Bringing people from around the country to one location for a couple of days can have a huge environmental impact. Counting all of the ways a conference can affect the environment is mind-boggling.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the major sources of waste and pollution include greenhouse gasses produced from travel, water use associated with hotel stays, waste disposal associated with food service and exhibit halls, and paper waste associated with conference registration and sessions.
Every year, I attend large conferences like BlogPaws and Social Media Marketing World. There are over 500 attendees at each of these conferences, all which have to travel there and produce a lot of waste at the event.
Some conferences are moving towards waste reduction and some aren’t. No matter what kind of efforts the conference organizers are making though, it’s still important to do your part.
As a conference attendee, there are 5 simple things you can do to Go Green at any conference:
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1. Mange the conference schedule electronically – If available, use an online scheduler and DON’T print the schedule out to take with you. Trust the electronic scheduler. If the conference has not made an electronic scheduler available, select your sessions and add them to your Google or Outlook calendar beforehand. Most conferences will have a master schedule available once you get there if you need to review the session descriptions.
2. Scan business cards or hand-outs – It’s typical to throw out or recycle at least half of the stuff you collected when you get home from a conference so why take it in the first place? Use an app like Genius Scan (available on both iOS and Android) to snap photos of business cards and fact sheets and leave the paper copy behind. The simple version of Genius Scan is free or you can get more organized by paying $6.99 for the ability to download to Dropbox, Evernote, and many more. The Doxie Go SE Portable Scanner is another good option.
3. Bring a reusable water bottle – Even if the conference rooms don’t use disposable paper cups, it takes water and resources to wash the glassware. A water bottle like the Hydroflask has the added bonus of keeping your cold drinks cool or hot drinks warm for up to 12 hours. To make sure you stay hydrated and healthy while traveling, try a smart water bottle, which monitors how much you are drinking and reminds you if it’s not enough.
4. Skip maid service for a day for your hotel room – You can hang the “do not disturb” sign on the door so the maid will skip your room. If you still want your bed made but are willing to reuse the same bath towel the next day, hang it over the shower rod instead of throwing it on the floor. Most housekeeping folks take that as a signal that you want to use it again. If everyone attending a conference skipped maid service for even one day, it would save a lot of water from cleaning and washing the linens.
5. Forgo taking notes with pen and paper – I know, I love writing my notes down. I can write faster than I can type and I feel like it helps me to remember things. If you still need to practice the exercise of writing, consider using a tablet, or other touchscreen device, and a stylus, like the the MEKO Universal Stylus or Mixoo Capacitive Stylus, to write notes directly on your computer.
I couldn’t find an exact number for how much waste a person produces at a conference but the average was at least double that of a person at home. That is not even considering the extra water and electricity waste. With a few simple tweaks, you can minimize your impact on the environment.
Doing even one of the things on the list will make a positive difference. If every conference attendee did at least one, the impact would be significant.
Can you think of some other things that can be done besides what is on this list?