At the green meeting session this morning at NEMICE (led by my colleague at Corporate Meetings & Incentives, Barbara Scofidio), I was in charge of keeping the discussion going on greening up conference bags, gifts, and giveaways.
We had two questions to start off the conversation: What our organizations were currently doing to green up their bags, etc., and what our organizations were aspiring to do make be greener in that area. Here's a quick recap.
Bags: Some people said they were trying to do away with bags altogether, while others were trading in plastic bags for cloth, since cloth is more biodegradeable. Some said they asked people if they wanted a bag, which cut down on the number of bags used since not everyone took one.
One idea I loved was BYOB--bring your own bag. They asked, and an amazing number of attendees did in fact bring their own. Another person said she gave her leftover bags to a friend who was going to China, who gave them to an orphanage there.
Also, some people said they stopped putting dates and 4th annual whatever on the bags so they could reuse them for other meetings.
Giveaways: The trend on handouts and proceedings was to take as much of it as possible online, and have people download what they need ahead of time and bring it with them. Some were using flash drives to hold the PowerPoints, or CDs, which also have the added benefit of being updateable up to the last minute, just in case some speaker may decide to make a change. I know, it never happens, but...
Some were condensing their syllabi down to 1/5 of what it used to be. Others were using recycled paper.
Hot green giveaways were plastic and metal water bottles that attendees could use instead of the usual disposables and refill at water stations. Everyone seemed to like the idea of bookmarks that contained seeds attendees could take home and plant. People were interested in the idea of giving away saplings as gifts, which PCMA did at its annual meeting in Seattle this year.
Gifts: Some people were giving donations to charity in their speakers' names as gifts; some were contemplating offering carbon offsets, but we weren't sure if that'd be well-received or not. Also, some were cutting back on the gift-wrapping as a small way to cut waste.
Tips and ideas
Buy from local merchandisers
Check out biodegradable cups made out of corn (that came up a couple of times)
Other things that came up but weren't related to bags and gifts:
• Set up recycling stations for cans and bottles
• Reuse signage
• Donate banners to organizations that make handbags out of them and donate them to charity
• Donate food to local food banks/shelters. Hotels may balk, but you may be able to talk them into it (more on the topic is here). I couldn't for the life of me remember the name of the national group that can help you find local organizations to donate to at the time, but now of course I remember that it's America's Second Harvest. One person talked about a meeting she held in California when all the wildfires were burning--she donated the unused food from her meeting to the fire victims.