For many planners, one of the biggest hesitations to begin implementing green practices is not cost or desire, it is the fear of not doing enough, thereby not being considered green … but a greenwasher!
What exactly is greenwashing? Wikipedia defines greenwashing as:
“the practice of companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly, such as by presenting cost cuts as reductions in use of resources. It is a deceptive use of green PR or green marketing. The term green sheen has similarly been used to describe organizations that attempt to show that they are adopting practices beneficial to the environment.”
By keeping some simple concepts in mind, your efforts are sure to be positively received instead of met with skepticism. The three keys avoiding the green sheen are
First off, be transparent! It is important to be honest and straightforward with your efforts and goals for the event. No one expects an event to go from conventional practices to a achieving zero waste in one year. Therefore, it is OK (and often the key to success) to take baby steps! For example, this year you could focus on implementing a recycling program, and next year implement composting. Your efforts will be appreciated at any level. And, by being transparent, most people with be excited about participating in your organization’s new goals.
The second way to be seen as truly green is to track your metrics. The term metrics refers to weighing the environmental impact of an event. The most commonly tracked metrics are Waste Diversion, Energy Consumption and Water Consumption. Any event planner can track their metrics. Even if sustainable practices aren’t being implemented, establish a baseline of metrics so you know where your areas of improvement could be. Baseline data also is very important to show the impact of the green initiatives you implement. For more information on how to establish metrics, refer to my January 2009 Meeting Sustainably column: “Green meeting step No. 3: Establishing and tracking metrics.”
Finally, the third component crucial to the success of a sustainable program is communication. This refers to communication with all stakeholders at all stages of the game. Not only does effective communication inform attendees of your intentions, it also increases enthusiasm and participation in programs. By communicating your goals, ways people can participate and metrics, you are not only implementing change at your conference but also engaging all stakeholders in your efforts. As a result, when you implement future practices, your attendees and vendors will remember your goals and eagerly participate.
Keep all these concepts in mind, and your efforts will be viewed as sincere, effective and engaging. However, there are a few things to keep in mind so as to not be considered a greenwasher:
- Don’t make claims without proof
- Avoid vagueness
- Don’t make irrelevant claims i.e. “cholesterol free water”
- And of course, no outright lying!
Now that you understand the ways to ensure you are working towards green events and not developing a green sheen, you can get to work implementing sustainable practices. To understand more about possible first steps, what industry leaders have done and future initiatives, read archives of my Meeting Sustainably column.