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Friday, July 18, 2008

This Year’s Greenest Conferences

We are a little over halfway through the year, and I have spoken on sustainability-related issues at several industry conferences - links to most of these events are noted in the “on the road” section of this site.

Comparing subjectively the extent to which each conference sponsor attempted to mitigate the environmental impact of their event, CERES and Freedom to Connect stand out.

CERES took a comprehensive and sophisticated approach and went to great efforts to work across their vendors, the hotel, transport and catering providers to do so. But, CERES is a devoted sustainability organization, so it should come as no real surprise that they did this so effectively.

In contrast, Freedom to Connect has no specific environmental sustainability mission. The event is organized by David Isenberg and is a meeting of self proclaimed ‘netheads’ engaged with “Internet connectivity and all that it enables…shaped by universal connectivity and the plunging capital requirements of information production…changing many of our fundamental economic and social assumptions.”

However, there was plenty of room on the agenda to cover environmental issues; there was no conference literature at all in hard copy - agenda and all other conference details were provided in soft copy; the conference was connected on the web and so it was possible to attend remotely (the quality of the webcast was poorer than expected, but it was a great first step).

Most importantly, taking up most of a giant screen was a chat session. Attendees had their laptops open and were chatting - reflecting on what the speaker was saying. This provided the potential for an attendee to avoid travel and participate remotely almost as actively as many of the in-person attendees by watching the broadcast and joining in the live chat.

I am sure it helped to have a highly technically literate audience and a limited budget. It certainly left an impression on me of what is possible if we rethink our approach to conferences.

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