Minimizing the Impact of Your Conference Materials

If you do any conferences or meetings, you have materials. We use binders and the environmental effect is palpable. We use binders that are shipped to us, paper that has been shipped to us, and conventional ink. If that wasn’t enough of a carbon footprint, we print our materials in-house, so the binders (which are now full of all that paper) are shipped yet again–this time to the conference destination.

Now, before you shake any fingers at me, know that we are not alone. Our practices are not unusual. That, after all, is why I am writing this in the first place. To provide resources for those, like me, looking to green (even if only in baby steps).

So how can we all reduce our impact?

Good: Buy Better Materials and Minimize Transport

First things first. Use recycled and earth-friendly products. Recycled paper is really a no-brainer. Make sure it is 100% recycled and that it uses a high percentage of post-consumer wastepaper. Staples offers a 100% recycled, 100% post-consumer waste option. If you can find a local offering (thereby cutting down on transport), that’s even better.

This goes for the binders, too. Items you hand out to your attendees should not smell like chemicals (admit it–those binders have a questionable scent). If you must use a binder, make it recycled. Sustainable Group offers recycled binders. Their custom printing for binders looks great.

For extra credit, consider a vegetable oil-based ink.

Better: Go Digital
I don’t keep conference materials. I don’t even keep the CD–I upload it and never look back. If I go to a conference and don’t receive a digital version of the materials, it is highly unlikely that I will ever look at the materials again (in fact, I have started refusing them at such events). I don’t even scan them because they will not be easily searchable. Those valuable materials are now useless.

I admit, this is generational. Many of our attendees, typically from older generations, crave that binder. One way to deal with the divide might be to have each attendee select digital or physical materials when signing up.

But the future is digital, so you might as well ramp up to meet those needs and help the environment at the same time.

Ideally, you go digital by offering your materials online, passcode protected, to your attendees. If your website is already set up to sell products (like your conferences or other events), this should not be hard.

If you feel an unrelenting urge to give your attendees something they can take home, consider the USB jump drive. Small and compact, this can also be reused by the attendees. Make sure you have your company name on one side and consider “renting out” the other side to a sponsor. I am still working on finding a good company that will upload all your materials to the jump drives as a service. Kinko’s, a company that I would think has a lot to gain by digitizing (and a lot to lose by not), actually told me they would only be able to upload materials to the jump drives one by one at a rate of $90/hour. Clearly, this is not the cost-effective choice. When I find it, I will post it. In the meantime, I did find USB duplicators, which can copy the materials on as many as 40 jump drives at once. Storage Heaven sells a variety.

Please don’t use CDs. Every month, 100,000 pounds of CDs become “outdated, useless or unwanted.” They will become trash the second your attendees upload the materials to their PCs or networks. Don’t give your attendees another thing to toss.

Added bonus: Going digital will actually reduce your costs. That can help offset some of the other price hikes you might see on the path to environment-friendly events, or it might even result in a little cash in your pocket.

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