Sustainability Targets for Your Next Meeting

Common sustainability targets for cutting down on your waste at meetings.

Paper. While many associations say they’re paperless, there’s almost always paper waste left over from meetings. But you can challenge yourself to reduce paper consumption each year. The American Wind Energy Association does this with signs and banners. Most printed displays are evergreen—without specific dates, times, or locations—so they can be reused annually. “We have even gone as far as to create tote bags out of old banners that are outdated,” says AWEA’s Elesha Peterson Carr.

Compost. Leftover food, napkins, newspapers, and other biodegradable products can be composted and turned into organic soil over time. Talk to food managers at convention centers and hotels to see if there’s a composting program already in place. “Ask a lot of questions in the beginning,” says Kara Ferguson of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. “You want to get to know your food manager and the practices the facility or company uses daily.” You can also write in requirements for composting as part of a meeting contract. Composting bins were placed around AWEA’s convention hall in Houston this year.

Water. Associations can reduce their use of bottled water by encouraging attendees to bring their own reusable bottles. According to MeetGreen, for every attendee who brings a reusable bottle, two plastic water bottles are saved each day.

Badges. IMEX America has sustainability initiatives that help divert landfill waste, including badge recycling. At the end of each meeting, attendees drop off their badges and lanyards for donation. To date, more than 8,000 badges and lanyards have been collected and donated.

Upcycling. Recycling is a great, but many people are overzealous recyclers or “wishcyclers” who place trash in recycle bins, which can lead to contamination. “Start by keeping out the food and bags and check in with local municipalities or service providers to see what can be recycled,” says Darrell K. Smith, president and CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Association. And consider “upcycling,” where items like leftover conference apparel or books get a second life as a donation or refashioned good. At the NWRA Waste Expo, exhibitors fill out a donation form to upcycle everything from booth fabric and furniture to office supplies.

Swag: Free swag often ends up in the trash or junk drawer. One popular giveaway item, a portable lithium battery, eventually loses its charge and ends up as hazardous waste in a landfill. Instead, choose swag that serves a long-term purpose or conservation effort, like a reusable tote, grocery bag, or water bottle.

(olm26250/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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