Forget sustainable procurement. Set aside waste reduction. Eliminate emissions offsetting.
The truest measure of event sustainability success is emergence of personal responsibility among your event team.
Last week the Living Future unConference experimented with a new name badge format. The design of the badge was a name label affixed to the back of a paper pocket conference guide, that was attached to a lanyard. Sustainability wins included elimination of any PVC and other plastic components, use of 100% post-consumer recycled content, FSC-certified paper and a generic lanyard that could be reused.
Overall it was quite successful, albeit the lanyards were a bit difficult to attach to the guide due to its thickness, leading to many a sore thumb in the registration office. Which leads me to my point about personal responsibility.
Post-event it was learned we had a few hundred program-lanyard systems left over, including used badges that were dropped off by attendees for recycling and reuse. Thumbs still bruised from attaching all the lanyards to the books earlier in the week, the idea of going back and disassembling them was not attractive. Yet disassembling them was what would be necessary to recycle the programs and retain the lanyards for next year. It was something we didn’t have to do, but we knew we should do.
While the rest of our team was busy moving out (including me who was avoiding the thumb-screamer of a task), Shawna Riss, our registration specialist, and one of her volunteers had quietly unhooked all the badges. Unasked, and unaware that we had been moaning a bit about the prospect. She just did it, knowing it was something that would be important to the client, and to us, not to mention something she knew was just right to do.
Shawna’s sense of personal responsibility, to me, illustrates perfectly the truest measure of sustainable event success. A team-member who acts on a sustainability opportunity even when it’s not outlined as a specific requirement on a checklist, and when it is a bit painful.
Although I know Shawna’s actions are inseparable from her personal values and own initiative, there are some simple things that help cultivate a similar sense of sustainability responsibility on an event team:
- Values and principles: Companies and events that identify values and principles up-front provide a compass whereby staff and volunteers can problem-solve and make decisions in the absence of clear direction. Include these in hiring, job descriptions and employee reviews to reinforce their importance.
- Orientation & training: Throughout the planning process there are touch-points where sustainability values can be communicated, including weekly project meetings, client project updates, pre-conference meetings and daily onsite meetings. Keeping sustainability top-of-mind when you have face-time with staff helps keep it top-of-mind for them, too.
- Reward: Think about gestures and acknowledgements you can provide staff who you find doing random acts of green. I often keep Starbucks cards on-hand at an event to give a volunteer or staff member I see doing something that deserves special appreciation. You may have an employee incentive program that does a similar thing.
I didn’t get a chance to thank Shawna onsite so hope this blog suitably embarrasses….I mean…shows my sincere appreciation for her hard work, and sore thumbs!