August 14, 2007

Do you mean it when you say it?

On the plane home from the ASAE Annual Meeting last night, I spent some time thinking about ASAE & The Center's new social responsibility initiative which was unveiled/promoted at the Annual. I'm excited about the possibilities it will unleash in leveraging the millions on associations members around the world toward a greater good.

But once an individual or an organization plants a stake in the ground and says, "This is what I/We stand for and believe in" every effort will be filtered through the lens of that conviction.

To that end, I was dismayed to see bottled water as a meeting break beverage concerning all the recent press about the costs associated with transporting water around the world and the petroleum that goes into making the bottles, so many of which are never recycled.

I also found myself considering the value in creating informational banners with an individual meeting's logo/theme/date on them since those immediately become a waste product at the event's conclusion. Huge, highly visible banners were hung across the monstrous walkways in McCormick Place. The functionality of these signs was most helpful, but if we want to be socially responsible, we have to start asking ourselves how can we minimize/eliminate unnecessary waste from every aspect of what we do?

And venues like McCormick can be part of the solution by thinking about ways they can enable less wasteful signage options for organizations to sue in their facility; i.e., blank screens upon which colorful signs can be projected from slides, etc. I'v got to think the electricity involved in doing that is less wasteful than all of the associated costs that hundreds of organizations incur making thousands of banners each year.

It all comes down to that challenge of alignment between values and behaviors. Once you start to talk the talk ... well, you know what has to come next.

3 comments:

Kristi said...

I too was very disappointed to see the water bottles... and all of the individually packaged servings of food at the lunches - the potato salad, cole slaw, fruit - were all in individual serving sized plastic cups with lids. That was a real disappointment.

There are probably other examples too. I couldn't get past the discrepancy between going paperless and the packaging of the food and beverages.

Anne said...

Did we mind meld? We all have miles to go to get our heads and hearts around the bare bones small ways in which our industry can reduce its footprint. I was really hoping that there would have been much more communication, commitment and small win demonstrations (beyond paperless) that ASAE could have done to show us how a conference can be greener. I know that the bold initiative is taking people to a global summit, but that seems way beyond the scope of what each of us need to know and the tactics we need to begin to employ at our conferences. I do think that it has to go in stages. Perhaps people will pay more to have a conference bag that can be turned in at the end and made into blankets for the needy. Perhaps a sponsor gives away refillable bottles and then has multiple water stations through out the building. Perhaps, like in most hotels, they provide you what ever you need (as many towels as you can throw on the floor) with a request to reduce waste by hanging it up and letting it dry. To balance member service with the opportunity for that member to customize their experience to be greener. The problem is the need to quickly (and safely) serve 7000 people and balancing our need to waste less. To reduce waste, we could simultaneously offer alternatives. Then, slowly reduce the option to waste, as we change our behavior and expectations at conferences.

Becky said...

I totally agree with you, Jeffrey. Sometimes it feels futile to make your own changes (bringing tote bags to the grocery store, etc) when hotels and convention centers generate such monumental amounts of waste on a daily basis. I guess all we can do is keep making suggestions to hotels and conference planners and reduce our own waste as much as we can. I love Anne's idea of water-refill stations - I would TOTALLY have used that. Thanks for raising this issue. It's definitely an elephant in the room...