As I travel to different trade shows and conferences speaking on “Green Initiatives,” I am both proud and disappointed by much of what is happening. Yes, all of the exposure and emphasis that has been put on being more socially responsible and sustainable is sinking in. And, much progress is being made to better our practices and create less waste. However, there are many, many more opportunities to minimize the impact of our events on the environment if we just think past the first and most obvious steps that we have already taken.
For example, my wife, a nurse/educator in the pharmaceutical industry, travels several days a month for her job. While away, she collects partially used bathroom amenities and deposits them in a box in her office upon her return home. When the box is filled, we deliver it to our church, which works closely with local shelters that distribute these donations to those in need. It’s easy, painless, very helpful and very sustainable. Her actions caused me to begin to encourage planners to initiate programs such as this for all of their meetings. You’d be surprised how much of an impact this small act can do for those who are without. We were making a difference in a small way.
A few months ago, I was introduced to an organization that takes this small act of thoughtfulness to the next level. Clean the World is an organization, founded by ex-hoteliers, that recycles partially used bars of soap … and saves lives. Every day in North America, thousands of hotels discard millions of pounds of soap and shampoo. These products often end up in already overflowing landfills and contaminate fragile groundwater systems.
Meanwhile, impoverished people around the world die every day from acute respiratory infection and diarrheal disease because they have no soap. The death toll is staggering. Each year more than five million lives are lost to these diseases, with the majority of deaths being among children less than five years old. Studies have shown that simple hand washing substantially reduces the spread of these diseases. Unfortunately, the essential items for proper hand washing are unobtainable for millions of people worldwide. Enter Clean the World, which gets soap to people who really need it.
In an effort to prevent these needless deaths from occurring, Clean the World collects, cleans, repackages and distributes recycled soap products, along with appropriate educational materials, to impoverished countries worldwide, and to domestic homeless shelters. It all started with one hotel in Orlando – the Peabody. In researching this fantastic endeavor, I expected that this would be a grassroots effort, with a handful of hotels that felt compelled to participate. I was shocked to see more than 50 hotels in Canada, 60 in the Western U.S., 30 in the Midwest, 30 in the Northeast and almost 100 in the South and Southeast. From Hampton Inns, to Four Seasons, to Hyatts and Disney properties. All have embraced the effort to not only “Green the World,” but also “Clean the World.”
This isn’t a commercial for Clean the World, it’s a commercial for thinking of things — small things, things as small as a bar of soap — that can make a difference. We all know what the impact of a million small programs can make. Remember the old adage: “How do eat an elephant? Answer: One bite at a time!” Your effort may not be as big as Clean the World. It may be a small awareness program in your office. Or, at your local church, club or organization. Or, even in your very own home. No matter where it starts, or where it happens, great, simple ideas can grow and yield great, and even incredible results.
So, take a moment. Get inspired. Make a difference. You may not wind up cleaning the world, but you just may save it.