I talked with Mary Munat, or "Green Mary", who was an Event Waste Reduction Consultant to Aspiration Tech about how you can green your next tech conference or event.
1. Plan ahead with the caterer. For example, can the caterers pick up all of the serving trays, rather than leave plastic trays to be tossed in the garbage.
Mary talked with Aspiration Tech and the caterer a week in advance about using reusable supplies such as real coffee mugs, cups, and utensils, paper plates, and wooden coffee stir sticks. Stay away from plastic products.
2. Find out if there is a compost facility nearby. If you compost and do thorough recycling you can reduce your waste by 95%.
3. Bring in local filtered water and/or put filters on taps. Mary brings in five-gallon jugs of local filtered water and a dispenser to many events, even 250,000 person events. Do away with plastic water bottles.
4. Use a web site like Spaceshare to arrange carpooling and house-sharing. Offer bike valet parking. Point attendees to an ecological footprint web site that will help them tally their travel footprint. Can they travel in a way that lessens their environmental impact?
5. Clearly mark waste stations for what Mary calls, “attendee self-sorting.” Ask people to compost all of their paper and food scraps first, then to recycle (find out what can be recycled in your area) and then trash for the landfill. The landfill bin can even be a small can to symbolize how little should go in it.
6. Find ways to reuse. Ask attendees to bring their own tiffin boxes, water bottles and napkins.
Greening your event can cost a little more, but there is savings too. According to Mary, the Oakland Coliseum has converted to all biodegradable supplies and the staff goes through the Coliseum in three sweeps: first compost, then recycling, and then garbage. She estimates that they are saving $48,000 a year in tipping fees that they would be paying to take the garbage to a landfill. Recycling costs half as much as it does to get rid of garbage.
She suggests offsetting the cost of greening your event with sponsorship that wants to be affiliated with technology and the environment.
If you need help greening your next tech event, you can contact Green Mary at www.green-mary.com. Kudos to Aspiration for not just making the world a better place with their work with nonprofits and technology, but for also being a green tech event role model.