Are greener conferences sustainable?

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Today’s Edmonton Journal published an article about the opening of the ICLEI World Congress. It starts mentioning that there were two things notably missing in this conference: water bottles and plastic grab bags. “Organizing a green event requires that you ask yourself about sustainability with every decision that you make, –said Cliff Higuchi, chair of the ICLEI local host committee’s green team, and assistant general manager of the Shaw Conference Centre.” (Full article)

I celebrate that the city is getting there in crucial issues like sustainable futures. However the first decision to make would be perhaps whether running or not an international conference of such characteristics in a relatively remote place like Edmonton, with people coming from 57 different places around the world. The ICLEI has been organized worldwide since 1990. Has the carbon footprint produced by the transportation of 628 delegates, plus general attendance, press, etc. been considered in this equation?

The venue, the Shaw Center, offers Wi-Fi for all the guests in an effort to bring a state-of-the-art event. We have a large menu of existing technologies today (if not back in the 90’s) to speculate that a “physically local” although “virtually international” conference could be designed successfully, moreover if our conference is about being sustainable. I wonder if organizers, delegates and eventually designers and other professionals involved in ICLEI have thought about this. Some design students at U of A have.

In the last DES 494 design class, students dealt with these challenges by making great improvements in assessing and reducing the use of materials, affecting design decisions, and considering the option of  “no-travel” while still running an international event.

How long does it take leaders to learn from the ones they are leading?

Image: work done by Cameron McRae

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