Thursday, 27 September 2012

Tap #water stations prove how much is saved by ditching the bottle

Oracle OpenWorld’s unique approach to water stations is a compelling case study in water conservation for events. Since 2007 Oracle has gradually moved away from individually bottled water, to initially use five-gallon water bubblers and now exclusively uses water stations that provide fresh San Francisco tap water at 11 different venues.

Four different water station designs have been used:

The net result? A staggering reduction in water waste: from 4,369 gallons of attendee drinking water consumed to 1,020 gallons consumed. This while attendance has increased and no complaints have been received about attendees going thirsty. Just how much water has been saved? Enough to:
  • Serve 50,700 cups of water
  • Provide 420 four-minute showers
  • Flush 2,090 toilets
Furthermore, this has prevented the use of over 56,000 water bottles, which have an additional estimated manufacturing footprint of 13,600 gallons of water!

Graphic courtesy of Hartmann Studios

Do you know the difference you're making by providing a smarter, more sustainable drinking water service for event attendees? Dig into the numbers and quench your thirst to make a difference!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The King of the Jolly Jumper

While some people skip happily through their sustainable event checklist I confess there are some decisions that I find decidedly swampy.

For years we've been trained that eliminating paper is a cardinal rule for reducing our impact at events.

Every single time I read or hear that piece of advice this image comes into my mind.

Meet the Geigers. Or a few of them, at least. They're 6 in total: Dad Andy, Mum Jaci and four lovely kids: Aedan, Isaac, McKenna and Josiah. Aedan just passed his swimming badge and busts some awesome Party Rock Anthem moves. Isaac loves to skateboard and wants his uncle to teach him how to use a bow and arrow. McKenna holds her own with her big brothers and loves watching musicals with her Mum. Josiah? He's the new little guy on the scene: the King of the Jolly Jumper.

They're four of the nicest, happiest kids. No doubt a tribute to the good work of their parents and grandparents (given Auntie Shawna has only exposed them to bad things, like video games).

Their Mum, my sister, is a busy, full-time parent with a beautiful singing voice and loads of creative talent. Their Dad is a patient, easy-going man who works hard at the local pulp mill to make sure they're all cared for. It's a profession he shares with his father, and his brother. A profession in an large industry of loggers, truck drivers, long-shoremen and mill-workers that has helped support another sister of mine and her two children, four of my uncles and 11 of my cousins. Forestry even raised my father, and therefore in a way, myself.

Where would my Dad be, where would I be, without forestry? Every time I hear "eliminate paper use at your event" my stomach trips a little. Especially when I wonder too, where will the Geigers be if the trend continues?

So few things about sustainability are simple and easy. Sometimes an apparently 'good' action has a negative reaction. Sometimes there's a spectrum of possibilities on which you can find a happier medium for all. Purchasing paper from sustainably harvested forests or mills that use recycled materials and adopt strong environmental practises in paper production, for example. Open your mind to the possibility this might be as good a choice as being paper free.

Sustainable choices are enabled by putting a human face on each decision you make. Looking at that face and answering for yourself: are my choices creating a good or better future for you? And those you care for?

So don't be surprised if you see some paper at my next event. Andy Geiger made it. And I want him to be able to keep making it, for Jaci, Aedan, Izzy, Kenna and the King of the Jolly Jumper.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

A Pinch of Salt and Food for Thought

Earlier this week Stanford University announced that organic food may be no healthier than non-organic food. So what does that mean for your sustainable event catering plan? Have the benefits of sourcing organic food been debunked? Were we all wasting our time and money?

CSA Bounty! Photo by yksin
First let's be clear what the study found from Stanford itself:
(Researchers) did not find strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks than conventional alternatives, though consumption of organic foods can reduce the risk of pesticide exposure.
Stanford's release clarifies the scope of the study, which included 237 papers. These papers only involved studies of less than two years in length. Researchers also acknowledge many limitations of the review, affirming much variation among farming practises that make it hard to determine what factors predict nutritional quality and risks in food.

So what does this mean for you, and your requests for organic food at your event?


Well, it means if you were doing it because you thought organic food provided more vitamins and minerals to your attendees, making them healthier than non-organic options, you may want to re-evaluate that idea in light of this evidence.

It also means you might want to carefully scrutinise the claims of caterers and suppliers selling organic food at a higher price solely on the basis it makes you and your event attendees healthier.

And it still means you'll likely want to keep asking for organic for other important reasons, not the least of which is reducing the presence of chemicals in the environment. For a good, technical and scientific perspective on the Stanford study please read Charles Benbrook's response on the Washington State University Blog, which includes more on the benefits of organic and a critique of the study. For a shorter, consumer-oriented counter perspective check out Jason Mark's commentary on the Earth Island Journal, which raises the argument many purchase organic not for their own health, but the health of others.

And while the Stanford study may make you sceptical of spending a bit more on organic as a premium brand on your next trip to Whole Foods or Walmart, remember that organic food does not have to be more expensive where you can plan for it. Consider my community-supported agriculture (CSA) box: $20 a week for a summer of lovely organic veggies. By planning ahead and buying in early with my fellow consumers I  get great organic produce for less than conventional grocery store veggies. Imagine what we could do if event planners banded together earlier across our events with an organic CSA-mentality? Or the difference caterers could make if they got ahold of the idea first?

And in those situations where it is more expensive, let's not forget that certified organic growers use different materials, apply different processes and meet standards that are not the same as conventional growers who may externalise the environmental and social costs of operations. I wonder if we were to tally up the true cost of non-organic options how expensive it may actually be, and how cheap organic may look in comparison?

A pinch of salt, and food for thought.