Pick the right sustainability battles at conferences

Simon Sinek 4657383798_a7761bfe79_o In 2011 Simon Sinek keynoted MPI’s World Education Congress. As I and thousands of attendees watched, he began to share his message by drawing a diagram on a flip chart pad. Almost as soon as Simon picked up his marker, people started tweeting that he was wasting paper.

At recent conferences I’ve been asked if I really need to have attendees work with sticky notes and flip charts. People ask, “Can’t they just talk to each other?” I’ve also encountered resistance to requests to print a few attendee tour photos for use in artifact-building exercises.

Let’s put these and similar requests in perspective.

I am a supporter of sustainable events. From 1978 – 1983 I managed a solar energy business, and didn’t do it for the money. I am glad that apps are rapidly making it unnecessary to print the vast quantities of schedules and vendor catalogs that we schlepped around in the past, applaud the installation (and flexibility) of electronic signage, and love the efforts to minimize the appalling food wastage we used to take for granted when running an event.

Yes I know that the flip chart sheets, note cards, and sticky notes produced during interactive exercises are rarely kept afterwards. But they are needed for the experience of creation. Writing something down, sketching, or drawing a diagram provide powerful alternative modalities for learning and sharing that we traditionally restrict to hearing and looking (which often, by the way, don’t translate into listening and seeing). The act of building these creations into an appropriate concrete event metaphor—like the cardboard box bridge participants constructed at the Green Meetings Industry Council’s 2014 Sustainable Meetings Conference—also increases the effectiveness of participants’ experience.

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Let’s take a quick look at the sustainability impact of using these materials at an event, using the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) approach. I’ve rounded off the figures, which I obtained from carbon footprint calculators available on the internet; smaller amounts are better.

  • Making and printing a single sheet of office paper: 10 grams CO2e
  • An average meal: 3,000 grams CO2e
  • Driving a Toyota Prius 300 miles to a conference: 70,000 grams CO2e
  • Flying from Boston to San Francisco: 750,000 grams CO2e

As you can see from these figures, the CO2e contributed by the modest use of sheets of flip chart paper and sticky notes at an event is insignificant compared to the carbon footprint of the meals and travel of a typical attendee. While we should work to use as little of these (recyclable) products as possible, our time would be better spent concentrating on reducing the much larger contributions to greenhouse gases caused by the food consumption and travel to and from our events.

Photo attribution: Flickr user centralasian and Bay Area Event Photography

Conference Weavers: a closing session for events

Off to GMIC’s Sustainable Meetings Conference this weekend. Besides a four-minute rant Torn About Tech, which will explore my ambivalence about some uses of technology at face-to-face meetings, I’m also emceeing a novel closing session on Tuesday, April 24, 3:00 – 4:30 pm with a format I haven’t tried before: Conference Weavers.

Conference Weavers?
The purpose of a Conference Weavers session is to encourage reflection and reinforce learning by publicly sharing thoughts and impressions from the conference presentations and experiences. We’ll use a number of volunteers (current list: Danielle McNair, Denise Naguib, Sharon Shuford, Melanie Pelouze, Stephanie Robinson, Darice Solognier, Genevieve LeClerc, Paul Salinger, Jan Peter Bergkvist, and Michael Luerhs) who will each spend a few minutes sharing their conference response with the group, followed by a chance for audience questions and responses. Jenise Fryatt will lead a little interpretative improv at some point, and, if time permits, I’m going to include a pair-share so that everyone will have an opportunity to share his or her thoughts.

Pair-share?
I thought you’d never ask. Pair-share is a simple participation technique you can use to get every audience member involved in sharing and discussion. Audience members divide into pairs and take turns sharing with their partner their conference impressions. Once that’s complete, optional public sharing can be added.

I’ll report on how this format worked after I’m back from the conference. Stay tuned!