As images of spreading oil plumes, devastated Gulf Coast communities, and dead seabirds fill our TV screens, it’s easy to warp back and forth between a sense of futility and an urge to assign responsibility for the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.
There’s blame enough to go around—for BP’s epic negligence and for the decades of deregulation that enabled it. But beyond blame, there’s work to be done. And some of this effort needs to be focused on any conference that relies on fossil fuels, which really means every conference.
We’ll see if our industry is up to the challenge, but early indications aren’t great. Immediately after the spill, one industry discussion board carried a query from a planner whose sole concern was whether a Gulf Coast shrimp shortage would affect on-site menu prices. (As my teenage daughter might say…SRSLY?) It wasn’t long before the region’s tourist boards and CVBs defaulted to the usual public relations campaigns, insisting that all is well and bookings need not be canceled.
But all is not well. The root of the problem is our insatiable addiction to oil—and coal, for anyone with a long enough memory to add Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine disaster to the picture. Here’s what meeting professionals can do today, and tomorrow, to get started.
1. The long, tough job of cutting energy use, introducing renewable alternatives, and building a real sustainability program belongs with the engineering department, not the public relations office. Before we startour green facilities and destinations, let’s make sure they’re truly green.
2. Planners should treat regional and hybrid meetings as an opportunity to cut their costs, fuel consumption, and carbon footprint without losing the impact of a face-to-face meeting.
3. Promotional product providers have to stop pretending that a gift item is sustainable if it’s made of recycled material, but traveled half-way around the world to reach its destination. Carbon and energy footprints apply to freight as well as passenger travel.
4. Honorable mention goes to the first hotel with a linen re-use program that actually works as advertised because, with painfully few exceptions, none of them does.
5. Expo service companies can help their clients reduce the volume of collateral and construction material that fill a show floor one week and pop up in a landfill the next. The meetings industry is second only to construction for the volume of waste it generates. Everything we do to produce, transport, and dispose of that waste uses energy.
6. Destinations, hospitality companies, and other meeting leaders should become passionate, informed advocates for the environmental stability on which the meetings economy depends. New Orleans didn’t host very many meetings while it was underwater. The recent flash flood in Tennessee also had the look and feel of a climate disaster.
So, meeting professionals, start your engines (and make sure they’re powered by biogas). This problem won’t stop getting worse until we start making it better.
Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president and CEO of The Conference Publishers Inc., one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog. Send comments, facts, arguments, or column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.