Behind the Scenes: Greening a Conference

I’m new in the world of event organization and I was really pleased to be invited to join a local conference organizing committee recently.  One of the aims of the committee is to review and extend the sustainability of the event from an environmental point of view.
Behind The Scenes 2

First a little background: FECEI, the national Spanish association of English language schools, have decided that they want to step up action on sustainability and that one of the areas they particularly want to focus on is the annual national and regional conferences. ACEIA, the Andalusian branch of the association, runs one of the biggest events in Spain. They decided that in order to coordinate changes as efficiently as possible, they needed to create a new post on the board, an environmental observer or coordinator, someone whose sole responsibility was to support the other areas in matters of environmental sustainability. As the vice president wisely pointed out, sometimes things don’t happen, no matter how much you may want them to, because there’s either nobody, or too many people, responsible.

My role, as environmental observer or coordinator, is to support and suggest and coordinate.  It’s my first time in the role, so I thought it might be interesting to chart our progress and write notes for myself as I go through this steep learning curve!

The first steps:

1 identify the main stakeholders

These will typically be the delegates, the sponsors, the venue and the speakers. Though others may emerge in the planning process.

2 identify and analyze current practices for each area in #1

It’s really useful to look at what’s happening already, across the whole event. We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Lots of great initiatives are already taking place behind the scenes. They may not be visible to the outsider. They may even not be visible to all the organisers, who may all be working on different areas. This can happen no matter how great the level of collaboration and communication.

3 decide which practices in #1 need updating

Some of the actions will be just fine. They worked well in the last event (and maybe many events before). People like and appreciate them.  There’s absolutely no need for change for change’s sake.  But there may still be a need to signpost these practices. Do the delegates realise that the association has negotiated discounts on public transport?  Do they realise that the venue has recently implemented a new sustainability policy?  Would it help to promote this in some way? 

4 discuss possible changes for each area in #3

Input here is important from lots of different points of view, from within the organising committee, but also from other stakeholders. Asking attendees and sponsors from previous events about their perceptions and experiences can be useful.  A lot of information will have been collated in questionnaires, but maybe we can also talk to individuals informally and see things from their point of view.

5 research action needed for #4 (e.g. discuss changes with current suppliers, look for new suppliers)

Again, input from lots of different sources is really important. Looking at events in other areas, for example.  Crowd-sourcing ideas and suggestions from social media communities can also help.  There are so many great ideas out there and people are really happy to share.

6 identify new action points

This is where the creativity comes in, but where we also need a solid reality check.  It’s important to choose plans which are actionable, concrete, achievable.  We can’t do everything at once. We can write a wish-list and then identify priorities, draw up a list of changes to implement this year, and keep the others in mind for future years.  It’s really important that the changes are sustainable.

So, these are just the first steps!  I’m interested to see how the next phase pans out. If you’re working, or have worked in a similar position, or have been to an ACEIA conference, or are interested in this topic in general, I’d love to hear from you. Please add a comment here or come and join the conversation over on our Facebook page.

I’m new in the world of event organization and I was really pleased to be invited to join a local conference organizing committee recently.  One of the aims of the committee is to review and extend the sustainability of the event from an environmental point of view. 

First a little background: FECEI, the national Spanish association of English language schools, have decided that they want to step up action on sustainability and that one of the areas they particularly want to focus on is the annual national and regional conferences. ACEIA, the Andalusian branch of the association, runs one of the biggest events in Spain. They decided that in order to coordinate changes as efficiently as possible, they needed to create a new post on the board, an environmental observer or coordinator, someone whose sole responsibility was to support the other areas in matters of environmental sustainability. As the vice president wisely pointed out, sometimes things don’t happen, no matter how much you may want them to, because there’s either nobody, or too many people, responsible.

My role, as environmental observer or coordinator, is to support and suggest and coordinate.  It’s my first time in the role, so I thought it might be interesting to chart our progress and write notes for myself as I go through this steep learning curve!

The first steps:

1 identify the main stakeholders

These will typically be the delegates, the sponsors, the venue and the speakers. Though others may emerge in the planning process.

2 identify and analyze current practices for each area in #1

It’s really useful to look at what’s happening already, across the whole event. We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Lots of great initiatives are already taking place behind the scenes. They may not be visible to the outsider. They may even not be visible to all the organisers, who may all be working on different areas. This can happen no matter how great the level of collaboration and communication.

3 decide which practices in #1 need updating

Some of the actions will be just fine. They worked well in the last event (and maybe many events before). People like and appreciate them.  There’s absolutely no need for change for change’s sake.  But there may still be a need to signpost these practices. Do the delegates realise that the association has negotiated discounts on public transport?  Do they realise that the venue has recently implemented a new sustainability policy?  Would it help to promote this in some way? 

4 discuss possible changes for each area in #3

Input here is important from lots of different points of view, from within the organising committee, but also from other stakeholders. Asking attendees and sponsors from previous events about their perceptions and experiences can be useful.  A lot of information will have been collated in questionnaires, but maybe we can also talk to individuals informally and see things from their point of view.

5 research action needed for #4 (e.g. discuss changes with current suppliers, look for new suppliers)

Again, input from lots of different sources is really important. Looking at events in other areas, for example.  Crowd-sourcing ideas and suggestions from social media communities can also help.  There are so many great ideas out there and people are really happy to share.

6 identify new action points

This is where the creativity comes in, but where we also need a solid reality check.  It’s important to choose plans which are actionable, concrete, achievable.  We can’t do everything at once. We can write a wish-list and then identify priorities, draw up a list of changes to implement this year, and keep the others in mind for future years.  It’s really important that the changes are sustainable.

So, these are just the first steps!  I’m interested to see how the next phase pans out. If you’re working, or have worked in a similar position, or have been to an ACEIA conference, or are interested in this topic in general, I’d love to hear from you. Please add a comment here or come and join the conversation over on our Facebook page.

Leave a Reply

Recent Posts

Guest post: Calculating your Conference’s Carbon Footprint (JALT)

A big thank you to the JALT(Japan Association for Language Teaching) Environmental Committee , Jennie Roloff Rothman (chair), Mark Brierley and Brent Simmonds for putting together this detailed and fascinating report on how they set about calculating the various aspects of conference organisation that contribute to the global carbon footprint of their national event in November 2019. A must-read for anyone looking to do the same with their event, ELT or otherwise.

Read Post »

World Wildlife Day 2020

In this short post, we share some ideas for how we can mark this special day in class and use it as an opportunity to encourage our students to appreciate the wonders and diversity of our natural world.

Read Post »
Scroll to Top