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Green Your Conference

By David Krantz

BALTIMORE (Nov. 13, 2012) — Conferences offer the opportunity to meet new people, exchange ideas and learn about new developments in your fields. They also tend to be very wasteful of natural resources — but they don’t have to be. The following tips would help to green conferences of all sizes — even ones as large as the World Zionist Congress and the Jewish Federations’ General Assembly.


Nix the waste

Plastic cups, plastic bottles, plastic cutlery, plastic plates, plastic coffee stirrers — we use all of these things once and then toss them, a clear violation of the commandment of baal tashchit — the commandment not to waste. The solution? Forget disposables and go with reusables.


At this point, many Americans own their own reusable water bottles, so you don’t need to supply conference-goers with them. Instead, use the money for other green projects and ask people to bring their own bottles with them for the conference. Perhaps it’s time to revive the old Yemenite Jewish custom of traveling with your own water cup.


If you absolutely need to use something only once, at least use something that’s compostable — something that will biodegrade, like paper or compostable plasticware made from plants such as corn or sugar cane. However, if you use the latter, it’s especially important to collect compostable waste at the conference using an industrial composter. While paper returns easily back to the earth, most compostable plastics only biodegrade when exposed to the extremely high temperatures reached inside industrial composting piles. Smaller composting piles, like those found in your local community garden, tend not to get warm enough to biodegrade most compostable plastics.


Either way, conference organizers need to pay closer attention to waste management. Arrange for compost and recycling bins next to every trash can — and tell people about them. Ensure there’s good signage. Make announcements in advance and at the conference to let people know how waste will be handled and why. If you expect low compliance, assign volunteers to politely monitor the bins and help people choose the right bin for their waste.


Of course, there’s also a lot of leftover conference food that never even makes it to people’s plates. Arrange in advance for a soup kitchen to receive leftovers, so they don’t go to waste.

And when the conference ends, collect the name-badge holders to reuse at your next conference.

Location, location, location

Choose a location that enables people to travel easily by foot or public transportation between their lodging and the conference. Select a hotel or conference center that shares your green values. Facilities that utilize energy-efficient lighting, low-flow water fixtures and green cleaning products have demonstrated a commitment to sustainable practices.

Revamp transportation

Coordinate a rideshare so that registrants can carpool together to get to the conference. Plan events in close proximity to one another so that people can walk. For farther distances, when you offer buses, also offer bicycles. By asking registrants to select their transportation preferences in advance, you can calculate the number of bicycles that you would need in the same way that you calculate the number of buses needed. Designate bike-ride leaders to help ensure the biking caravan reaches its destination quickly and safely.

Source locally

Transportation is a major contributor to climate change, but it isn’t just the transportation of participants that releases greenhouse gases — it’s the transportation of food and supplies as well. To cut the event’s carbon footprint, source locally from regional organic farms and other suppliers.

Forget the meat

The biggest impact you can make may be the most difficult: Skip the meat. While transportation is a big contributor to climate change, meat production and consumption is even bigger. Kosher and non-kosher alike, meat is actually the biggest contributor to climate change in the world, according to the United Nations. So if you really want a green conference, forgo the meat.

Go carbon neutral

As much as you may reduce the environmental impact of the conference, it still will have a sizeable carbon footprint, particularly if participants are flying in to attend. For that which you can’t eliminate, offset, preferably through carbon-mitigating projects in Israel. You can use a web program to calculate the volume of greenhouse gases that will be released as a result of your conference — and the participants’ travel to it — and pay for the same amount of greenhouse gases to be removed from the atmosphere through green projects.

Document and measure

How effective were your greening efforts? You won’t know for certain unless you measure. Calculate the amount that’s recycled, composted and given away to the soup kitchen. Keep track of the number of people who walk, bike and carpool. Celebrate your success and use it as a benchmark for improving next year.



Follow up



David Krantz is the president and chairperson of Aytzim: Ecological Judaism.

This piece is part of the Jewish Energy Guide, published in partnership with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.



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