Apparently we are slap bang in the middle of National Meetings Week, a week long PR jaunt organised by the events industry to promote the "£10 billion-a-year contribution that meetings make to the economy".
In keeping with the current business climate this year's National Meetings Week is committed to tackling the environmental impact of meetings and has launched a new initiative called the Green Agenda. Under the initiative, the events industry is urging companies to place the question "how are we going to make our meetings more sustainable?" on the agenda of all future meetings.
The organisers of National Meeting Week have promised a Green Report on the back of the responses it gets to this question and to kick start things has provided a list of its ten top tips for green meeting on its website.
Its advice may fall on the "well, duh" side of common sense, including tips such as:
1. Save paper. Using new media and electronic technology can cut down your paper use. If your meeting is a large event, create a website for it offering electronic registration and confirmation; and advertise using the web and/or email. If the meeting is internal, try using a laptop or projector to conduct the meeting instead of printing out lots of copies of agendas.
2. Reuse. If you do feel it necessary to print off agendas try printing double sided sheets to cut down on waste. At the end of the meeting collect the agendas that people don’t need or aren’t used and use them for scrap paper or for the fax machine, which only needs one clear side. Use recycled paper wherever possible.
But overall it is a useful checklist for anyone organising a meeting and while none of the environmental gains made from following this advice will deliver massive environmental or cost savings for any individual department they will soon add up for large companies.
However, National Meeting Week's green agenda does seem to be purposefully avoiding the rather large elephant in the living room (or should that be conference hall) – namely are meetings necessary at all?
The problem is that the carbon emissions associated with getting attendees to a meeting or conference means they are - within the confines of current transport technologies - inherently damaging to the environment. All the re-use of paper in the world will not offset the millions of tonnes of CO2 that are emitted each day transporting executives to international conferences and meetings.
Of course this does not mean that all meetings should be axed. I, like many of you, have attended many interesting conferences that have helped fill a gap in my knowledge, given me a new insight into an issue, and allowed me build important relationships with influential contacts. In short, they've helped me do my job better.
But I've also travelled thousands of miles to many events where I've been left wondering if being "bored to death" is just a turn of phrase or if I am facing some sort of medical risk. Many face-to-face meetings are conducted in all sorts of businesses where the five minutes worth of relevant information could have been just as effectively communicated using the phone, email or new online conferencing technologies.
With this in mind the first tip on National Meeting Week's list really should be "Ask if this meeting is necessary, and if it is, can it be carried out online?"
According to Tony Gasson of online conferencing platform specialist Interwise (who has an admittedly vested interest) up to 75 percent of business meetings tend to be work meetings that could be carried out online rather than relationship building meetings that require you to see the whites of the attendees' eyes.
"For relationship building meetings like job interviews or closing deals, you will always need to meet face to face," he admits. "But for meetings that are just aiming to get work done that is often not the case and online conferences can work more effectively."
Such an approach will not only reduce firms' carbon footprint by thousands of tones a year as all those trips that are serving little or no purpose are eradicated, but it can also lead to massive costs savings. I recently wrote an article on video conferencing detailing how a firm called Lex Vehicle Leasing saved itself the best part of £200,000 in travel costs and improved productivity through web conferencing technology.
Scaled up for large multinationals these savings quickly grow into millions, and there is at least one global firm that estimates it will save $100m a year through its policyt of putting just one fifth of meetings online.
The organisers of National Meeting Week deserve to be applauded for trying to make conferences more sustainable and where meetings are unavoidable firms should follow their guidelines and endeavor to limit the environmental impact.
But with the organisers openly admitting that the events industry has a truly massive environmental impact the biggest step firms can take to make face-to-face meetings greener is to, where possible, not have them at all.
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