As technical professionals, IEEE members understand sustainability as an important engineering design principle, but like most folks, may not be aware how they can apply that principle to everyday life activities, such as running a local IEEE volunteer meeting or event. Sustainability doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, and it won’t diminish the attendee experience if done thoughtfully. Here are several tips for IEEE volunteers looking to run local in-person events, meetings or conferences that are more sustainable.
Sustainability starts with the venue selection. Pick a venue that minimizes local travel and that fits your needs, and try to avoid reserving excess capacity. Larger rooms require more energy to heat, cool and clean. Of course, thought should also be given to public health considerations in this time of pandemic, as you don’t want your space to be crowded or for your attendees to feel ill at ease.
Ask caterers to source food locally to minimize energy required for transportation and storage. Not only will the food be more sustainable, but it should also be fresher and more delicious. Also make sure that the caterer will present the food using reusable or recyclable containers, glasses and mugs instead of plastic cups, and real silverware, not plastic utensils. Of course, cleanup of multi-use items requires energy, so ordering foods that don’t require utensils is another way to improve sustainability.
There is also a tendency to overfeed attendees, resulting in lots of wastage. By cutting back or eliminating food options during breaks and moderating the size of meals, you will end up with less food in the trash, and your attendees will be more attentive, instead of in a digestion-induced daze. One easy change is to skip bottled water in favor of bubblers or carafes.
Try to avoid single-use items, including freebies and give-away items, especially if the items are not recyclable or biodegradable. Ditch the paper, and distribute program materials electronically. Ask exhibitors to eliminate the give-away items like pens and brochures that typically end up in the trash can. Forgoing table liners and covers is another option. If you need table covers, linen is better than plastic, but even linen covers will need to be cleaned for reuse.
Other single-use items you can avoid include event-specific signage and awards. Using generic signage designed for reuse is a good option. You can also project backdrops against a wall or flat surface using an LCD projector or light system. At award ceremonies, it is customary to present each recipient their specific award. But often this means shipping the award to the event and then making arrangements with the recipient to reship it to their preferred address, which increases the amount of handling and risk of breakage. Consider using an award prop to make the presentation and then arranging for your vendor to ship the actual award directly to the recipient.
Of course, keeping a local event local is another helpful way to improve sustainability. If you are expecting people to travel significant distances to attend the event, consider encouraging them to participate virtually or consider taking the event to them, if that means less total travel is required.
IEEE offers a detailed guide on Event Sustainability that covers these and other topics, which you can access at: https://ieeemce.org/planning-basics/ieee-event-sustainability-guide/