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.


Paul Salinger said...

Right on! You are always so good at pointing out the inconsistencies in our thinking and how hard all of this is. We want to do the right thing, but is the right thing always the obvious thing.

This is where thinking systemically comes into play for me. I don't want people to lose jobs over our decisions, but I do want companies to think through their processes to be more sustainable in their actions.

More sustainable food systems, more sustainable forestry practices, more sustainable, less polluting transportation options. All of this can be a win-win for the economy, the environment and society, but we do have to give up our propensity to just mindlessly consume resources in a way that is harmful.

Shawna McKinley said...

Thanks for wading into the quagmire with me! More mindful events is maybe what we're both looking for? Where there aren't cut and dry 'green' acts that work in every case, but solutions that make sense because we stop to rethink. Look at what we can control and influence and consider how to make things better for all involved, planet and people included. I'm all for more of those kinds of meetings and events!

Mitchell Beer said...

Great post, Shawna. A related question is who we leave behind onsite if we go the simplistic route and ban all the paper, all the time.
One of the most commonly-asked questions we hear comes in two varieties:
* Do you ever produce conference publications on paper these days?
* *Why* do you ever use paper, when you claim to be such a high-fallutin', sustainable company?
Then we tell the story of an association event where the average age onsite is 69, and the average age back home is 74. Some people in that audience will prefer electronic formats, but many others will tune out without paper. So if we incur the environmental footprint of flying them to the meeting and keeping them housed and fed onsite, how sustainable is it to kill the *impact* of that investment by depriving them of the content they're there to discuss?
There's a longer, really interesting conversation that I'm just beginning to hear in snippets, having to do with the future of the forest industry and the potential for value-added products that are much more useful (and probably more job-sustaining) than paper. But that just reinforces your main point -- that we have to pay attention to the supply chains, the jobs and, most important, the people behind the finished products we take for granted.

The Green-Eyed Event Planner said...

Great post Shawna! You are so great at thoughtfully guiding us towards the much bigger picture and reminding us that everything is not "cut and dried".


Shawna McKinley said...

Appreciate the feedback Mitchell and Judy! A great point about the impact of paper media on attendees of different demographics, too. I hadn't thought about that aspect as I wrote this, but you're completely correct. It's an attendee experience issue, too. I'm keen to hear more on the future of forests beyond paper(...and raw log exports).