“What's Good for the environment is imperative for business.”

That axiom is a driving force behind computer technology giant Sun Microsystems' “Eco Responsibility” initiative, which included the greening of its May 2007 JavaOne conference.

The first step was a virtual direct-mail campaign leading up to the conference, which the company claims saved 4.63 tons of paper.

At the meeting itself, which was held at San Francisco's Moscone Center, they used solar energy from the center's 60,000 photovoltaic array roofing assembly. An aggressive recycling campaign included, in addition to paper products, beverage containers, cardboard, wood, metals, carpet and padding, and wood pallets. Green food purchasing decisions ensured that food waste was compostable and packaging was biodegradable. And the “Bike to JavaOne” program encouraged attendees to ride their bicycles to the event and included free valet bike parking.

Wendy Yamaguma, Sun's senior director global events, collaborated with experience marketing agency George P. Johnson Co. to benchmark the results of these efforts. But the initiative was “less about measuring, and more about making an impact,” says Yamaguma. “We focused on looking at each aspect of the conference to see how we could make it better, and even if we don't fully understand what the starting point is [as far as measuring results], it is more important to make an impact.”

The use of virtual conference materials instead of printed paper products was an extension of the fabric of this tech company's culture, says Scott Schenker, vice president, client services, vice president, PSED, George P. Johnson. From a broader perspective, though, he cautioned companies against trying to “one-up” their competitors in trying to see who can put on a more environmentally friendly meeting.

“Attendee experience still has to be the main focus of the event,” he says, adding that a company could place too much emphasis on the environmental aspects of the meeting and end up making attendees miserable.

Whether it's reducing the use of paper or reusing signage, “there's plenty of low hanging fruit to pick,” says Schenker.