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The green(er)ing of Web 2.0 Expo

A tech-centric conference makes the decision to try to do a better job of being environmentally conscious.

As someone who attends a fair number of conferences in many different cities, it's become painfully clear to me that, in general, the confabs' organizers have not yet climbed fully aboard the green train.

That is to say, conferences are often not the best examples of a focus on taking care of the environment.

For example, while I was told at the recent South by Southwest that its efforts to be green were improved from a year earlier, the endless sea of attendee bags on display--each with a small mountain of literature inside--was a visceral testament to the fact that it has a long way to go.

At South by Southwest 2008, there was a nearly endless sea of attendee bags, each of which was full of literature that would largely end up being tossed away. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

That's why I was pleased to see a post today on the official Web 2.0 Expo blog announcing that event's new attempts to address its impact on the environment.

Note: The Web 2.0 Expo is an official partner of CNET's Webware 100 Awards.

"It's a bit hard on the old conscience being employed in an industry (that) creates as much waste as the events industry," wrote Web 2.0 Expo general manager and co-chair Jennifer Pahlka. "Much is made of the carbon footprint of an event, but I'm well aware of an even more daunting measure, the ecological footprint, which looks at the sum total of resources used. Take a look at all that goes into producing an event the size of Web 2.0 Expo (including what our sponsors, exhibitors, and speakers bring) and you can either get depressed or try to tackle the problem. We're doing both... We have a long way to go, but I thought I'd share some of the changes we've implemented this year."

Among the changes Pahlka mentioned: Using 100 percent recycled materials for the program guide, attendee direct mail, attendee bag, and event signage; reducing the program guide by a third; recycling badges; providing water coolers and encouraging attendees to bring their own bottles; and more.

Of course, even Pahlka acknowledged that the efforts are only a start. And I do wonder how many attendees will bring their own bottles or recycle their program guides--another initiative.

"One thing I've become painfully aware of is that recycling is a good step, but not generating the waste in the first place is orders of magnitude more beneficial to the earth," Pahlka wrote. "That's why 'reduce' should always be the real goal. We're working with sponsors on further steps for reducing, and with our vendors on all three Rs. In some areas, we're aware we're taking risks. For instance, we've tried to limit the print run of the program guide this year, so there's a chance we'll run out if people don't follow our lead and leave their used guides for others to reuse. We hope you will all be tolerant of any errors we make in support of this effort."

Well, a start is a good thing, and I would love to see other confabs do the same thing. Or more.

Anecdotally, I heard that the Office 2.0 conference has put on a fully green event, though I couldn't find any direct evidence of that.

But if you've got good examples of conferences that are making impressive strides toward the greening of the industry, I'd like to hear about them. Please leave a comment or send me an email to daniel dot terdiman at cnet dot com.