Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Dancing With The (Sustainable Event) Stars?

Coming to the end of Season 13 of Dancing with the Stars it dawns on me: The sustainable event world could learn a little from Ricki Lake, Rob Kardashian and J.R. Martinez.

Yes, I confess I'm a fan. Ever since I was a kid I've been a sucker for dance musicals: Annie, Flashdance, Footloose, Strictly Ballroom, all the way through Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dance and Charm School. Even an occasional episode of Glee. So a TV show where I could watch someone learn how to become Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers? Well, history tells me I'm likely to be a goner for that.

This year's end of season finale had me in a conundrum though. Who could you possibly pick for the Mirrorball Trophy? I mean you have tough options:
  • Rob Kardashian, a come-from-behind guy who had two left feet when he started, living in the familial shadow of far more famous entertainers, who worked hard and found his rhythm to improve beyond anyone's expectations.
  • Ricki Lake, a keen, technically proficient, hard-working woman determined not to quit until it was a perfect 10, listening and adjusting to every bit of judge's critique thrown her way.
  • J.R. Martinez, a war hero with enough charisma and charm to inspire an audience to its feet with a simple, refined and smoothly executed basic step.
Most improved, most technical, most charismatic.

And it dawns on me: this is a metaphor for sustainable events. We reach for continuous improvement. We look critically for high technical proficiency. We are inspired by stories of success in overcoming challenges. Finding all of these together is not easy. But is one more worthy to 'win' than the others? I don't think so.

All three could be winners. All three really are winners.

So what is most important for sustainable events? Improvement? Technical proficiency and consistency? Charisma? They all matter, but in some respects who cares? Let's just get out on the dance floor, start moving and find our rhythm.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


Today police are searching a town about an hour's drive from were I live for a stabbing suspect. Was there a domestic dispute you ask? Or maybe some kind of gang activity?


A man asked a group of people to pick up some litter they'd tossed beside a garbage can on a street corner. And when they didn't do as asked, he went to do it himself and was assaulted.

Shocking. Sad. Would I walk up to a group of four people and ask them to do the same? I'm not so sure. And if I did, I confess I'd be scared. Scared about what acting on my values might risk, and how it might hurt me.

With all we demand of people who put what is responsible, ethical and sustainable first it strikes me in this and other examples that what we need most of all these days is fearlessness. Fearlessness to say:
  • There is a better way to do things.
  • This is not okay with me.
  • This is causing harm, is unfair or irresponsible.
  • You have a role to play in making it better.
Last night Paul Hawken addressed the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver with a sobering statement:

Hope less -- What we need now is fearlessness because times are so extraordinary.

In today's world where you risk so much standing up for your values, are you prepared to be fearless? What does that look like to you?

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Trick or Treat?

It's a minefield of "tricks and treats" out there for meeting professionals trying to integrate sustainability into their business. I'll admit I've been tricked more than once, although gratefully the treats largely outnumber the tricks. And even those times I've been tricked rarely do I feel it's been out of deliberate efforts to mislead. Often times people are merely sharing what they've been told by third parties, trusting that sustainability claims are accurate.

Still, in honour of Halloween, I thought a blog post on some tricky things I've recently encountered might show it is still very much a 'buyer beware' world out there when it comes to some sustainable event products and services. So maintain an optimistic outlook that we're all doing things as best we know how, but always have a healthy amount of skepticism in your back pocket to know when to ask questions if things seem too good to be true.

Name badges: The first sign something was awry with our badge holders was the note from the sales rep that they were recyclable, compostable and biodegradable. Big. Red. Flag. Unfortunately in my experience some sales reps are not educated in how these processes are different and - from a technical perspective - are mutually exclusive. Compostable material can contaminate recycling streams. Likewise, you don't want to compost a recyclable or biodegradable badge. Truth is there are badge holders on the market that are recyclable, or compostable, or biodegradable. But I've yet to find an option that achieves the holy trinity all in one. Important points to clarify are if they are recyclable at the event site, and meet certified standards for compostability or biodegradability, which will let you know if you can compost or should landfill them. To make sure you're making the right choice ask for proof of testing against technical standards such as ASTM or BPI. Also ask if samples can be sent to your venue so they can confirm if badges can be recycled or composted. Any reputable name badge provider will be more than happy to accommodate these requests.

Signs: One of the more frustrating tricks out there is when a 'green' claim is not technically wrong, but it's so difficult it might as well be. I was researching a signage material recently. The substrate I was looking at was marketed as "100% recyclable" on the manufacturer's website and beside it there was one of these:

Now you tell me - is a #6 plastic recyclable where you live? It's not where I live. And it's not recyclable in most cities I hold events in, either. In fairness, the manufacturer is able to produce a list of sites where the substrate can be recycled. And is willing to recycle it on customer's behalf if it's sent back to their headquarters. At my cost, mind you. But let's be honest - what event professional really has time to go that far? Most would see 100% recyclable and take it at face value, not realising the limitations to this claim. A little tricky, in my opinion, so always ask about the fine print.

Waste diversion: About a year ago I posted a story about a venue who was marketing a tricky recycling diversion rate. To balance that post I had a great experience in Minneapolis where the meeting venue not only gave me a baseline diversion rate, they gave me two: one anticipating my methodology might include incineration and the second accepting it might not. The potential difference in terms of actual diversion of waste from landfill? A good 30%. Needless to say: trust established immediately. If you're disclosing a diversion rate from landfill or claiming a 'zero waste' event it's critical to be clear about how you're approaching the calculation, especially given there is no standard methodology for calculating waste. Transparency helps reduce the likelihood people may feel tricked by your numbers.

Seafood: Last week I came across an investigation into fish mis-labeling by the Boston Globe. Holy eye-opening, Batman. So much for hoping Nancy Zavada's Chilean Sea Bass story was an isolated incident! Clearly asking what fish is being served and cross-referencing it with your safe seafood guide is not enough sometimes. But are we expected to resort to genetic testing now? Geez, I hope not. So yes, ask what fish is on the menu. Check if it's approved or a good alternative. But also ask where it's caught and by whom. Your Chef or supplier at a minimum should be willing to find out for you. If they're at a loss you might want to check out and recommend This Fish, an innovative program to improve the traceability of fish from water to plate.

Accessibility: Working with UUA on their General Assembly my eyes have been opened to the realities those with physical limitations might face when attending an event. It's been educational to learn from Patricia Cameron as she walks hotel managers through how many barriers the design of their facilities and conduct of their staff can present for this group. The lesson I've taken away is that I can't rely on ADA Law to guarantee this box is checked. I've learned from Patricia that often it's not adhered to, and we need to advocate for those with accessibility needs if we don't want them to feel tricked out of their event experience. Am looking forward to seeing how tools like Rick Hansen's Global Accessibility Map help make access for event facilities more equal and less tricky.

What about you? Any event sustainability tricks you've successfully avoided? Or learned from? Treats you've found through the greenwashing clutter?

And Happy Halloween!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

We are the 99%

Not the 99% occupying Wall Street, or sitting on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery this morning. But the 99% of sustainable event organizers that realizes 1% of sustainable events have it a lot different than the rest.

First let me define what I mean by "The 1%" and "The 99%". The 1% are mega-events: large-scale, city-wide and often globally significant events. The Olympic Games, FIFA's World Cup. The kinds of events that cities trip over themselves trying to win. The 99% are those events that event, meeting and marketing staff stage countless times a month, in ballrooms and small spaces at hotels. Half-day to all-day gatherings of 50-1000 people. The kind of events few CVBs will arm wrestle over, but none-the-less benefit from where these become permanent fixtures in their meeting landscape due to proximity to corporate or association headquarters. Some might say the bread to the mega-event butter.

We tout the cool achievements of mega-events. And so we should - they are able to do some pretty innovative and high profile things like create human-powered pedestrian malls. How awesome is that?

But we have to accept it's a bit different for the 99%.

Most different perhaps is the lack of sponsorship, budget and staffing to devote to sustainability. Mega-events can do great things. And they do it through the financial support of high-profile sponsors and boards that mandate money be spent and staff be hired to manage sustainability. And props to them for doing so. I can name many an event marketing department among the 99% that would love to have funds to hire a sustainability specialist for their department. And remember too, with increased capacity comes increased responsibility, so it's not all a bed of roses just because someone might be footing the bill. The expectations increase. You have to work harder. Do more. There are fewer excuses. You're held more accountable.

Acknowledging this difference, is it fair to expect the 99% will meet the expectations of things like the ISO 20121 standard? And the APEX-ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Event Standard? Or report against GRI Event Sector Supplement Guidelines? Things which seem more within the means and perhaps better suited to the 1%?

It is arguably more difficult for the 99% to fulfill the expectations of these standards. Difficult, but not impossible. Before setting the 99% up for failure I think we all need to acknowledge this; entertain the possibility. Because if the 99% moves down the path of trying to meet standards with unreasonable expectations and encounter consistent failure we could all potentially lose.

So with that in mind, some practical ideas on how to ease this process for the 99%, and why it's so important to do so:

Engage the procurement department.
It's a typical pattern for event sustainability initiatives to start from the event up. But when your buying power is limited to a 100 person event space, your event is next week and your plate is full, adding sustainability to the mix can be a non-starter for the 99%. The power to affect change across small meetings and field marketing activities often lies outside planning departments. Procurement departments typically have more power to leverage sustainability across the event supply chain, and need to be engaged in developing systematic requests and reporting about event sustainability in a centralized way.

Harnessing in-house corporate responsibility expertise. Many organizations already have policies and procedures for integrating sustainability into operations. Some are also going green with their events. So why is it that with only a few exceptions sustainable event work is non-existent in corporate reporting? The reality is, if you make widgets CSR tends to be more concerned with how you manufacture and distribute those widgets. Not necessarily how you hold meetings and stage events to allow manufacture and distribution of widgets to happen. Building an early bridge between CSR departments, procurement and event marketing ensures that there is alignment across the organization about what the material issues, common goals and metrics are.

Tapping agencies. In some situations the 99% rely on local agencies to execute events. It's therefore critical to bring hired agencies onside so they are contributing to sustainability. Cue procurement to assist in this process with RFP, contracting and supplier evaluation mechanisms that include sustainable event requirements.

Acknowledging global differences. When the 99% are planning events in Boston, Barcelona and Beijing one of the first things you realise is one sustainable event approach does not suit all. Each city is unique. The capacity of venues varies. The infrastructure and laws governing everything from recycling to smoking could be vastly different. Cultural acceptance of certain things diverges. In 2 months the 99% may be planning a road show across an entire continent, relying on different agencies to assist. This diversity adds a different kind of complexity not necessarily experienced by a 1-city mega-event: how to navigate different local issues while working toward universal best practices in a small event context? Preparing agencies and staff for this inevitability so they have agile tools to weigh sustainability tradeoffs on a daily basis is important.

Rethinking legacy. This is where the true power of the 99% emerges. For the 1% legacy may be measured in terms of sporting facilities built. Number of people educated about sustainability. Permanent changes in transit use in a host destination. All great stuff, but for the 99% these kinds of legacy metrics are impractical. They also fall short of the potential the 99% has to fundamentally change the way meetings are held to create what in my opinion could be the most exciting legacies of all:
  • Expanded supply chain analysis by organizations that plan events. Just this week Microsoft announced it will be requiring annual sustainability reporting by vendors. It remains to be seen if meeting vendors will be included, but this kind of expectation, which is also being put forward by Oracle, is significant for those who service corporate meetings and travel. It sends a message that the 99% expect sustainability to be integrated into events of all sizes, not just the showcase ones. And not just at the front end, but through back-end reporting as well.
  • Permanent changes in the way suppliers do business. So often requests of the 1% benefit the 1%, and then once the event is over, it's back to business as usual. Businesses make special allowances for high-profile events, then fall back to old behaviors. Standard business practice is more likely to change when the preferences and behavior of the 99% change.  As testament to this major hotel chains have created proprietary tools in recent years to make it easier to respond to the daily requests of the 99% for information about sustainable practices and performance.
  • Better industry-wide reporting. The uptake of tools such as Green Hotels Global provide proof that the industry is data-hungry. Would these tools be sustainable on the efforts of the 1%? Unlikely. Their use is being driven by groups like StarCite and American Express who are responsible for many of the meetings planned among the 99%.
So while we spend a lot of time building consensus around standards that will no doubt help frame sustainable event programs for all, it's important to remember that we should not always keep the 1% examples in mind. For much like sustainability is about enabling a shift in the behavior of the mainstream consumer, the needs, demands and actions of the 99% of small meeting planners are equally important for us to attend to, and arguably harbour the greatest potential for change.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Short Film Friday: Richard Feynman, On Beauty

Seek, explore, question, doubt.
Don't be afraid of not knowing.
Be open: find and relish beauty.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Oracle OpenWorld: Event Sustainability Photo Essay

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so rather than talk about event sustainability how about show and tell? Since 2007 Oracle has been working hard to improve event sustainability at OpenWorld. A lot has been accomplished and there are still many opportunities to improve. This past week I had the fortune to travel to the event and snapped a few images that paint a picture of some ways the event is working to reduce its footprint and contribute positively to the host destination: San Francisco.

For more information on Oracle's Event Sustainability program check out their event web site. Watch for outcomes from the 2011 event sustainability program later this year.

A "Show Your Badge" program helps get attendee money circulating in the local economy. Sometimes for purchasing local organic wines, even!

Depending on their registration package, OpenWorld and JavaOne attendees may be provided with materials at registration: a bag, notebook, pen and/or t-shirt. Most of these are taken by attendees but if not, registration staff are prepared to receive and divert extra materials to local charities, such as RAFT.

The event operates a 3-stream front of house waste management program for recyclables, trash and compost. Waste and donations are measured across 9 different venues in San Francisco. Between 2008 and 2010 OpenWorld has diverted enough material from landfill to fill 21 garbage trucks.

Compostable cups featuring sponsor logos are sourced by event organizers to ensure they are acceptable by local waste management facilities. Plus, check out that organic coffee!

Fully compostable boxed lunches are provided at all venues. As above, all packaging materials must be sourced to be compliant with local waste hauler requirements. Compostables need special green labels to differentiate from clear recyclable plastic.

Event branding takes advantage of existing infrastructure, such as digital displays, where possible, including here at the Marriott, one of 7 primary hotel meeting venues.

Since 2008 Oracle OpenWorld has made steady reductions in paper use: from 112 tons of paper printed in 2007 to 31 tons in 2010. Efforts first began by reducing the number of pages in printed guides and dailies. Then by increasing grades of post-consumer recycled content paper used. Following this printed programs were eliminated entirely. Exhibit guides and a small show daily are still printed, but - as seen above - take sustainability considerations into account. Paper use is expected to have dropped an additional 20% or more this year. Left over quantities of print materials are tracked to enable future reductions as mobile technology becomes more commonly used.

Special paper and badge bins are made available at key exit points. While paper is recycled, only certain parts of the current name badge system can be reused, such as the holder and lanyard. This year thousands of lanyards were reused thanks to the fact last year's sponsor was retained. Lanyards will be kept and reused if possible next year, and donated to RAFT as a fall-back position if sponsors change.

One of the biggest sustainability challenges for OpenWorld is creating a distinctive look and feel while reducing footprint. Banner signage is designed for re-use, eliminating dates and event locations. Event brands typically have a three-year life cycle and are carried over into global events held in Latin America and Asia, so many banners will be seen again at other events, not just San Francisco. Kiosks bear generic Oracle logos so they can be reused event to event. This year 150 sintra panels bore dated information and are being re-purposed as art canvas by an event subcontractor.

All informational signage - including easel, aisle and railroad signs - are made of cardboard. Not that you'd notice! 2011 is the first year OpenWorld has completely eliminated foamcore and duraplast in favour of informational signage that is made from renewable and fully recyclable materials.

Live plants are used throughout the event site: in the exhibit hall, temporary venues and pre-function areas. For special function spaces LED lighting is employed to create distinctive looks.

You're doing it RIGHT! A bin of beautiful, uncontaminated compost at Moscone West.

With 30% of attendees coming from international destinations, it is critically important to clearly communicate recycling procedures. Internationally understood images, colours and shapes help foreign delegates learn about how to recycle properly when Green Angels may not be on-hand.

With 40,000 participants it can be tough just to find a place to relax at OpenWorld for a few minutes. Oracle provides sponsored bean-bag seating which is donated to RAFT post-event.

Shuttle miles have dropped by about 13,000 miles since 2008. This has been possible by expanding walking route designated hotels and introducing two routes that shuttle attendees to transit nodes from remote hotels rather than taking attendees all the way into downtown San Francisco. 100% of shuttles are sourced within 2 hours of the city and priority is given to newer, lower emitting, fuel efficient technology. Fuel use dropped by 6,300 gallons between 2009 and 2010.

All host hotels (such as the Intercontinental San Francisco) are required to comply with and report against sustainable practices every second year in order to measure adoption of things like recycling, linen reuse and environmental purchasing.

Water stations come in different shapes and sizes at OpenWorld. Bottled water was eliminated in 2008, helping to save both water and money. Compostable cups are offered.

Salesforce Foundation's exhibit booth engaged attendees in preparing support kits for local charities, such as World Vision.

More signage, white and red and cardboard all over!

The OpenWorld Keynote hall features LED lighting, efficient projectors and paper-light rehearsals that take advantage of iPads. LED lighting is estimated to reduce power use by 150,000 kWh over the duration of the event. Screens are in their fourth year of re-use.

Oracle's CSROpenWorld. Oracle is a significant financial supporter of National Geographic's ocean conservation programs, including this large Pacific Ocean map that is used for interpretive school programs throughout North America.

Tesla's fully electric, zero-emissions Roadster, on display in Retail Row.

Paul Salinger leads 45 event professionals through an orientation to the event's sustainability strategy during a special tour for members of the Green Meeting Industry Council.

Savor Chef Jeff Hall talks to GMIC tour participants about how his team integrates local, seasonal ingredients into menus. The event acquires approximately 65% of ingredients within 250 miles of San Francisco.

Moscone Recycling Manager Hector Quiles talks to GMIC tour attendees about how the convention center sorts, donates and recycles large piece of debris, such as carpet, wood and signage.

Yet another great example of using San Francisco tap water to refresh attendees. New reusable Global Tap stations were installed at the Mason Street Cafe, one of the event's temporary venues.

Transportation information for attendees gives detailed, simple instructions for local transit. Transit use was promoted through a pre-purchased BART pass program.

Green Angels are on-hand during meal and break times to help attendees to properly sort waste. Event diversion has held steady at approximately 61%. Stay tuned for updates on the 2011 diversion rate!

Yet another cool tap-water station!

Pedicabs line up to shuttle attendees to nearby Caltrain transit nodes near the end of another busy day at OpenWorld.

Event sustainability at OpenWorld is made possible by a committed group of Oracle staff and vendors, including Hartmann Studios, Moscone Center, InVision Communications, Savor, Freeman, San Francisco Travel and local host hotels.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Join the ECV Green Game App Bunch!

Here's a story of two lovely ladies,
who were planning some very ordinary sustainable events. 
Both of them had checklists of green, for their clients, 
but longed to do new things.

Here's a story of an event app provider,
who was busy with many clients of their own.
They wanted to support green event tech projects, 
but were waiting for new and cool ideas!

Til one day when these ladies met this provider,
and they knew that it was much more than a hunch
That this troupe could really make a difference, 
so that's when they became the ECVGreenGameApp Bunch!

Yes, an upcoming sustainability project for Event Camp Vancouver that I'm collaborating on with Judy Kucharuk and the team at Quickmobile has me so stoked I'm singing the Brady Bunch.

Our challenge: Create a fun way to help people become comfortable with event application technology, learn about green event practices and make a positive difference through simple, individual acts of green.

Our goal during Event Camp Vancouver? 1000 acts of green by our event participants!

Don't want to give too much away but suffice it to say our project unites so many of my passions, namely: event planning, environmental education and video games!

Interested in joining the ECVGreenGameApp Bunch? Have some funds in your sponsorship or PR budget to invest in a very cool sustainable event experiment that has huge legacy potential? We have an exciting and affordable sponsorship opportunity for an organization that shares our belief that event attendees can be a huge positive force for environmental change! For more information contact me!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Medium is the Message

This past week I tuned into the Climate Reality Project, a 24-hour, virtual global event to share the truth about climate change. I lurked for the content primarily, but also curious about how the event was designed, wondering if it would reflect the content of the message.

Several years ago, Live Earth - Al Gore's previous event to raise awareness about the climate crisis - appealed to the music fan in me, but left the event professional in me wondering if the message was compromised by the format of the event. With simultaneous concerts held worldwide and Al Gore himself traveling between host cities during the event I couldn't help but observe that a disconnect existed between the medium and the message.

So what about this new event? What does the Climate Reality Project teach us about the future of events?

We have the tools. Day by day we are eeking closer to a more seamless virtual event experience that is expanding our event design options. No, technology will not replace face to face contact entirely, but The Climate Reality Project proves it is possible to create a relatively error-free online event experience. The 'technology-isn't-reliable' position seems to be fading as an argument in support of face to face.

The medium and the message must go hand in hand. Following Live Earth organizers were criticized for the scale and footprint of the event, in spite of efforts to green venues and event management practices. The Climate Reality Project's virtual platform suggests the event team learned a critical lesson: the event medium must align with and reinforce the message, not contradict it. This is an important takeaway for those organizations that seek to align their operations, and therefore their events, with their corporate responsibility strategy.

Evaluation forms are no longer the sole barometer of event critique. Social media, forums and chat functions, enabled for the Climate Reality Project, provide live, dynamic and raw feedback. With this comes huge opportunity, significant risk and an evolved responsibility for event planners. How can we and should we moderate this kind of commentary? Can we improve it beyond a fairly fragmented stream of 140 character shout-outs to use online media at events more productively? To listen to what constituents are saying? To truly integrate social technologies with an event's aims so they support dynamic conversations that improve, expand and reach beyond mere education and communication about an issue?

Social does not assume productive, or personal. Throughout the Climate Reality Project realtime social media feeds and chats became near overwhelming as participants attempted to absorb information and express interest. I experienced these things with a sense of detachment, the string of texts moving too quickly for me to follow while I simultaneously tried to listen to the session content. The nature of the conversation (if it can be called such) seeming to me to be less productive and more souvenir, as if many were writing their name in the sand to show they'd been there. Those attempting to converse appeared either troll or fervent supporter, in many respects their interactions only intrenching the debate and divide the event sought to bridge.

Form follows function, always has, always will. So does the Climate Reality Project event design achieve it's ultimate intent? Well, yes, and no. Organizers have demonstrated one of their aims through their own actions: we are all responsible to use our influence to adapt and become more resilient to climate change in our everyday lives. That includes us, as event producers. To not plan this event using a virtual design would have been hypocritical and deny personal responsibility for the changes required to live in this new reality. But this message is subtle at best, and I would think possibly lost on an audience who don't often realize there is an industry behind the black curtain.

The more important question: did the message really reach the intended audience? And if yes, was it transformational? Did it work as intended? Did those who have been living in denial about climate change until now, in the words of the organizers, 'choose reality' having participated in the experience?

I'm skeptical.

But while event design may have a role to play, I hesitate to assign fault to the production and logistics team if the event is judged to have fallen short of its aims to convert climate change disbelievers. Rather I applaud them. They've demonstrated evolved approaches. The medium was innovative. It was aligned with the message. And it was relatively smooth and error free.

My disappointment lies more with the un-empathetic tone of the event's singular message. A message that at times mocked and shamed climate change 'deniers' as a group living detached from reality. And setting my own acceptance of climate change aside, who wants to listen to what you have to say when that's your message? But that's another post, for another day.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

To boldly go where no event has gone before!

Where does one go when they boldly go? I mean, really?

I've watched every single episode of Star Trek and its spin-offs since it launched onto the airwaves 45 years ago this week. All 726 of them. More than once. I know, I know - that's weeks of productive time I'll never get back.

But on this auspicious anniversary where we pay homage to the landing of Captain Kirk and his crew in our television galaxy, it just so happens this Trekkie read another article in the New York Times: 'Going Green and Getting Nowhere'. And like a wormhole boring into the Delta Quadrant it dawned on me: If we're going nowhere with individual actions to reduce the footprint of the events we plan, what do we need to do to boldly go? To boldly make a meaningful difference to create more sustainable events?

Some thoughts:

Firstly, we need to remind ourselves who we, as event designers, serve. I'm sure all of us can relate to the push and pull of different stakeholder groups who participate in our events, attendees and sponsors being key among them. Inevitably, we need to decide whose needs are penultimate, and design experiences accordingly. We also need to be courageous and stand by our decisions where we've decided to put someone's needs at the top of the pile, especially if it forces us to consider new models for funding. Where this is the case we need to be open to new populations we may not be serving, to consider how we might.

Second, we need to accept we are continuing with business as usual at our own peril. As other more capable writers such as Mitchell Beer and Elizabeth Henderson have pointed out: a new reality is coming. A reality where we have to accept our resilience as an industry is threatened by environmental factors that include food scarcity, unsustainable energy use and rising prices for both. We have a choice: anticipate and respond proactively, or adjust as crises such as the economic recession arrive at our front door.

If you can't see the need for change it's probably best to stop reading now. Because only by admitting there is a need to evolve can we be open to new and perhaps controversial ways to innovate. Ideas like:

Accounting for carbon impacts in our event budgets. That means consistently calculating a carbon footprint for our event(s) and translating that into a dollar value that reflects the environmental cost of planning and staging it (Related post). By articulating our climate impact as a financial cost we become compelled to have a conversation about how to offset that cost. And I don't mean through a carbon offset that pays for our sins while we continue to do what we've always done. I mean offset the environmental cost by taking real steps to develop new solutions that enable us to achieve our event-related goals like networking, education and marketing, without the emissions impact. Only when we know what our footprint is and acknowledge the financial cost of it can we meaningfully reduce and eliminate our impact.

Challenging event branding norms. Does a strong event brand really need ten floor to ceiling banners at registration? Or the event name, date and city on every single kick panel? A sidewalk decal every 100 meters around the convention center? A prop that flashes and spins in the convention center lobby all day and night? Alright, alright. A look and feel is often desirable for an event. But does that really let your attendees know you're here for them, and invested in giving them the best experience? When they leave they may remember your logo, but what did they really take away about your brand? I recently attended an event where instead of investing in a lot of signage some of the event budget was used to hire local staff ambassadors instead. Sure, ambassadors wore branded t-shirts and sometimes held small signs that had a material impact (incidentally, both were reused). But wow - what a different experience of the event I had: a smiling, friendly knowledgeable person always within reach to answer a question, or just say 'hello'. The feeling I took home? Warmth, accessibility, personal connection. Now that's a powerful brand, no plastics included.

Thinking like a product designer. Good product designers are always looking for ways to reduce waste and maximize the usefulness of their product in ways that serve customers better and hopefully save money. Are event professionals doing the same? Do we have to accept a plastic name badge inserted in a badge holder as our credentialing method? Do we have to have a bag (or 5) for the exhibit hall or can we propose a better virtual solution for collecting exhibit materials or giving cool incentives away? Or maybe a completely new way of holding the exhibit entirely? Can we rediscover and make attractive the incentive opportunities in our beneficiaries' backyards, rather than taking them to an exotic location? Let's not be afraid to question the current model. To reach out and ask others with fresh perspectives who may be completely outside of our industry to take a look at what we do, and re-imagine something different, something better.

Rewarding the right behaviors. In the past we've assumed people would like to get more stuff from our events: gadgets, giveaways, swag. Because of this we assume reducing or eliminating these things may be perceived by attendees as providing a lesser experience. But what if we were to reward those attendees who choose to reduce with a higher quality, more unique or luxurious experience? Something that did not involve a material giveaway? So by choosing to take the virtual option to attend, or bring their own name badge, water bottle and bag they might be rewarded? Perhaps with a free song download, a 15 minute massage in the relaxation lounge in the exhibit hall, a special opportunity to engage with a VIP or maybe a discounted price to register. And although it is a scary thought, what if we were to make the virtual option the most attractive option for those who can achieve the outcome they want without face to face contact?

And lastly, we need to talk and coordinate action. To boldly go where no one has gone in the realm of event sustainability will require a deep and empathetic conversation about what is necessary for our mutual prosperity, within and outside the event industry. It requires leadership by organizations to stand up and say it's time to have a different conversation about the future of events. A conversation that really steps out of the box to accept we are at risk of becoming the newspaper of the future, which for those papers still alive, is not a 'paper' at all, really. Change will be tough for some, especially where it cuts into traditional sources money. But if radical, collective change is the only answer, we have to first and foremost be willing to open up to new ideas, and see what it may mean to shatter the mold.

Who among our event associations is going to provide a safe and fertile place to talk about radical innovation and preparedness? What is your association doing to provide this space? Are they, and are we, courageous enough to boldly go where no one has gone before?

Friday, 9 September 2011

Event Emissions: Scope 3 Matters

I work with a lot of passionate event professionals who are working very hard on a daily basis to innovate with new meeting materials and event formats that not only create cool experiences, but also cut energy use and carbon. For example...

One of my colleagues knows her conference attendees well enough to see they typically only attend her event when it's close to home. However with a national membership of prospective attendees she faces a decision every year: meet at a central location that's a moderate distance from everyone, or move around the country in a regular circular pattern so people have a chance to attend the event that is closest to them every few years. Her decision to do the latter causes her event, on average, to produce 150 lbs of carbon less per attendee per day than other events that do not move about this way or actively evaluate audience proximity. The estimated difference of her decision to 'meet close' this year? About 450 MT of carbon dioxide was avoided, conservatively. (For more information click here)

Another example: Shuttle buses. Oracle OpenWorld, a major city-wide event, has taken steps over three years to reduce ground shuttles by expanding walking routes for their conference. In addition they've adopted a node-based system that shuttles from remote hotels to public transit hubs instead of running buses between the remote hotels and the event site. Further, they've improved communication and pass programs to make it easier to use transit. The program has caused a measurable reduction in shuttle and fuel use amounting to16 tons of emissions reduced over previous baselines.

And one more: An event manager I know chooses to segregate her attendees and invite some to join the event in person, while others can attend virtually. Having honed in on the outcome each audience type wants, she has re-designed her formerly in-person-only event to be a hybrid. The impact? Over 10,000 metric tons of carbon avoided, while still delivering good content in a format that fits attendees needs. (For more information click here)

Unfortunately, when event professionals, who often work as a small department within larger corporations or associations, inquire about reporting the carbon benefits of their decisions internally and externally my colleagues often find out that their efforts don't really count. Event emissions often fall into Scope 3, and organizations don't tend to report Scope 3. They're 'optional'. There's no accepted method to track these kinds of emissions and other organizations may already be reporting the emissions impacts of event managers' decisions.

The end result? Event professionals are not motivated to make meaningful carbon reduction decisions, measure and tell a story about their actions when they feel their efforts don't count. In spite of how material the decisions they make actually are.

What can CSR professionals do to help environmentally-conscious event planners out and affirm the efforts of these critical decision-makers?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The View from Here

Remember to be gentle with yourself and others. We are all children of chance and none can say why some fields will blossom while others lay brown beneath the August sun.
Kent Nerburn

And so it's here again: August sun. In this month of sitting-on-deckchairs-in-the-fading summer I'm feeling decidedly reflective. As I round the corner into a busy fall season I hope I will get up from my deck chair next week restored. Ready to work with the green event teams that always seem to invigorate me with their ideas and enthusiasm. And I say 'hope' because for some reason this August I'm feeling a little more tired than usual. Am I alone in this?

I think I've been bleeding a bit of energy wrestling with a growing sense of concern - and it's not just that I will run out of ice tea in one more sip. I'm worried that momentum toward more sustainable events is fading. Fatigue is setting in.

Now if you're familiar with what is happening in this arena you're likely thinking I'm crazy. After all, in the coming months anticipation is high to launch ISO 20121, APEX-ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Event Standards and the GRI Event Sector Supplement. Still, it's been a long haul to this point for many people and as I look around and inward I'm wondering: do we - or let me just say do I have the energy to keep going forward?

I ask because there is a fact staring me square in the face as, after many years of work, these three processes near their close. That fact is in spite of all the discussions, all the reviews, and all the collaborations that have engaged people for years, it is now - yes only just now - that the real work is about to begin. Are you ready?

Have you looked at these standards and really thought about how feasible they are? I have, and I'll tell you what I've experienced. Failure. Failure to meet 100% of the proposed Level One ASTM-APEX specifications. Failure to meet 100% of targets in an event sustainability plan designed after ISO 20121 approaches. And for a self-professed over-achiever I tell you: it's a sucky feeling.

Yet I look around me and it seems like everyone else has bright, shiny successful sustainable event programs. And it makes me self-conscious of some of the less than perfect strategies I've implemented. Like not meeting waste management targets for not one, not two, but three events last cycle. One target missed by a mere 1%! 1%!!! Smacks like losing Game 7 in the Stanley Cup come so far and then just be shy of winning.

But then, I have to pause. Reality check myself before I head into a downward spiral of not-good-enoughs to remember what I do know, and have learned. I know enough now to have an objective, and devise a way to measure success against it. I'm brave enough to set a target to reach for, even when it just slips out of my fingers and I beat myself up over the failure. And I'm stubborn enough to go back, sit in my deck chair and analyse over and over again what I need to do differently. And given that, I suppose the only real failure would be to not stand up, brush off and try again.

    Thursday, 18 August 2011

    Taking the Pain out of Policy

    Pretty much everywhere you turn in the event industry these days someone wants to know: what's your policy when it comes to sustainability? How you consider the nexus of the environment, economy and society is becoming more important to getting a contract, keeping a client and communicating success.

    This week I had the pleasure of participating in a webinar on how to create your event sustainability policy, hosted by the Green Meeting Industry Council. We discussed the process of researching, collaborating, writing and committing to sustainability for an event, or event-related organization by creating a policy. Although we're all refining our approaches to event sustainability, we proposed the following six items that should be considered in your policy, based on emerging standards:
    1. Vision
    2. Principles
    3. Important issues
    4. Ability and duty to act
    5. Objectives
    6. Commitment
    Check out the GMIC's web site to access the recorded session and share your comments.

    A number of good questions came in following the webinar which are shared below. Also check out the GMIC's Linkedin group for some sample policies you might want to refer to. More examples are welcome so please comment!

    Question: If an organization plans many events, should they have a sustainability policy for each event?
    My experience is it helps to keep it simple and consistent. So if you plan many events I’d try to avoid having a separate policy for each and take the time to create one policy that applies to all. The challenge in that is you have to decide what will work best across different kinds of events. That may take time, but is typically a better approach in a multiple event situation because it’s simpler, and gives a common touchstone for everyone. Now one policy doesn’t mean that you have to use the same tactics for every event. It’s okay to have different actions for each. So for example, your policy could state that because climate change is a critical issue your events are adopting an objective to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To implement that objective you might decide a different set of practices are needed for your annual conference compared to your monthly board meetings. Maybe for your conference you choose an energy efficient venue and a walk-able destination so you can eliminate shuttles and reduce building emissions. On the other hand you may decide to address this objective by having more virtual board meetings, cutting back on air travel. So you can see the policy is consistent for different events, even though your tactics are different.

    Question: I know it varies, but is there a standard length for the policy?
    I prefer to keep it brief and simple. I’ve seen some great policies come in under 2 or 3 pages. If your policy is a lot longer than that I’d start to ask if the content could be refined further, and simplified, or if you’re including too many operational or tactical aspects. Always try to remember that someone needs to be able to read it quickly and easily to grasp the overall intent of what you’re doing. It’s not a place for getting into detailed action plans. As suggested in the question, there are no hard rules and it varies, and keeping it simple and brief helps make it easier to engage in the policy.

    Question: How long do you find the development of a good policy typically takes?
    You need enough time to meaningfully engage people. To ensure you have representative information from important stakeholders. Knowing how hard that can be I advise people to plan for about 3 months. If it’s a complex event or a large organization it will take longer. If you’re not able to dedicate time to it consistently or if your stakeholders are dispersed it will take longer. If it’s a smaller event or company you may be able to finalize it more quickly. Also, be prepared you may not get it perfect the first time. It’s always a good idea to come back after a complete cycle of implementing and reporting against the policy and have a reality check. Ask if it’s working and accept it may need to be changed.

    Question: Do you recommend a separate policy for organization and each event, when using a third party event management company?
    I’d suggest the third party and the host of the event come to a clear understanding of what the sustainability policy will be for the event, or the many events the third party might be involved in. The policy should be in writing. The third party may have their own policy, and that’s great, a prudent move to be prepared on their part. The organization hosting the event may have one too. What’s important here is to ensure both align in the context of the event or events being planned. What’s also important is to clarify who is responsible for implementing the policy, or pieces of it. Once everyone is on the same page with a common foundation action planning can start.

    Question: How long does the process to create a policy take?
    Please see the answer above. I typically estimate three months to create a policy document. The longest process I've been involved with took five months.

    Question: What policy examples are good to look at?
    Check out the GMIC's Linkedin Group. There are some good examples there. Also you can use this template.

    Question: What documents should be drawn on in the research phase?
    Check and see if your organization has a sustainability policy. Many companies already do, but they haven't translated how it applies to meeting activities, or a certain event. A pre-existing company policy can give you a lot of help, especially with identifying objectives, principles and important issues. If you don't have a company policy don't worry, it just means you may have to do a bit more leg work crafting those kinds of things yourself. Some organizations look to the UN Global Compact for guidance on principles. Event standards - either national ones (CSA Z2010 or BS 8901) or proposed international ones like ISO 20121 - also include guidance on what a policy should include. Don't be afraid to poke around the event industry too, and ask for samples from members of the GMIC - there are good examples to draw from in this community.

    Question: What are the costs to create a policy?
    Policy creation requires time. That is the biggest cost. If you do it yourself it's important to track how much time it takes to get a sense of true costs. If you decide to hire an outside consultant that's an option, but adds to direct cost. If you track either, it's helpful to also consider if there are benefits or cost reductions to the exercise, once the policy is implemented. So for example, can you tie action to create the policy to acquisition of a new client? Or improved member or attendee satisfaction? If you're going to track costs, being mindful of the benefits is an important counter-balance.

    Question: What are the benefits to creating a policy?
    I favor policy creation because it gives order to the checklist chaos. There are so many competing pressures when it comes to 'greening' events that often leave you wondering: am I focusing on the right thing? Are all these actions having any benefit? To me a policy lets you get grounded in why you're doing what you're doing in a way that makes sense to everyone involved. It also gives you a focal point for action, and measurement. That helps you prioritize, and know what you can say yes to and what you might say no to when you run into a decision that has trade-offs. So for me, I like it because it keeps the work organized and strategic. And it keeps me a little less stressed! You have to also consider more and more customers are asking if you have a policy because they want to do business with groups that align with their values. A policy helps to substantiate that, along with proven practice.

    Question: What is the minimum policy required in the standards?
    The outline we provided in the webinar is a good start. Ensuring you have a vision (1) and principles (2). Grounding those in the issues (3) you think are most important, whether it be climate change, accessibility or health. These are things that should reflect stakeholder interests, so making sure you acknowledge who your stakeholders (4) are and your duty to act in their interest is important. Including your high level objectives (5) and commitment (6) is also key. Those are common ingredients, but remember the standards are in their draft form right now, so stay tuned. Things may change.

    Question: How is a policy different from practices?
    They're different things and should be aligned. Your policy is a high level thing, it typically doesn't contain specific practices. It gives direction to these practices. It's probably best to consider an example here. Let's say you have a high-level policy objective to reduce carbon emissions. That's a perfect thing to include in your policy. The next question is okay - how do we get there? Well, through practices. But how you practice carbon reduction when you are an exhibit manager for trade show booths may be different than how you practice it for a multi-venue festival. As a booth manager you might ensure you use SmartWay haulers for your logistics, and reduce your shipment weights. As a festival producer you might design a bike-to-festival program that cuts carbon. Policy is the same at a high level, but you tailor the practices to be relevant to the context. One thing to bear in mind when practices are different is it helps to try to use the same indicators to measure success (i.e. metric tons of carbon dioxide).

    Tuesday, 16 August 2011


    Hey Auntie Shawna, forget lollies. Check out my otterly fabulous parade favour.

    Ladysmith Days Parade,
    Ladysmith, BC

    Thursday, 11 August 2011

    Making the unseen, seen

    Anyone who has spent any time in the event industry knows the front of house and back of house are two different worlds. On the public side of the ‘black curtain’: professional polished event space. Branded. Beautiful. On the other side of the 'black curtain': drab, worn corridors traversed by tired, hurried staff. Operational. Unglamorous.

    It dawned on me recently that sometimes we in the event industry approach corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the same way. There is front of house CSR, and back of house CSR.

    Front of house CSR includes the experience elements that we love to talk about. Feel-good, educational networking opportunities for attendees. Food bank work. Soap recycling. Tree planting. Puppy care. Hospital art projects. These are all great and worthy projects that help to add to the experience of our event. They’re highly visible, interesting and great for story-telling.

    Back of house CSR includes aspects of social responsibility that are unseen. We talk a lot less about them. Sometimes they make us uncomfortable. They don’t often have simple solutions. They aren't necessarily marketable. But they are no less important, even if more invisible.

    What does back of house CSR relate to? Think:
    Anyone taking back of house CSR front of house? Are you having deeper conversations about social responsibility that go beyond the volunteer CSR projects? Who else is ready to make the unseen seen?

    Friday, 5 August 2011

    Short Film Friday!: The Joy of Fix

    Adore this charming stop-motion animation from Do the Green Thing reminding us all there can be joy in sticking with what you've got. Visit their web site for seven simple ideas for leading a greener life, including one meeting planners should check out: Stay Grounded.

    Tuesday, 2 August 2011

    Not Sexy, but Effective

    Do you really want to hold an event with a smaller carbon footprint?

    If you do you may want to stop paying so much attention to buying recycled, reusing your name badges and investing in voluntary CSR projects. Start paying attention to where your attendees live and the carbon required to get them to and from your event destination.

    Not that the aforementioned practices aren't important. They are. But a little perspective is in order. Consider the following example:

    Event Details:
    • Annual association conference.
    • Held in a different destination in the continental USA every year.
    • 4,000 participants, 100 exhibitors on average.
    • 19,800 meals and 7,300 room nights on average.
    • No ground shuttles provided.
    • Seven year history of sustainable event practices.

    Estimated carbon benefits of 2011 green initiatives (excluding destination selection): 10.5 metric tons CO2 reduced.
    • Eliminated bottled water.
    • Reduced paper use.
    • Purchased post-consumer recycled content paper.
    • Reused graphics and signage.
    • Reused exhibit materials, including carpet.
    • Minimal event decor and branding.
    • Venue recycling and composting program.
    • This is roughly the equivalent of taking 2 cars off the road for a year.

    Carbon impact of 2011 destination selection: 449 metric tons CO2 reduced.
    Reduction includes the difference between the 2005 baseline air travel footprint and 2011 footprint from air travel based on participant city of residence. This is equal to taking 90 cars off the road for a year. Difference between total average air travel footprint 2005-2011 and 2011 footprint: 669 metric tons CO2, or 134 cars.

    So if you're a planner thinking about how to make the biggest environmental difference with your limited time consider this: as much as CSR projects and event supplies made out of sustainable materials may give a green hue to your annual association conference, the deepest shade of green might come from seriously evaluating the air travel impact of the destination you select.

    Friday, 22 July 2011

    Short Film Friday: The Measure of All Things

    "Our generation has fallen in love with the meta, with the virtual, with the hyper, with the derivative product, with the indexical. But you know what? When we're talking about food as an index, we're no longer talking about food."

    I'm in the process of compiling sustainability data for a recently completed event. This particular event tracks about 20 different indicators, including carbon emissions, waste, water use, energy consumption and attendee satisfaction, among other things. Occasionally I wonder if it's possible to mix together the data points, sprinkle on some magic dust and bam! A single sustainability score emerges from the cauldron that lets me know in one number how this event is doing from a sustainability perspective. And most importantly, tells us if we're doing less harm, or maybe even getting better.

    Unfortunately, it's not that easy. And after watching this thought-provoking talk by Frederick Kaufman I'm wondering: is it possible? Absurd? Essential? Risky? What do you think? Is an ultimate sustainability score desirable? Or does it make dangerously simple the deeper story of our sustainable events?

    Friday, 15 July 2011

    Short Film Friday: Oil on Lubicon Land

    Only when the last tree has died
    the last river been poisoned
    and the last fish been caught
    we will realise we cannot eat money

    ~ Cree proverb

    Saturday, 9 July 2011

    Cruising & Sustainable Meetings: Smooth Sailing?

    Three floating hotels are moored in front of my house this morning. Must be a Saturday in the height of cruise season in Vancouver!

    According to Cruise Lines Association International group travel for weddings, education, incentives and meetings accounts for 5-40% of passenger volume, depending on the cruise line. Which has me thinking: if I was to plan an event on a cruise ship, what unique sustainability considerations might ship-based meetings have that are different from a traditional hotel or convention center venue? What issues would I need to be aware of? What questions should I ask?

    Environmental issues:
    No surprise: environmental issues associated with cruise ships are complicated. Not only do you need to consider corporate policies and practice on the ship, but requirements vary greatly between different ports, states, provinces, and nations. For example, cruise ships must not dispose of waste within 12 miles of the Washington state shoreline. This distance is reduced to 4 miles once the ships cross into British Columbia waters. So, if you really want to get a grasp on the unique environmental issues of this kind of venue you need to research three things:
    1. the areas you'll be visiting
    2. the cruise line, and
    3. the ship you'll be using.
    To know what you're dealing with, ask some basic questions:
    • How is waste water treated? Ships produce different kinds of waste water. Black water includes human sewage and medical waste. Grey water tends to be the highest volume of waste water and includes that remaining from baths, laundry and kitchens. Oily bilge water describes condensation that collects in the hull and often includes a mix of residues. These kinds of waste are typically treated by a Marine Sanitation Device (MSD)or Advanced Wastewater Treatment System (AWTS). While an AWTS is typically better to use, they can still result in non-compliance with water quality standards. Be clear about what kind of system is in place on your ship and what kind of testing is done to ensure conformity with water quality standards.
    • How is waste water disposed of? Once treated waste may be flushed at sea. Because discharge zones and laws vary, it's important to know if your cruise line follows any voluntary, consistent guidelines for dumping and/or port-side disposal.
    • What happens to solid waste produced on ships? Cruise passengers produce about 3.5 kg of trash per day. Waste may be recycled, incinerated or tossed into the sea within acceptable discharge distance from shore, provided it fits through a 2.5 cm screen. Be clear about what happens to solid waste and ask to receive data that substantiates recycling is taking place.
    • What guidelines are followed for emissions? Cruise ships burn fuel, produce emissions and can therefore contribute to air pollution. Confirm your ship will be using low sulfur fuel that burns cleaner. In Canada and the USA this means the ship should be working toward using fuel that has less than 0.1% sulfur content in compliance with pending International Maritime Organization guidelines. Cruise ships may also burn waste, so ask about what strategies are used to collect and dispose of incinerator ash.
    • Has the cruise line ever been cited or fined for environmental infractions? Although this is a good question, it's important to bear in mind that enforcement of maritime law is spotty at best. For example while $50 million in fines were levied against cruise lines in the USA between 1999 - 2009, fines in Canada were non-existent. Still it's an important question to ask to establish a trusting, transparent relationship. If these are not tracked, or no fines or citations are noted something, may, as they say, be fishy.
    • How might environmental requirements vary between the different ports being visited? As indicated above practices by and regulation of cruise lines varies. Given this it's particularly important to research and ask about any special local issues in the waters you'll be traveling and at the ports visited.
    Social issues:
    While environmental issues are important, moral issues related to workers and passenger safety are also critical. Cruise meetings become complicated in this respect as again, unlike a land-based venue, jurisdiction can be fuzzy. Ships are often foreign-flagged. Workers and passengers are of different nationalities and may be afforded different protections. Depending on the time of the crime different laws might apply based on whose national waters are being traversed. All of these can make it very confusing to know what laws apply to whom, when. For these reasons voluntary guidelines adopted by cruise lines themselves that exceed prevailing law have a critical role to play.

    Arming yourself with answers to these questions can help you learn where your cruise meeting venue stands on social issues like labour, health, safety and crime:
    • Who is employed on ships? Ask about employees, where they come from and conditions of their work and lodgings. Probe about how many hours they work, how much they are paid and benefits provided, particularly medical care. Make sure you consider all staff, including those that may not work in customer-facing positions.
    • What policies are in place to ensure a safe and healthy workplace? Ask about staff training. Is it provided, particularly for those working in positions that are high risk for injury? Note during your site visit if there appears to be clear and adequate availability of first aid, fire extinguishers and safety equipment. Be sure to ask about specific work hazards unique to ship-based work as well as accident rates and worker's compensation for injury.
    • What policies are in place to address crime among passengers and workers? While the industry claims cruising is the safest form of travel, others cite high rates of robbery and sexual assault on ships that call this record to question. Be clear on prevailing types of crime risks and ensure your ship has a process to prevent, address and disclose them.
    • What reports can be provided about fatalities, crime, and injuries? Because there is such debate about how much crime and how many injuries are reported on ships, it's important to ask for yourself. You may not get a complete answer, however knowing if the cruise line you're considering has these issues on their radar and is reporting is a key way to build trust and do your due diligence to ensure your participants are not subjected to unexpected risks.
    • What policies exist to ensure the interests of host destinations and populations are considered? Many concerned with the cruise industry point to a discrepancy between the benefits derived by cruise lines compared to the expenses incurred by ports of call and local residents. This exists at a macro level where destinations provide infrastructure to support cruising and may struggle to recoup investment unless there are long-term commitments to visit ports. Concern is also expressed over the commissions taken by the cruise industry from local businesses that provide shore-side excursions. Ask what approach the cruise line you are considering takes to these local stakeholder concerns, and what examples exist to demonstrate policies in place in the area you are visiting.

    Needless to say, when it comes to being sustainable, cruise meetings sail in murky waters. Because a ship can move between jurisdictions in a single trip, this can afford the opportunity to exercise different levels of responsibility in different waters. This isn't hard to understand if you consider how standards of 'green' hotel practice within a single chain can change city to city. The difference here is your hotel property is generally not shifting how diligent it is about its sustainable responsibilities within the span of a single meeting as a result of moving down the block. Therefore it's critical for cruise meeting hosts to take questions like these to the cruise industry to uncover if they are consistently addressing sustainability issues in a way that hopefully exceeds highest regulatory requirements across jurisdictions.

    At least that's what I'll plan on doing, when I set sail to plan a cruise meeting.

    Many thanks to Ross Klein and his Cruise Junkie web site which provided much food for thought and information for this introduction to the sustainable considerations of cruise meetings.

    Photo: Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership

    Friday, 1 July 2011

    Short Film Friday: Happy Canada Day!

    Short film Friday is switching up to Short Music Video Friday this week. Happy Canada Day to all who are lucky enough to call it home. Long may it run.

    Tuesday, 28 June 2011

    Exorcising my Armchair Solutionary

    You know, people take you pretty seriously when you show up to work a conference event in a suit accessorized with bright blue surgical gloves and tongs. Especially if you pull up the cuff and snap it as you approach them.

    This past week I spent about 24 hours staring down the bottom of a convention centre trash can. I dug into landfill bins to rescue more coffee cups for compost than I can count. I retrieved 5 china plates, numerous pieces of silverware, 15 clothes hangers, about a dozen unopened bottles of water (for shame) and two full-length mirrors. Even hopped into a dumpster to rescue some carpet rolls for recycling. Yes indeed, event planning is glamorous!

    To be honest - in spite of the odor - it was nice to be so hands-on with event sustainability again.

    In recent months I have been feeling at risk of being an "armchair solutionary". You know the type: the outsider who comes in and lays out plans and ideas for sustainability with little practical experience in your event? The person who directs others to implement purchasing and waste plans without being willing to get down and dirty themselves? I recognize it because I have, at times, been guilty of being that person.

    Have you?

    What helps you exorcise your armchair solutionary?

    Monday, 20 June 2011

    Today's Hallelujah Moment

    Brought to you by my Westin hotel room:

    "One of your Heavenly Shower heads has been turned off in an effort to minimize water usage and protect one of our most precious natural resources. To experience the most out of your Heavenly Shower, you can turn the second shower head on by pushing the small button behind the lower head."

    Friday, 17 June 2011

    Short Film Friday: Keep Calm, Carry On

    A charming brief video history of the now iconic phrase "Keep Calm and Carry On" is the topic of this week's Short Film Friday. Enjoy!

    By Nation
    (enter password "keepcalm")

    Thursday, 16 June 2011

    On Idiots and Empathy

    Actually, I can think of a few more words: disrespectful, destructive, inhumane, vain, selfish...

    Thoughts this morning on the aftermath of an awesome two months of exciting community spirit in my favourite sustainable destination on earth: Lack of empathy kills community.

    And the power of empathy builds it back up again. Stay tuned...I've got faith the builders and restorers in us will re-write Brock Anton's version of history.

    Update: 1:02pm
    This is My Vancouver
    Vancouver brushes itself off
    The Real Face of Vancouver
    Vancouver Riot Clean-Up
    Post-it Love for VPD

    Called it, love it. Thank you all!