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In search of a greener conference (and products)

At Demo 09, some good first steps towards a more ecoconscious conference. Among those steps: photocopied programs and much less literature in the freebie bag.

PALM DESERT, Calif.--If you've been to a trade show in the last few years, you've probably seen some egregious examples of waste: freebie bags stuffed to the gills with literature that is guaranteed to be thrown away; slick, glossy programs; and no hint of post-consumer paper in sight.

At Demo 09 here, however, I saw some encouraging signs that conference organizers interested in improving their green cred might want to copy.

In the past, Demo has always filled its goodie bag with one of those slick, thick, bound conference programs. It's certainly useful during the event, but afterward it becomes just another to throwout--hopefully into recycling, but probably not in most cases. The same went for the various magazines and other literature that filled the bag, and even the bag itself.

At Demo 09, attendees got a conference program that seems to have been printed on a standard laser printer. This is just one step towards a greener conference. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

At other shows, this can be even worse. I've talked to conference organizers about this and they've basically thrown their hands up, saying that they are aware of how much waste the materials attendees get present, but that because sponsors insist their literature or other materials are included, there's little that can be done to cut down on the endless piles of paper, mint tins, bad pens, and other nonsense that is handed out at each and every confab.

Here at Demo this week, however, it seems that green is in. For starters, the formerly slick, bound program has been replaced by one that looks like it was printed on a standard laser printer and then stapled together. Much better, in my opinion, though I admit that it feels a little informal.

But I'm more than happy to deal with informality in order to cut down on the waste factor. And while they could have used a photocopier instead of a printer (in order to double-side the program), this is definitely a step in the right direction.

Other green innovations for the conference include more post-consumer materials in the goodie bag, and the bag itself is something attendees can hold on to and add to their collection of bags to use when grocery shopping back home. There was one glossy, high-quality magazine in the bag, however, so there's room for more improvement.

"It's not easy being green," said Demo director Chris Shipley. "But we're trying, maybe you've seen that in the conference materials."

Shipley said that Demo is offsetting 1,000 tons of CO2 emissions, enough to cover the carbon cost of powering the show, as well as much of the attendees' travel to and from Palm Desert. This is all good news, and something I'm happy to see, and I hope this is going to become the norm across the conference industry.

To bolster the green argument, Shipley then introduced the German company, eFormic, which has developed an interesting and impressive concept: the CO2-neutral label.

This is something I hope we start to see on packaging throughout the consumer goods industry. The label, which eFormic showed on the back of an orange juice container, has a code unique to a product that can then be entered on eFormic's Web site in order to get a host of information about the carbon cost of the production of the product.

CO2code, from eFormic, gives companies a way to inform the public about the carbon cost of the products they make. eFormic

By entering the code for, say, the orange juice, it is possible to see exactly how much CO2 was needed to make the product. The juice was responsible for seven ounces of CO2. But the eFormic site also then showcases what climate-improvement project can be joined in order to offset the carbon cost of producing the product. Visitors to the site can see, among other things, a Google map showing the location of such offset projects, as well as pictures of them.

Clearly, eFormic sees this as a value-add that companies looking to come across as greener than their competitors will put on their products. The benefits? Building costumer relationships and marketing opportunities, and giving companies a chance to enhance the public's perception of their social responsibility, eFormic argues.

And because everyone is cost-conscious these days, eFormic also argues that the cost of getting involved in this form of ecoconsciousness is inexpensive: as little as two cents per unit.

This is very good news, and I'm hopeful we'll start to see this kind of labeling (and the adjunct corporate attention to offsetting CO2 production) be as ubiquitous as the nutrition labeling on food products in the United States.

And as there is more and more green consciousness, I hope that we'll also see more conferences work to improve their efforts to cut down on the impact on the environment. We do have power to affect change, and if we work hard enough and fast enough, we may be able to turn things around and start to really address global warming.