Greening Events

Last week the snow sort of took over and I didn’t get a chance to talk about the bid we submitted late last year to the JISC Greening ICT call. Brian Kelly has done a good job of explaining more about our proposal on his blog (It was a GREEAT proposal!!), so I won’t go into too much detail. The project was given the name GREEAT (GReening Events through Event Amplification Technologies). This wasn’t my number one choice of name, it had seemed to me that Greening Events was a better indication of what the project was to be about, but sometimes the need for an acronym outweighs prudence ;-).

The idea for the project stems from my remote worker work and our work at the Institutional Web Management workshop. Over the last few years we’ve tried to make it more relevant to virtual attendees, for example through the use of streaming and Twitter.

Unfortunately we failed to win the bid. The markers explained that they were not impressed with the “amount of ‘greenness’ in the proposal” which landed it outside the scope of the programme.

This was a fair comment really. Personally I felt our hearts were in the right place but lack of time meant that we failed to be clear about what the project would entail. Part of the reason for this was that we weren’t entirely sure ourselves. It seemed slightly like a Phd question in that sometimes you aren’t fully sure of the question till you’ve found the answer. I think there are so many possibilities and things that could enable events to become greener that we didn’t know where to start and possibly concentrated too much on our previous work. You live and learn.

In reflection greening events is very much like any other attempts to be more environmentally responsible – the three Rs apply: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Here are my thoughts on how to get started.

People go to events (workshops, conferences, seminars, meet-ups etc.) and there is great value in them doing so. However attending and running an event has a big environmental impact by both the hosts and the attendees (venue energy use, food, materials, waste, travel etc.) Both the hosts and the attendees have a responsibility to reduce this impact.

The key ways they can do this are through the consideration of the following:

  • Is there a real need for this event?
  • Could it be run virtually?
  • Can people attend virtually if they chose (streaming etc.) and are they supported to do so?
  • What technologies could support virtual attendance (webinars, video conferencing etc.)?
  • Is the venue itself working towards being greener?
  • Is the venue well located to avoid unnecessary travel, i.e. can attendees get to the event using public transport?
  • Can materials created for the event be kept to a minimum?
  • Can communication be kept greener (through online and mobile methods)?
  • What about catering, local transport?
  • Can the resources from the event be distributed as widely as possible and reused to increase their value (amplified conferencing)?
  • Can the environmental impact of the event be measured?
  • Is there a way to benchmark/scale/value events based on their efforts?
  • What about offsetting?

Further investigation of the substance of these questions and ways to help other institutions answer them would have been the meat of our project.

Since working on the proposal I’ve found the following document entitled Greening events – Green Meeting Guide created by the International Training Centre. They offer some really useful advice on how to make your event as green as possible.

As they say:

A green event is one designed, organised and implemented in a way that minimises negative environmental impacts and leaves a positive legacy for the host community.

Naturally the need to make your event sustainable is only going to increase. The 2012 Olympics is a real test-bed for this area and it will be interesting to see what ideas they come up with.

Greening events is an exciting field and many of the possibilities are technology based. Higher Education still has a long way to go to make sure it’s ticking all the right boxes. As the funding downturn in the public sector takes hold over 2010-11 this is likely to have a big impact on events. Making them streamlined, greener and more remote delegate-friendly will be par for the course. It would be grrreeeeat if UKOLN could get the chance to do further work in this area in the future.