Social Responsibility FAIL: can we do better?

Two international retailers, H&M and Wal-Mart, just got a pie in the face of their (stated?) strong Corporate Social Responsibility programs. Today’s news from the New York Times revealed that bags and bags and bags of unsold, post-holiday clothing stock was destroyed before being discarded, ostensibly to prevent it from being re-sold.  A saavy business maneuver or ‘ Social Responsibilty: FAIL’?

Items destroyed and discarded represent huge waste (cost) not only to staff time, landfill costs, etc, but to both brands, neither of which needs the outpouring of bashing which has been the result.  While costly in terms of wasted resources, this incident represents huge lost opportunity.  A well organized initiative to donate these items would have avoided cost and boosted consumer trust in each brand.

These incidents have special resonance for large meetings and events, as well as other businesses.  We seem geared to see disposal, rather than planned donation, as the preferred method to clear out exhibition halls, registration desks and store rooms.  What meeting planner would not feel remorse if journalists splashed their event on the front page for  insensitive, irresponsible waste practices?  Why wait for such embarrassment before taking action to integrate a plan to donation usable materials post event?

As part of planning their European Offshore Wind event in Stockholm last fall, EWEA partnered with Majblomman, a Swedish NGO supporting children, to  donate congress bags.  Similar efforts are being observed by other meeting planners and venues, so the idea is neither new or difficult to understand, just rare in its occurrence.

We’re better than this, people!

In addition to the previously mentioned (here, tooGMIC Trash Challenge, Please share your thoughts, examples and resources for expanding on the idea to donate usable resources.

Wanted: Waste measurement!

Sustainable events require meeting planners to ascertain the amount of waste produced during the course of the event.  Like the swimmer who has no idea if they are doing well until the clock measures their performance, planners need measurement to gauge the effectiveness of their efforts.

bound for the landfillAssuming that some degree of waste diversion (product re-use, recycling, composting or donation) is a potential for any event, we now need to show that it is not only possible, but necessary.

The Green Meetings industry Council Trash Challenge is an industry initiative intended to ignite a movement amongst planners and industry suppliers to overcome the barriers to basic sustainability measurements: Waste management data capture can be confusing for planners.  Because it’s confusing, they don’t ask.  When they don’t ask, venues don’t help or do not develop systems to provide clients such data.

The planners who say that such measurements are difficult are the same planners that know intimately 4 different meal counts, transfer times for shuttles, hotel commission percentages and how much a canceled exhibitor will affect their budget.   I make the argument that if you can ask a hotel for a rooming list, you can ask a venue for waste data.

Meanwhile, venues and hotels suffer huge expense for waste removal   I further assert that t is hardly wrong or audacious to ask your event suppliers to help capture event waste data.  Your efforts to track and reduce waste is a benefit to them and the effort to work together can be positioned as a partnership in smarter practices.

If venues resist, recall that they are often influenced by the successful performance of other locations.  Many examples exist:  San Francisco’s Moscone Center,  and Portland’s Doubletree Hotel are just two event suppliers who experience cost savings and positive PR as a result of sustainable waste management processes.

Measurement is both possible and necessary.

The Trash Challenge needs your participation.

Examples and ideas and suggestions?  Please share..

Plan to waste, waste of planning?

Thankfully, a great deal of excitement has surfaced regarding recycling and the improved capture and diversion of waste at conferences and events. Still, all this focus on ‘end of pipe’ solutions mustn’t distract us from re-invigorating efforts to “Re-Use” before we “Re-Cycle”, where possible, anyway.

Rather than plan to recycle all waste, consider items that can be re-used and given new, useful lives. Consider the millions of pounds of banner material that gets discarded (read: landfilled) worldwide every year. What if meeting planners partnered with companies like the innovative, hip and cool Red Flag Design in Vancouver, BC?

Red Flag Design is on a mission to “explore the vast potential laying dormant in the unconsidered applications of recycled materials”. Their Alternate Use Material (AUM) is a line of products which feature brilliant uses of banner material that is expertly, fashionably rendered into space saving bags.

Re-using can have community benefits as well. Inspired organizations like Portland, Oregon’s School and Community Re-Use Action Project, or S.C.R.A.P. are an award winning collaborative who find brilliant creative uses for foam core (avoid it’s purchase in the first place, please!), compact discs, wine corks, magazines and countless other things.

More examples exist and are, as usual, limited only by your persistence and creativity. It is so important to track the waste associated with your event and to identify goals and actions that will support your efforts to reduce waste through better planning (Re-Think and Re-duce), donations (Re-use) and diversion (Re-cycle and Composting). Measure the waste you divert from the landfill and record your results as part of the Trash Challenge!

Plan to succeed, not waste!

GMIC launches the Trash Challenge

If you concerned like we are about the amount of trash created and recycled at events then you may be interested to join the GMIC Trash challenge.

The Million Tons of Trash Challenge was conceived by leaders and members of the Green Meetings Industry Council during the 2009 Action=Sustainability Conference.  The purpose of the Challenge is to build momentum and awareness toward the ultimate goal of reducing the environmental footprint of meetings and events, thereby building a more sustainable industry.

Download our Earth Day Press Release Here

The trash action challenge is possible through a collaboration of industry thought leaders from the GMIC, The Carbon Consultancy, Oracle, Attendee Management Solutions, Meeting Strategies Worldwide, EnviRelation, American Express Business Travel, Sustainable Solutions by Design, The Conference Publishers and MCI Group. For more information on joining or sponsoring the challenge, please send an email to, or visit


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