The waste management mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle” is also the cornerstone of sustainable meetings practice.  Many of the best practices have the double barrelled effect of being not only good for the environment but also for saving you money.

Reduce should be your first strategy.  Obviously if you don’t have to have something you don’t have to pay for it.  Most people wouldn’t even think about mailing a preliminary program to prospective conference attendees anymore.  Consider other ways you can reduce or eliminate your printed materials.  Look for other options, such as picking a venue that is close to your audience or has all the elements located very close together, to reduce transportation costs.  Sometimes replacing the way you do something with another way will help you reduce; a simple example is replacing bottled water with either pitchers of iced water or water coolers.

Thinking local is another example of reduction.  Source whatever you can locally (from locally grown food and beverage to printing to floral products).  This will save on shipping costs.  Most caterers will also work with you to use local, seasonal products but this is sometimes easier said than done when you live in a northern climate like Canada!

If you can’t reduce the use of something, at least find ways to reuse it.  Signage is an easy element of this greening principle.  Don’t make a new sign for each session, design it so it can be reused (with a replaceable customized portion) over and over again.  Don’t put dates on the signs so they can be used at the next event as well.  Reuse your badge holders and lanyards from one event to the next by collecting them at the end of each event.  Both of these ideas will help you save money because you will have less to purchase (but make sure the cost of shipping and storage doesn’t outweigh the cost savings of reuse).

When it comes to thinking about recycling, the cost savings come from less trash generation (and your cost to have  garbage destined for land fill removed).  Many convention centres charge for waste removal (especially after a tradeshow) so anything you can do to divert materials to recycling will help save money.

There is another “R” that can add to your bottom line and that is “rethink”.  As with goals and objectives (and BEOs for that matter) you should always be asking “why?”.  From a sustainability perspective, look at your processes and procedures and see if there is another way of doing something that is more environmentally sustainable and you might also find a way to save money.  Just by restricting registration to an online process will help the environment (less paper generation) and save you money (less data entry time).

Reduce, reuse, recycle and rethink.  You’ll be helping the environment and your bottom line at the same time.

There are a multitude of resources and sources for good ideas on-line.  Following is just a small sample:

Written by Phil Ecclestone, CMP