REDUCING PAPER USE at events can be as difficult as making major lifestyle changes. Both require a real shift in mindset. Companies like Oracle and Microsoft are encouraging change by rethinking the need for thick paper show books and embracing digital methods of information delivery at its events through on-site kiosks, computers and mobile devices like smartphones.
But it’s not without its challenges. One is accommodating folks that haven’t made the cultural shift to electronic formats and who prefer to navigate their experience using a printed agenda. Another is the inability to control how partners, like vendors and exhibitors, operate. In this area, both companies are setting new rules and working more closely with their partners to come up with solutions. In the long run, Oracle and Microsoft’s objective is to go as paperless as possible without sacrificing the attendee experience.
What solutions are these two “solutions” companies coming up with to achieve their long-term goal? EM examines:
Though Oracle has been making strides toward greening its annual OpenWorld event for several years, in February it took another giant step forward by creating a Green Virtual Team before the 2009 event, held Oct. 11-15 in San Francisco. The team is made up of internal Oracle stakeholders and key vendors, like the Moscone Center (where the event is held) and the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau. The team established some key performance indicators, paper being one of them, and created a baseline for both the pre-planning phase as well as at the event.
One way Oracle reduces paper usage at the event is by condensing its paper conference guide each year and moving supplemental information online. Over the last three years it has gone from printing 22,600,000 pieces of paper for its show guides to this year reducing that number to 2,925,000 pieces—a ten-fold decrease. “We understand that there are segments of our audience that haven’t made that cultural shift to an electronic format,” says Paul Salinger, vp-marketing at Oracle. “What we have done as a kind of interim step is provide places on site where people can access our virtual collateral rack where some printers are available for print on demand if attendees want to have paper materials then and there.”
Reducing paper usage has had a positive ripple effect on Oracle’s green goals overall. Between 2008 and 2009, it reduced energy use from 1,455,008 megajoules to 1,146,130; water use from 496,253 gallons to 316,934; and CO2 emissions from 147,936 to 120,073 pounds. “If we can reduce all of those areas sort of simultaneously then it gets us closer and closer to the ideal of a zero waste, carbon neutral kind of event,” says Salinger.
Microsoft’s sustainability efforts at its Convergence event in 2009 garnered it a BS 8901 certification, a sustainable management system developed specifically for the events industry that rates companies based on individual key performance indicators. Paper reduction factors into Microsoft’s objectives, and like Oracle, it juggles attendees’ need for paper with digital options. At the Convergence event, Microsoft surveyed its attendees on the value of its printed conference guide and a mini guide stuffed into attendees’ lanyards.
The attendees— customers, partners and industry experts—responded in favor of the printed guides so Microsoft kept them. It did, however, print only attendee-relevant information; speaker bios and deeper dives into other subject areas were posted online before and after the event. It reduced its conference guide from 100 pages in 2008 to 96 last year (the pocket guide stayed the same). The expo guide reduced its page count from 47 to three. Overall, the company reduced printing by 35 percent.
Microsoft also peppered computers throughout the event where folks could obtain information digitally. Like Oracle, these stations have printers for attendees that still prefer hard copy, but in 2009 the company saw a 28 percent reduction in printing at the stations. It could be attributed to attendees accessing info via their compatible smartphones. “We don’t want to just eliminate print materials altogether, but it’s thinking through how we can reduce paper logically and potentially deliver in a better and alternative way,” says Gina Broel, senior event marketing manager at Microsoft. “I think there are some great mobile and web apps that we are starting to see that make it really easy for attendees to access information and resources at their fingertips, so that’s an area we are trying to focus on more.”
The company also provides its sponsors with USB sticks to encourage them to hand out materials electronically. Currently it’s working on a virtual version of the event, not to replace it, but so its content can be accessed online at any time. Both companies suggest switching out paper signage for electronic signage; it reduces paper usage and is more efficient. Also, ask attendees at registration if they would like to opt out of receiving any hardcopy materials on site. When printing is unavoidable opt for post-consumer waste recycled paper and non-toxic soy-based inks. EM