Paper vs. the Environment

Technology News

Greening an event comes down to a whole host of factors—but the fact is, you could serve farm-to-table cuisine and water in stainless steel bottles on a reclaimed-lumber table at a LEED-certified hotel, and your meeting would still be an environmental failure if you didn’t address the issue of paper.

Indeed, the density of dead trees at any given function is staggering. Silke Fleischer, co-founder of ATIV Software, which develops the EventPilot app, points out the savings gained when a group went digital at a recent meeting. “The event had fewer than 700 attendees and they used to print 100 sheets of paper per person, so they were looking at savings of 4,000 pounds of CO2—and this was a very small event,” she says. “Multiply that by a large event, and you’re looking at 20 tons.”

In addition to being environmentally sound, ditching paper can also help you save serious bucks. Take it from Fleischer, who says she had another client who saved $50,000 by swapping paper materials for the EventPilot app, or Rich Heitke, CMP, president of the Sacramento chapter of the Society of Government Meeting Professionals, who notes limiting paper usage at events has saved him tens of thousands of dollars.

What can you do to save some trees? Here are three tips.

Quick Tips

1. Instead of binders, try mobile devices

Brian Barrett, multimedia designer at Washington National Insurance Company, puts it bluntly: “I think the biggest waste of paper…is planner binders. I know on-site they are indispensable for most. However, in the months prior to an event, we waste probably hundreds of reams of paper updating planning documents each week,” he says. “When you have a team of planners, it gets ridiculous.”

Rather than toting around a massive binder overflowing with paper, consider uploading your material onto a portable mobile device. Even the most skeptical of planners have been able to master the digital divide—like Sebrina Brown, manager of meeting experiences at Cleinman Performance Partners, who says when her company bought her an iPad, “I looked at it with a jaundiced eye and then looked at the tech guy.” But now, she says she’s content having all her essentials, including her room, attendee, workshop and dinner lists, on her once-feared Apple gizmo. “I even save my BEOs to the iPad,” she says.

One tip: “I carry my laptop to the meetings also, so I know I have the same data on my laptop if the iPad dies.”
The advent of cloud computing has also made going digital easier than ever. A common complaint about switching to mobile devices has long been that it’s difficult to update information on the fly, which is pivotal at an event—what function doesn’t require some last-minute switches? With cloud technology, which allows you to make a change from any device and sync it across all your other devices, this issue becomes moot. To take advantage of the cloud, try SugarSync, Dropbox, Basecamp or Apple’s iCloud.

2. Instead of printed agendas, try flash drives or apps

Material handed out on-site to attendees also contributes to paper overload. One way to cut back on this is to distribute flash drives that attendees can plug in to access information on their digital devices.
Tracey Czechan, promotions and events coordinator for Cooper Industries, says she eliminated paper at trade shows by switching to flash drives a few years ago, and the result was “less weight on my freight, less waste and less printing costs.” To save money on the drives, she suggests snagging discount pricing by purchasing in bulk. She also advises you leave enough time to download information. “I take about 1,000 [flash drives] to each event, and it takes approximately eight hours to load them from my computer,” she says.

If you have the necessary tech resources, you can also develop an event app. Unlike flash drives, apps can be updated automatically, so your attendees can be kept in the loop about program changes.
There are a variety of event app services available. EventPilot, for instance, is an app that can store programs, exhibitor information, PowerPoint presentations, education abstracts and more. The app even includes bump technology, so attendees can tap their phones to transfer contact information. Other popular event apps include Grupio and EventMobi.

3. Instead of hard-copy contracts, try e-contracts

In the lead-up to an event, planners sign a barrage of contracts, for everything from hotel rooms to F&B. The paper waste this generates prompted John Bohde, director of national accounts at Resort Meetings Consortium, to switch from hard-copy contracts to those sent via electronic fax. Also known as e-fax or Internet faxing, this service converts hard copies into PDFs or TIFFs and attaches them to an e-mail. “When a signed contract comes in, all I have to do is save it to my hard drive,” Bohde says. “I haven’t printed a hard copy in years.” Reputable providers for this paper-busting service include Nextiva, eFax, MetroFax, MyFax and RingCentral.

Letting Go of Paper

Despite the perks of abandoning paper, it can be difficult to kick hard-copy habits, and many planners acknowledge that for some attendees, going digital is simply too intimidating a change. Karl Baur, CMP, project director and meeting planner at RDL Enterprises, says he’s learned to compromise on the issue of paper reduction—by, say, printing a single large agenda and posting it on the wall. Other non-dramatic ways to limit paper use include printing materials double-sided and using only recycled paper to print on.

With any luck, paper dependency at events will eventually become a thing of the past. Those on the fence can heed the wisdom of Cleinman Performance Partners’ Brown, whose digital cynicism was eventually dispelled. “Old dogs can learn new tricks,” she says. “I’m glad I’ve gone this far paperless.”