Is your conference sustainable?

Conference musings from Phil Mackay

Five of our team travelled to Auckland yesterday for a conference, the main focus of which was sustainability.  The timing didn't work to take the train, so we all managed to squeeze into an electric car for the journey - about the most sustainable way we could travel at the moment.

The conference was well organised, the speakers and content was great, and we left invigorated by many exciting discussions.

Throughout the day though, we reflected a number of times on the focus of the conference and the contrast with the many little things that are so ubiquitous at conferences that you just about don't notice them.  Here are a few of my thoughts on how we could do conferences better:

1. Lanyards.
Ok, I know lanyards are useful; it's great to identify conference attendees and they're an opportunity for branding for the conference organiser or their sponsors, but all the energy and material resources that go into making them are wasted after just a single use.

Could we instead just use a simple bulldog clip or similar to attach delegate badges to our coats, jackets, shirt pockets, etc?

And they could easily be collected at the end of the conference to reuse at future events.

2. Delegate Badges / Name Tags.
I was pretty disappointed to see that the tag from our conference yesterday is glossy, plastic coated, so I can't just drop it in the recycling at home.

This is a pretty simple one, let's just print them on plain recyclable card.

3. Coffee Cups.
I was very impressed to see an espresso coffee station rather than the terrible filter coffee that hotels often serve conference attendees.  Unfortunately, in the same beat I also saw the stacks of paper coffee cups on top of said espresso machine.

I have a couple of suggestions

  • Ceramic cups - revolutionary I know, but if the hotel can supply and wash crockery for the morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea, glasses for the cocktail function and cups for tea drinkers, surely coffee cups aren't too much of a stretch?
  • Alternatively, how about asking delegates to bring their own re-usable cup?

I should note that the hotel staff were more than happy to oblige when I asked if they would make my long black in one of the tea cups - great work!

4. Paper and Pens.
Do we really need more paper pads?  It's a nice convenience that delegates can show up at a conference completely unprepared and have pen and paper provided for them on the table or at registration, but this is 2022.

Looking around the room yesterday there were quite a number of people using laptops, iPads or other devices (I had the Remarkable, which I highly recommend) to take notes.  And the slides were being distributed digitally afterwards.  I've no doubt that in a professional environment, conference delegates can organise to bring their own device, or if they prefer, paper and pen.

These are just four small things, but if we're to really embrace sustainability, please let's think a little harder about all of the impacts that we have.


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