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Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Greener Future for Conferences

Last week, I spoke on the plenary panel of the Green Business Summit of the Wharton DC Club. In response to a question from the audience, keynote speaker Kathleen Matthews, executive vice president for Marriott International, outlined some ideas about the role of the hotel industry in greener conferences of the future.

I am part of a team organizing a conference for the British-American Business Association in Washington, DC, in April 2009, and we have been grappling with the appropriate steps to take to ‘green’ a conference. The steps one can take seem to be overwhelmed by the emissions from the number of people who are going to travel long distances to attend.

One could envisage the conference of the future is not anchored to a single location. Instead, working with a hotel/conferencing organization that has incorporated an appropriate ICT infrastructure, one could offer participants two or three locations from which to attend the event, while preserving the ambiance of a conference. Each location would provide a sophisticated ‘presence’ type solution, consisting of a combination of conferencing and broadcast technologies.

Speakers and attendees alike could pick from whichever was their nearest location. Speakers and audience viewing and hearing each other would be replicated with large, appropriately-placed screens. The technology is fairly straightforward. The success factor is in a well thought-out operating model that makes it no more complex for the conference organizer to run the event than if it were all at a single location.

As an attendee, networking would be ‘in-person’ with people who had chosen to attend in your location. Harder to replicate, although not impossible, would be lining up to speak to a remote panelist privately after their session, and networking with attendees in other locations. But that might be a reasonable compromise for being able to attend the event without having to travel nearly so far.

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