I've been attending tech conferences from the past 10 years and have always been dumbfounded by the mountains of paper these events waste. I would wager most of the show guides, press releases, product brochures, and expo floor maps end up in a landfill instead of being recycled. Yet as the "green movement" gains support in the corporate world, many businesses and organizations are at least trying to reduce their waste output.
At CTIA Wireless 2008, conference attendees were asked to join the green effort by placing old show badges, unwanted show materials, and even old cell phones in collection bins placed around the Las Vegas Convention Center. Beyond getting attendees involved, CTIA touted their own green initiatives, such as printing materials on recycled paper, switching to a single-piece badge instead of a three-piece design, encouraging exhibitors to deliver material electronically, and even asking the convention facility to use biodegradable materials in the concession areas.
I'm glad CTIA is making an effort to reduce wastes and recycle, but I think they're missing at least one opportunity to lessen their environmental impact—stop printing the massive CTIA Show Program and Directory. Even if the show guide is printed on recycled paper, I would imagine that most will end up in the trash bin and not a recycling center.
I didn't have a chance to weigh the CTIA Wireless 2008 tome, but I didn't carry it back on my flight because I was worried it would put my checked bag over the airline's weight limit. And, there was no way I was carrying it back on my shoulder. Does the guide really need to be this large? I now the book is an advertising opportunity for exhibitors and show sponsors, but aren't there more effective ways to interact with attendees?
If CTIA wants my advice for improving their green initiative, here are my suggestions for next year's Show Program and Directory:
- Print a much smaller book: Do we really need a bio of every keynote speaker and full-page vendor ads? Until portable document readers are ubiquitous, attendees should receive some printed material, but it should be minimal-show floor map, session times, bus schedules, and so forth.
- Distribute the book electronically: Exhibitors already use USB flash drives to distribute press material, and you can purchase them in bulk for around $6 each, depending on capacity and how much data you want loaded. CDs, DVDs, and even the show Web site are also options.
- Let attendees customize their guides: This idea is a bit more radical. Allow attendees to print a customized program before and during the show. This would give attendees only the information important to them. I would wager that most attendees look at less than 10 percent of the full show program and directory.
Have an idea for reducing printed material at trade conferences? Think I'm way off base? Share you ideas and opinions in the discussion thread attached to this post.
Bill Detwiler has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.