• Never assume that just because a facility has recycling containers in its meeting space, that it recycles—During a back-of-house tour of one property, it became apparent there was no recycling area for the bottles and cans. When I asked the staff about this, they reported it cost money to have the recycling company pick those up so they no longer recycled bottles and cans. Yet, in their meeting areas, they still had bins marked as if recycling was occurring. Attendees were carefully separating their trash and feeling good about helping out when, in fact, it all went to the landfill.
• Never assume that a facility has the staffing to fulfill your recycling requirements—Ask, and if necessary, assign volunteers. Managing the waste stream can be complex for the participant in a hurry to dispose of an item. One way to significantly increase your event's recycling numbers is to use "green angels" stationed by the recycling area to assist people with selecting the right bin.
• Never assume that box lunches have to be in a box—To save packaging, try coming up with a creative way to replace the container. One event employed sponsored carpenter aprons for a container. Another had all the items out on a banquet table with boxes available if needed, but most people just grabbed a sandwich and an apple and off they went.
• Never assume that it doesn’t matter where your promotional products were made—Just ask the U.S. Olympic Committee and think again. When word leaked out about the U.S. Olympic uniforms being made in China, the media world went crazy with bad publicity. Choosing items that are made in America will have a positive impact on your organization's image.
And finally, don’t forget to thank the people making it happen every day—the champions, the unsung heroes of sustainability. Those folks we very rarely see doing the real work of making sure our complicated waste stream gets to the right place and anything that can be reused finds a home. None of this would be possible without them!