by Kaylee Hultgren | June 01, 2010

Going green is one of the defining movements of our time and the topic of a recent M&C live webcast (the event can be accessed at Due to time constraints, a number of important questions from listeners went unanswered but are hereby addressed by the two panelists -- Nancy J. Wilson, principal of Portland-based MeetGreen, a meeting planning and consulting company specializing in sustainable meetings, and Dominic Phillips, president and executive producer of Dominic Phillips Event Marketing, an event management and production company headquartered in San Francisco.

What are the biggest objections from potential clients against going green?

Wilson: The objections I've encountered are that the event might look different, cost more or take too much time -- all myths that can be refuted.

Once clients understand the concept, they are usually keen to participate. Show them all the landfill waste their events create, and they'll quickly understand the scale of waste that is involved.

Won't combining live events and live streaming of the events affect on-site attendance?

Phillips: Streaming events will reduce attendance, but isn't that why we are doing it? The benefit, however, is that they may expand the number of virtual participants to include people who have not attended in the past due to travel considerations or costs.

Wilson: Actually, it is generally felt by fellow planners that live streaming doesn't have a large negative impact on on-site attendance. There may be some minimal drop-off, but the pickup in attendance for those with zero travel budgets or who are unable to attend for other reasons far outweighs these impacts.

Why do green promotional products generally cost more than others?

Wilson: First, check with your vendors on pricing if you haven't done so in the past six months, since the costs of sustainable items are coming down. Second, make sure your vendor is not upcharging for green products. Sadly, we are seeing some of that now. Be sure your promotional products are quality items that can be used by the consumer for a long time. Plastic widgets are no longer the way to go if you truly want to be remembered.

Can you provide examples of branded, nonplastic green gifts?

Phillips: Eco thumb drives, eco folders and blankets, etc. It all depends on the audience and focus of the event.

Metal water bottles or coffee mugs are two good items. Also, there are USB keys, recycled paper journals or notebooks, and recycled glass awards and products. There are even luggage tags made from old bike chains!

How can we assure attendees that our hotel is making good on the plan to donate food to a soup kitchen or to recycle all waste paper?

Phillips: Ask the hotel for information on who handles these items for them and contact the agencies themselves -- they will comment and/or provide the statistics you need. You do not necessarily have to document where every morsel of unused food goes; for example, you could find out how many people the food bank is able to feed every year as a result of programs such as yours.

Wilson: The best way to check accountability of hotels is to take a back-of-house tour, and once you're satisfied, offer the same tour to attendees who have questions or otherwise show interest. Plus, food banks will give you a receipt for the amount of food donated -- just ask your caterer for it. This is a great statistic to share with key stakeholders.  

Just how "local" is local food?

"Local" will depend on where you are in the country. For instance, ideally it would be within 150 miles, but in Texas, local could mean anywhere within the state.

Wilson: Green organizations generally define local food as that created within 100 miles.

Many attendees don't trust the cleanliness of water dispensers in a public space and still want water bottles. How do I address this?

Phillips: Provide water through an on-site filtration system, and put up a sign for attendees that notes filtered water is just as good as bottled water but doesn't generate all the plastic waste.

Wilson: If attendees feel that pitchers of water and glasses are better, you could switch to that option. But the best idea is offering them their own refillable water bottle and a water dispenser.

Do you think it is realistic to have a paperless meeting? Are people willing to adapt?

Wilson: I think it is realistic, depending on your audience. Not surprisingly, high-tech organizations were the early adopters of this. Others are moving toward it more slowly. I have found that when you offer participants the option of either a free USB key with conference proceedings or paper hard copies for a price, the free paperless option will win over even the most strident of paper users.

Our conference requires a lot of signage. Do large print houses like Kinkos use green products?

Phillips: Increasingly, venders such as Kinkos do use green products. However, since this evolution is just beginning, you may do better with a local, dedicated green printer at this stage.

Wilson: Check with your print house for its environmentally responsible practices. Also, note that the substrates for signs have changed significantly in the past year, and recycled cardboard is readily available to replace foam core signage -- not to mention, it's usually the cheaper alternative.

Electronic signage is much more expensive than print -- but is it really more green?

Phillips: Good question. The power required by the signage could be very wasteful. Perhaps it would be better to provide digital information for laptop or mobile devices, as well as a few eco-printed signs in central locations at the event.

Wilson: We are finding that more and more venues have electronic signage. They are typically more green when considering the natural resources and energy required to manufacture certain signs and then dispose of them.