How to Use Technology to Green Your Meetings Before It Even Starts!

In case you didn’t already know, the meetings industry is considered the second most wasteful. Because of this, the industry has made a great deal of effort in the last few years to become more environmentally sustainable. A meeting that implements sustainable practices is called a “green meeting.” This phrase leaves some room for interpretation, but the upshot is clear – consider the environmental impacts through all stages of a meeting and seek to reduce negative consequences.

Greening your meeting can be very complicated and difficult to understand especially in regards to things like travel, building usage, food and beverage, and hotel stays. However, one area where you can easily and clearly help the environment is through the use of technology. As we will see, technology can greatly eliminate one of the worst offenders of meeting waste – paper. People think of meeting waste in terms of trashcans full of junk at the meeting, but meeting planners often overlook all the waste that is generated before the meeting even starts. So here is a quick list of technologies that will get your meeting off to a green start.

• Online Request for Proposals will eliminate large amounts of paper mailed or faxed to venue and other suppliers. Sites like The Space to Place allow you to build and submit RFPs to prospective venues in a manner that takes out time consuming and wasteful manual methods.
• Online Call for Papers. Tracking and reviewing proposals from speakers can generate reams and reams of paper. Doing this online will eliminate this waste and greatly simplify the process.
• Online Speaker Management. After you choose your speakers there can still be a lot of paper shuffled in terms of making travel arrangements, tracking A/V needs, generating the program schedule, and so forth. Keeping this online also saves paper and simplifies.
• Project planning. Once again, tracking your meeting plan in a notebook (and generating paper copies as needed) is wasteful. A previous article on software “in the cloud” that meeting planners can use lists a number of collaborative tools you can use to put your plan online. Wikis are also a popular way of meeting planning on the Internet. Click here to read an interesting case study of conference wikis in action.
• Online Registration. This has been one of the worst abusers of paper (as well as mailing costs) over the years. Conference registration software systems are now very mature and affordable, so there is absolutely no reason why paper registration should be supported, except for special cases.
• Online Conference Program Schedule. This is another paper killer but with the rise of web-based conference programs and mobile tools, this is another aspect of conference that should be destined to total elimination. Besides displaying the schedule online you can link to speaker hand-outs such as Power Points or even videos. If you use a tool that integrates many of the previous modules (especially Call for Papers and Speaker Management) you can dramatically cut-down on printing costs and waste.
• Email and social media marketing. If you have good email lists and a good start on social media, you should be able to replace most of your expensive paper campaigns. There are many great e-marketing tools, including those tied with the products described previously. Here is a recent post on how to use Twitter to promote your conference.
• Online Housing. Often tied to the registration process, the paper-based tracking of your room block can be eliminated through the use of online booking tools. The industry leader is Passkey but it is not the best tool for certain situations. Fortunately, there are a number of housing tools available.
• Online tradeshow floor maps and exhibitor management. This is another big abuser of paper as well as very labor intensive. A number of online tools can eliminate the online purchasing of booths and sponsorships, and greatly reduce the management of exhibitors. Put the exhibitor prospectus online and communicate with email and you’ve eliminated another large source of paper waste.
• Mobile. This may put the final coup de grace toward printed programs and related printings. With smartphone penetration now over 50% for U.S. Consumers, much of what discussed previously can now be accessible to anybody with these phones either via mobile-friendly sites or native applications.

The best part of the solutions discussed above is they not only help the environment, they will save you a lot of time and money.

If you are a member of MPI, you might want to check their portal pages for Green Meetings.