Sunday, 18 July 2010

Diverting from Diversion


Not to stray too far from the scope of my blog but I've had an itch about sustainable event measurement I'm needing to scratch.

For a number of years meeting planners and venues have been focusing on waste diversion as a key performance indicator for their events. A high percent diversion from landfill = good and a low diversion from landfill = not so good. I've become concerned that this is only telling part of the story, and feel the need to argue in support of other metrics that give a fuller picture of the waste issue.

Nancy Wilson recently shared some observations about this issue in a post on her blog: First Things First!

The inspiration for both our posts came as we considered some historical data for the Unitarian Universalist Association's General Assembly. We have complete waste, recycling and donation data for this event which has enabled us to confirm the following diversion from landfill:
  • Year 1: 18% diversion
  • Year 2: 50% diversion
  • Year 3: 76% diversion
A great story to tell, yes, but what about reduction?

On a deeper dive into the numbers collected we see in addition to a strong recycling rate, that UUA has reduced the total weight of materials landfilled, donated, recycled and composted by 75% over this three year period! Supporting the claim of reduction we can also look at the amount of materials shipped to show site, which has experienced a 20% reduction between Year 2 and 3. Credit is definitely due to the meeting host (go UUA!), and the suppliers they've worked with. In Years 2 and 3 their vendors have been more and more progressive from a sustainability perspective; reusing materials, purchasing in bulk and mandating reduced packaging. And that makes sense, after all, they've chosen them partially on that basis!

The point is: there are a variety of waste indicators we need to pay attention to. These different indicators help us know how the myriad decisions we make have an impact. So don't confuse waste diversion with waste reduction. Look a little deeper to see the whole story.

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