April 26, 2022•691 words
We may not talk much about how people sit on the fence of environmental issues, but we're probably aware that we're letting ourselves fall short. Specially when it envolves people who do have the means to make better decisions in how we affect our environment. We still organise our work and our holidays around consuming fossil fuels. We still eat more meat per person than humanity ever has. And we still use too many occasions as an excuse to generate paper and plastic bits that inevitably end up in the trash.
Events in particular often meet people only halfway in how we take care of our environment. It's still a given in people's minds that badges have to be printed, bags have to be filled with paper and schedules need to be handed out, even when such things are so ephemeral that their information may already be incorrect before a session starts. Our passion for generating stuff easily goes too far. We may even believe that attendees holding our piece of paper in their hands has value into itself, that such a thing is essential to the event experience. And indeed it can have value, but is it really that essential?
For decades, we've been taught the three Rs in schools: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. How are we building upon these three pillars of sustainability? Not surprisingly, we move further along where money lights the way, thanks to the business of Recycling. But there’s also value in simply generating less stuff or in leveraging the stuff we already have. And although it may seem that the hospitality industry is not in a position to lead the way, event stakeholders can keep deciding to put stuff in front of people first and offer the digital option only as an alternative… or they can flip this decision. Offer the event app first and have the outdated printed schedule only for the people that ask for it. Have digital gifts that are guaranteed to be there when people return home from the event, these won't get lost inside some pocket or waste bin. Share contacts through the devices you already have in your pockets, not with a freshly printed batch of more business cards.
It's not about getting rid of physical hand-outs all together. An all or nothing mindset can stand in the way of the progress we're making in preserving our environment. We don’t need to stop eating meat, it’s good enough to Reduce consumption. We don’t have to keep buying a new smartphone every year if we’re allowed to repair any damage that may stop us from Reusing them. And since we already have these devices always with us, it shouldn’t be that hard to prioritise digital tools over all this paper and plastic that can’t entirely be Recycled. Each of the three Rs relies on the other two to really be sustainable. We can't only pick Recycling as a solution and then just hope it can catch up to the amount of waste we generate.
Therefore, event stakeholders have a responsibility in finding some balance between the three Rs of sustainability. If the digital medium is only added to an event as an afterthought, the damage is already done. All the stuff has already been printed and you might as well use it. On the other hand, if you start digital, you can evaluate how well it fulfils expectations before deciding on how much physical material is actually needed. There's a quote from Douglas Adams that says "technology is a word that describes something that doesn't work yet". And I believe we'll always have technology that's powerful and useful but that relies on us to make it work. We can't wait for the tech to be 100% perfect for everyone all the time before we start saving the planet. But we can put ourselves in a position where we're able to decide how much we leverage our digital platforms to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle all the landfill we create.