moving forward, though, we have an obligation to keep the conference low impact, while ensuring the caliber of our content is high impact. This year, the 2012 Net Impact Conference boasts a number of new sustainability practices to ensure we tread lightly for our flagship event.

Reducing footprints with the right partner

“After traveling around North America managing conferences, it became apparent the U.S. didn’t usually take sustainability into consideration when planning events,” says Linda Snyder of MeetGreen, a Portland, Oregon-based organization that works on environmentally-minded event management. That experience spurred the foundation of the company nearly two decades ago. Today, Net Impact has joined forces with MeetGreen to execute the 2012 event.

For a small team already coordinating speaking logistics and meals for 2,800 attendees, prioritizing sustainability can sometimes feel like another mountain to climb. But thanks to MeetGreen, an on-site sustainability coordinator will oversee and execute fifteen sustainability best practices for the event, focusing on areas like energy usage and vendor selection.

Waste not, want not

Choosing the Baltimore Convention Center for this year’s conference was that much easier knowing the site has already taken major steps to reduce energy and waste reduction. In addition to more common motion sensor lighting and air conditioning, the BCC installed a composter for food waste that helps feed the convention center’s green roof and surrounding landscapes. Yep: attendees’ lunch leftovers will go right back into good use as fertilizer.

For our part, we’ve curbed our impact by heavily reducing paper-based communications and printing. We’ve moved away from traditional PVC plastic name tags, leftover exhibitor pieces will be donated to local nonprofits, and we’re dramatically reducing the size of our printed Conference Guidebook, supplementing with a digital guidebook offering full session details.

You are what you eat

Net Impact believes that progress happens when everyone’s sitting at the table. That’s why we’ve partnered with Centerplate’s “Farm to Table” program to ensure that conference meals are both delicious and prepared with organic and locally-sourced ingredients whenever possible. We’ll have reusable service equipment for buffet and break stations, as well as recyclable and compostable utensils and containers for attendees.

Write it down or it never happened

Sustainability shouldn’t only happen in the space of one crazy conference weekend. By recording this year’s waste stream and energy usage, Net Impact will have a complete analysis of what our resource consumption looks like. Taking the steps to set up this data collection this year will allow us to strategically improve our conference greening practices in the future.

After all, bringing sustainability to everything we do is a critical part of who we are as an organization. And, as Senior Conference Manager Jessica Fleuti says, “this year, we’re taking extra steps – both small and large – to really walk the talk.”

Written by Lillian Mathews, part of the the mean, green Net Impact team. Join Net Impact at the 2012 Net Impact Conference, the premier event for students and professionals using their careers for good, taking place in Baltimore, Maryland this October 25-27.

Net Impact 2010 will be hosted by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Stay tuned for coverage!

Leave a Reply