Saturday, 16 June 2012

Sustainability: Spanx it? Or Solve it?

Got my third summer wedding invitation today. Yep. You know what that means: three times in the next two months I've got to get a dress, get myself together and...


....pull out my Spanx.
Can I use a brand name in a blog post? I guess it's a bit like Kleenex. But unlike Kleenex which is generically "facial tissue" (and coincidentally also ends in an x), I don't quite know an alternative to Spanx. Let's just call them a "feminine shaper" for now, although I'm sure "female torture apparatus", "vanity choke collar" or "sausage casing" would do.

I have a love-hate relationship with my Spanx. I love the way they make a dress look on the surface. Smooth. Well put together. No odd lines showing. Everything in its place. To the outside world I have a silhouette like Jennifer Hudson. A chorus of "Believe" belts out in my head as I walk into a room.

Behind the scenes and before the grand entrance? *Slightly* different story. 

My summer-of-Spanx-weddings adventure is shaping up to be a metaphor for the battle of the event sustainability bulge many of us face. After all, let's be candid: there are Spanx approaches to sustainability and there are diet and exercise approaches to sustainability. (There are also surgical approaches to event sustainability, but that's another post about virtual and hybrid events).

Spanx solutions are quick-fix, looks-good-in-a mirror-while-we're-onsite approaches to event sustainability. They typically involve arranging your assets and your not-quite-yet assets into something that looks fashionable, leaner and greener. This usually takes the form of a panicked call to vendors to ask what they're doing to be 'green' a few weeks before the event. You charm, cajole and outright beg your team to do a few additional last minute 'green' extras. Why? Maybe at the event briefing meeting the CEO said it would be good to let attendees know what 'green stuff' is happening. So a quickie 'green' checklist is pulled together at the last minute and put up on a website. It itemises many of the easy things you were doing anyway. But hey - coincidentally you're doing some okay stuff so let's talk about it! Bottled water? None! Option to reuse your linens? Sure! Recycling? The venue does this already and says they diverted 20 tons from landfill last year. Cool! This is good, right?

Sure. But how much is 20 tons recycled really? I mean, how much landfill did they produce? And how does that relate to your event? What kind of waste do you produce? How much? Are you charged for it? And bottled water is cool - but what about all those other food and beverage issues? What about all the shuttles and travel? And what about everything that happens before and after the onsite event? These are harder questions. Diving into them may require some pain in order to gain. So we typically do what I'll do this summer: Spanx it up this time and say the diet and exercise start tomorrow.

Who can blame us? We're a culture of quick fix solutions to make us look better. I'll be the first to confess my Spanx hide those lumps and bumps I'm too lazy to exercise away. I could take the time and effort but, meh. Somehow paying $120 on a slip that will hold me in place for a few hours onsite  seems easier. And in some cases it does make a positive difference, if even a small, temporary and superficial one.

But underneath? My body (and the event) is still very much what it was at the beginning - a less-than-perfect collection of more material issues. I mean Spanx are kind of miraculous but let's be serious: the fatty, unnecessary and excess bits don't just 'disappear' in a magical whoosh of spandex. 

Do I like putting on my Spanx? Heck no. Nor do I like running around at the last minute trying to 'green up' and 'clean up' before company comes over. I feel like I'm ramming the reality of my event into someone else's idea of what it should be. It's like a double life - and it's exhausting! I mean there is no way to stuff an elephant into a tube sock and come out looking like Victoria Beckham. I'm lucky if I don't arrive onsite drenched in sweat with a dislocated shoulder and pass out from lack of blood flow before the first dance.

So my goal? Lose the Spanx by the time wedding #3 is here. Enough of this trying to be temporarily stunning. It's time to invest in some exercise and eating habits that make a real difference. And on the event side? Same thing. Time to seriously look at what's going on beneath the surface of the 'green' checklist to really analyse the sustainability issues that matter and craft real, long-term solutions to address them in ways that meaningfully make the event better.

Good news is a new, international weight loss plan exists: ISO 20121, a management system for event sustainability. Having recently survived the process of upgrading to an ISO 20121 operating system for a small company I can tell you: it works. Stay tuned for the grand reveal!


Anonymous said...

OMG, Shawna, I love-love-love your anology here! What a fabulous way to relate to the meetings & event world out there what greenwashing is! Keep it up girl!

Shawna McKinley said...

Ha! Spanx-washing! You heard it here! Thanks so much for the feedback Doreen :)