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?