Over the years I've developed a ritual whenever I head home after a convention. I sort out all the press releases, brochures, handouts, and assorted tchotchkes I've been given or collected in the course of the meeting — generally leaving behind a sizable pile of trash in my hotel room as a result. I am no doubt one of tens of thousands of attendees who do this sort of post-convention shedding. But attendee trash like this is just the tip of the rubbish pile, so to speak, when it comes to waste generated by meetings and expositions.
As the cover story details in part one of a two-part series, our industry is a major contributor to the country's landfills. EPA specialist Russell Clark remarks in our feature that “an incredible amount of energy, products, and resources goes into a meeting from beginning to end. With a factory or car you see the pollution; it's hidden behind the scenes at meetings.” He points out that expositions are “one of the most overwhelming examples of extreme waste. While lots of materials are packed up and taken away, live trees and plants, carpeting, and one-time use items go into the trash. Much could be donated, but it has to be planned.”
Despite this, waste is barely on the radar screen of most convention andorganizers, as author Maxine Golding reports. Kudos, then, to the Convention Industry Council, which recently produced a collection of best practices for the industry for waste management. More industry organizations need to get on the bandwagon. What about offering seminars at industry meetings on this subject? These sessions could highlight success stories, as well as document the cost-saving benefits many waste-management practices can produce. As Golding writes, “The good news is that meeting planners can take incremental, high-impact steps to consume less, reuse product and food, and recycle much of the waste that conventions produce — and save money in the bargain.”
Waste is no longer a fringe issue for the industry. We need to raise consciousness about the true costs of wasteful practices and seed understanding about how planners, attendees, service contractors, exhibitors, and facilities can radically reduce what we put into the country's landfills. As for myself, my new convention ritual is putting my business card in someone's hand and saying, “Please e-mail me that information.”