Friday, 29 April 2011

Short Film Friday: Today

Thanks Jonathan Harris, for helping us to remember:
  • To stop and be aware of life as it's passing.
  • Life is not a hunt. It is a walkabout.
  • Certainty is rare. You just never really know.
  • Your greatest creation is your life story.
  • The process of growing up makes you realise there is so much more that you don't know, compared to what you thought you knew before.
  • Life can take on a performative quality.
  • Sometimes, projects run your life, rather than life running your projects.
  • Take time to reflect and process the experience.
  • You need privacy. Space. In order to contemplate, and grow.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Why we should get behind Team London 2012

Over the weekend the Guardian ran a critical piece about fears London 2012 will not be able to meet sustainability targets for the upcoming Olympic Games:
London Olympics pollution on course to land hefty fine from IOC

So why is it a good sign to see these headlines? Although this kind of coverage might upset some, there's a few reasons to see this as positive:

Objectives for sustainability are being integrated into event planning. Instead of being critical of the potential to achieve the targets before the event has been executed, let's pause and consider how progressive it is to even have an event sustainability strategy with publicly stated objectives and requirements for transparent reporting. This unto itself still appears rare.

Targets are challenging. And so they should be! Furthermore, if air pollution reduction was easy to achieve would we be criticizing targets as too weak? It's possible. Without making targets challenging how can we make ambitious progress? Even if we only get part way there, is it not still a forward step, even if just shy of the goal?

Performance is tied to incentives. Here access to revenues provides a clear motivator to make a serious attempt to achieve targets. This shows a clear business motivator to be sustainable, moving beyond the sometimes touchy-feely motivators of 'doing the right thing' that we often rely on.

The philosophy is doing less harm and doing better. In a recent post GMIC Canada talks about the desire to create an 'embossed relief' from events, drawing attention to the fact events should do less harm and also make things better. The exciting thing about these air pollution targets it they actually enable this to occur. Targets are aimed at developing programs that improve the situation. Proof events can be catalysts for more sustainable cities. Imagine that: our industry as champion of the environment, not a burden on it.

Still doubtful? Check out a response to the article by David Stubbs, head of sustainability at the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, including a link to their latest report of progress. Yes: progress!

It's an unfortunate phenomenon that those organizations that hang out their sustainability shingle are often more the target of criticism than other groups that fail to plan for or disclose sustainability targets. When this happens it can seem those who try have the most at stake to lose, very publicly. It's a shame that the intention to 'go farther and be better' sometimes gets overshadowed by 'we're sorry, but that's not far or good enough'.

And let's not forget - the race is still being run. We won't know how well sustainability targets will be met until the Games themselves are done.

So in the lead up to the Games I'm going to get behind the home team, cheer their event sustainability targets and hope they can continue to push through to improve how we all do what we do. Go Team London 2012!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Hangover

On Boxing Day you wake to the realities of Christmas over-spending.

On New Years, the trepidation of a coming year that may be laced with a too-much-champagne headache.

So what about Earth Day? Judging from several headlines the environmental movement is becoming more than a bit skeptical about Earth Day after 41 years:
Can't say I disagree, but I have to ask: what is the result of inserting a cynical overtone?

Even David Suzuki in his 2010 Earth Day message acknowledged some of the steady progress being made toward improving our world, acknowledging much work remains.

It appears more and more companies are using Earth Day as a platform for promotions, adopting it much like a new consumer holiday, sandwiched amongst Valentines, Easter and Mother's Day. On one hand this allows companies who are sustainable year round to tout what they do. Often, however, it does appear to enable those without strong commitments to wave the 'green' options or special offers they only provide at this time of year, or on request. The transience of this kind of commitment can be frustrating for those trying to make Earth Day everyday.

But back to the original question: is cynicism of Earth Day efforts and events productive to achieving the overall goal of a year-round commitment to sustainable business?

Partially, yes. The power of media and opinion leaders to critique hollow sustainability commitments poses a potential risk that may drive companies to ongoing, continuous programs that support sustainability. Fear and risk, after all, can be exceptionally effective motivators.

However, for the individual citizen how does it feel to have your participation in Earth Day judged as a hollow, ineffective exercise? How about shamed? How about guilty? How about 'bad'? How about unlikely to attempt again? Feels a bit like being the kid singled out because they gave the wrong answer in class, or brought something foolish to show and tell. Are these really the feelings we want to be associated with our movement?

What are your thoughts?

Friday, 22 April 2011


So it's Earth Day. Are you planting a tree? Running a promotion at your company that gives back to the planet? Adding a green experience to your special event? All good and noble things that help make a difference.

Me? I've decided I'm going to call my parents. And I'm going to say 'thanks'.

Thanks for:
  • Taking me to the beach so I could swim even though I couldn't walk.
  • Packing up us kids in the Volvo to go camping, even if it was only a few kilometers from home.
  • Letting me take over a patch of the yard to try to grow a vegetable September.
  • Making me walk to the bus stop and, yes, take the bus.
  • Indulging my pleas to have a fish tank, even when I didn't always clean it and would sob when I had to bury casualties I'd caused.
  • Signing my permission slip to travel abroad at 13 to see how the rest of the world lives.
My parents have taught me the greatest Earth Day lesson:
Your direct experience of the world - it's births, lives and deaths - cultivates an appreciation of that which connects us and sustains us.

So, thanks, Mum and Dad. Happy Earth Day. Everyday.

Monday, 18 April 2011

The Jackass Whisperer

"Don't try to win over the haters, you are not the jackass whisperer"
Quote captured by @MikeTibbles by @BreneBrown
A few years back I was on the receiving end of a rant from a representative of a foam plastic manufacturing company who was upset I had been encouraging exhibitors to discontinue use of their product in displays and shipping materials. The event was for one of my first major clients. The complainant was one of their tradeshow exhibit sponsors.

I attempted to remain calm. I let her blow off steam, and vent. I expressed empathy for her frustration, but was careful to not apologize. I took a few breaths and explained why we were discouraging use of the materials. We had a mandate to plan a sustainable event from the host. We had learned foam-based plastics were non-recyclable in the majority of cities this event visited. This was contributing to waste, which the event was also being charged for. In addition, we were trying to respond to requests from exhibitors about simple steps they could take to voluntarily align with the sustainable mandate of the tradeshow.

Needless to say, she was having none of it. She was annoyed. Highly annoyed. And she was calling the Director of Sponsorship and Exhibits.

I thought I'd lost a major sponsorship. My client was going to be livid. I could kiss goodbye to my contract with them.

To my extreme relief my client stood behind me. They upheld inclusion of the voluntary guideline to reduce and eliminate foam-based plastic. Not only that, but a few years later the event shifted to make the guidelines mandatory for all exhibitors.

I realize now there was nothing I could have done to change the sponsor's mind, unless I was prepared to sacrifice something important: the responsibility I'd been given to ensure integrity in the guidelines we were creating. Definitely a risky choice in this situation that could have easily backfired. The experience highlighted for me the critical importance of so many things:
  • Ensuring a clear mandate and support for event sustainability from the host up front.
  • Anticipating issues that might raise the ire of certain event stakeholders and being prepared about how to respond.
  • Remaining focused and calm when someone challenges your decisions and actions.
  • Avoiding silencing others while ensuring respectful communication.
  • Affirming your position, but not arguing it.
  • Circling back to sources to be open to the possibility you might be wrong.
Because at the end of the day, I realize some people will passionately express their position to someone who doesn't share it in an effort to convert them. And while I can be a stubborn jackass, I am also not a jackass whisperer.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Short Film Friday!: 7 Days Away - 7 Billion Reasons Why

Earth Day is seven days away and National Geographic reminds us there are seven billion reasons why it's important. Check it out in this first installment of Short Film Friday!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Running on Empty

Came across this article awhile ago thanks to a tweet from @barbaraconvene:

The headline jarred me. I thought: isn't that a little ludicrous? Now I don't want to go off the deep end here, especially because I know recent siting decisions for the FIFA World Cup have been rather controversial. And let's face it, the Qatar event is over 10 years away. A lot can change in 10 years.

The situation in Qatar reminds me of an important distinction for event sustainability though:

There is a subtle difference between doing good and doing less harm.

Think of your event impacts as three glasses of water, half full. (Why? Because Mum always said it's better to be a glass half full kind of person and thinking about the desert has me thirsty)

The first glass is economic.
In the lead up to this (and most any) event we're going to see a lot of emptying of this glass on many things, especially built infrastructure and venues. But the theory is the glass will be filled up in the long term, replenished during and after the event through the economic spin offs from travel and sponsor investment. The hope for all our events is that this glass has at least as much water as we started with when we finish. If we can wind up with a surplus even better!

The second glass is social. 
From a sustainability perspective we ask can we improve or nourish the community through the event? Does it contribute to a better quality or standard of living? Does it better the human condition, reduce it, or act indifferent? Are the people in the destinations where we hold events feeling parched or quenched having hosted the event? Then there is the experience the event itself provides. Have we exceeded our participant's expectations? Do they feel 'full'? 

The final glass is the environment. 
What is this glass filed with? Well, water of course, but other resources too: energy, raw materials, the air we breathe. Whereas we can 'do good' by filling the other two glasses through improvements in working conditions, additional investment and community legacy, the environmental glass is one that we continue to empty. Event sustainability here is about how effective we are in emptying the glass less quickly. Doing less harm. Allowing it enough time to naturally replenish. We're getting better at reducing what we use from this glass, and recycling materials within it, but right now we are still experiencing a net leakage. And we will continue to do so until we can create solutions to generate our own environmental resources and close-loop the materials we use.

Now doing less harm is not necessarily a bad thing. It's certainly better than causing the same harm. But it requires accepting we are not being sustainable where we do not sufficiently allow for refilling of the glass. This realization can shift our thinking away from the artificial sense of security bought by 'carbon neutral' claims. And this change in perspective can help us be more effective in addressing the environmental aspects of our events in meaningful, relevant and practical ways. Accepting that our environmental goal is to do less harm first might cause us to reduce the materials we use. To site our events with more attentiveness to resource use. To consider virtual ways to engage that have a smaller footprint. To use caution in communicating our efforts so we don't overstate them in a way that creates the false impression of filling the glass ('carbon positive', anyone?). Most importantly it could focus our attention on the imperative to measure environmental impacts from events so at the most fundamental level we can know the impact we're causing, positively and negatively.

Looking at our events as three glasses also reminds us we trade-off between each. And we can't keep filling the one glass at the expense of the others. There is, after all, a point when the well runs dry and scarcity of environmental or social resources starts to empty the economic glass more quickly.

So where does this leave our clouds in Qatar? Although the opportunity to site in a destination with a naturally suitable climate is gone, there is still time to carefully consider how each decision from here on out will empty the environmental glass less quickly. Here is hoping heads come out of the clouds to focus less on the "amazingness" of what could become a potentially wasteful spectacle and more on what can be done to truly move closer to sustainability.

For more reading about FIFA and sustainable aspects of the World Cup event and bidding process visit:

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

I want my (Green) Event Team to be like...

The Goonies
Goonies never say die!
Approaching a task with Errol Flynn-like zest that
leads to treasure at the end of a grand adventure!

The Fellowship
You will unite or you will fail.
United behind a single overarching goal this team
transcends differences to save the world.

The Breakfast Club 
Why do you have to insult everybody? 
I'm being honest, asshole. I would expect you to know the difference.
Courage to question your peers is essential to challenge the status quo.

The Ghostbusters 
You know, it just occurred to me that we really haven't 
had a successful test of this equipment. 

Flying by the seat of your pants with a sense of humour is the best way
to deal with the paranormal...and sustainability.

Jamaican Bobsled Team in Cool Runnings
Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you're not enough without one, 
you'll never be enough *with* one. 
Hey coach, how will I know if I'm enough? 
When you cross that finish line tomorrow, you'll know. 
Because in spite of budget, training and equipment there is still a chance to find
a 'green' medal moment when you're committed and determined!

For more ins and outs of establishing your Green Team check out Nancy Zavada's GMIC Webinar April 13.

PS...How can you tell I'm a child of the 80's?

Sunday, 10 April 2011

USEPA lists top EnergyStar Destinations

The USEPA has released its list of US cities with the most EnergyStar certified buildings. Topping the list:
  • Los Angeles
  • Washington, DC
  • San Francisco
  • Chicago
  • New York
Buildings in these five cities have collectively saved $416.5 million and prevented emissions equivalent to electricity use in 200,000 American homes.

Although impressive and significant, a caution to those putting their eggs in the EnergyStar basket: water use and waste production as well as purchasing should be considered in addition to adoption of energy efficiency programs. So don't forget to look beyond the EnergyStar plaque to know if your event venue and destination has a holistic approach to sustainability.

Looking for other lists of 'greener' venues and destinations? Check out the sidebar for links and these archived posts:

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Reflections on a Mote of Dust

An important reminder from a humble astronomer this Earth Month.

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it's different. Look again at that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

-- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

Monday, 4 April 2011

Loving these name badges....

Aren't they the coolest? Anyone with a sewing machine and a thrift store nearby could make these! (Click to enlarge)

Handmade from discarded silk ties and reclaimed plastic veggie containers. Badges printed on 30% post-consumer recycled content stock, including a mini-program on the back. We're going to have a hard time collecting them for re-use at Canada Media Marketplace, even though we'll try. Everyone wants to keep them!

Would welcome other cool and unique ideas for making name badges from reclaimed materials!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Christchurch: Phoenix from the Ashes

I will confess: I have a soft spot for Kiwis. The fruit, the flight-less birds and the down to earth nature of the people from the land of the long white cloud. In fact were I not already in love with Vancouver Island I could easily transfer my allegiance to the North and South Islands of beautiful New Zealand.

So needless to say, my heart ached in September to hear of the 7.1 earthquake in Christchurch and again this February to learn of the second to strike the South Island city. Although not as high in magnitude, the second quake left the city more damaged than the first: 146 lives lost. 50-60% of central business district buildings completely destroyed or significantly damaged, including the iconic Christchurch Cathedral whose spire I remember soaking up one sunny spring more than a few years ago.

Christchurch Cathedral, before and after the February 2011 quake

I've been thinking a lot of those who I know there and their process of recovery and rebuilding. My thoughts perhaps more acute knowing the Pacific Northwest of North America is sorely overdue for a shake-up of our own. The magnitude of the devastation may not be as great as that being suffered in Japan, but for me the personal connection runs a little deeper.

It's been interesting to watch the response of the tourism industry as well. Destination marketers have evolved into crisis responders, ensuring there is an accurate and steady flow of information about accommodation, transportation and tourism activities in the wake of the disaster. The city has updates and regular reports for travelers to help keep the flow of visitors coming, a key ingredient in ensuring economic recovery as quickly as possible. This prompts me to wonder how many CVBs are as prepared to respond to this kind of situation. Is natural disaster response in their destination plan and strategy?

Beyond that, however, it is inspiring to see that from the ashes citizens are using this catastrophic event as an opportunity to envision the rebuilding of their city into something new and different. Better. Celsias recently featured several of these ideas, ranging from greenspace to living roofs and improved biking infrastructure.

Am looking forward to my next trip back to my second home to see how the city responds, rebuilds and sustains itself. Maybe you'll help them rebuild, too.

Christchurch and Canterbury, New Zealand