Here are some things to think about when planning a conference or larger meeting:
Signs and Banners
Most conferences use large banners or signs to advertise for their event. These signs and banners have traditionally been made out of PVC, but there are starting to be more options for alternative material signs and banners. PVC has been found to be toxic because of its off gassing properties, and its production causes considerable amounts of pollution. Some examples of non PVC banners and signs are Eco-Flexx 100% Recycled Billboards, and Green Banners.
Travel effects from people coming from all over the world to attend business conferences are another great concern when it comes to the environmental impact of conferences. Assuming that most people are flying or driving to the conference, they are using fossil fuels to get them there, and this causes large amount of carbon emissions which contribute to global warming. Conferences with concern about this issue have started to offer carbon offsets to conference participants which balance out the carbon emissions from conference transportation by undergoing some other activity such as planting trees that will sequester carbon in the air.
Food & Drink
When somebody goes to conferences that keep participants there for most if not all of the day, the conference is generally assumed to provide food and drinks for participants. This creates another environmental problem because it is difficult to estimate the exact amount of food and drinks that will be required. Generally a large conference will end up with its fair share of wasted food and drinks by the end of the conference. One solution for this would be to arrange ahead of time to donate the leftover food and drinks to a food kitchen or some other organization that could use the items. Another is to compost the leftovers. Also, try not to use bottled water, disposable plates, cups, napkins, and utensils because this will all add up to big piles of trash that will be sent to the landfill. If you have to use disposable items, consider using ones that are biodegradable or recyclable.
An important strategy for a Greener Conference is to minimize the amount of materials that are distributed at the conference. Every conference I have been to had so many paper handouts, pamphlets, schedules, brochures and packets that are distributed; you end up needing an extra bag just to tote them all around. Try to make as much of this material electronic instead of printing out all the materials. If you have to print things out, make sure that you are printing double sided, and are using paper that has recycled content, or is third party certified for being sustainable.
The leading authority on Green Meetings is the Green Meeting Industry Council. They provide some great resources on their website for planning a Green Meeting. The Convention Industry Council released a report on Green Conferences that can be found here.
An interesting article from CNet News.com takes a look at what some of the largest conferences in the country related to Green and Sustainable industries did to reduce their environmental impacts. Other great resources for tips, suggestions, statistics, and other information include: BlueGreen Meetings, Meet Green, the Sustainable Business Network, and The Conference People.