Who: Claire Davidson
Where: African Agenda, a professional conference organizing company
Company website: www.africanagenda.com
Claire Davidson joined African Agenda in August 2008 as their conference and marketing coordinator. But she also holds another title: Greening Manager. This second position developed out of several conversations with Managing Director Keith Burton about their shared passion for protecting the environment. He already had a few green practices in place including recycling stations, turning off the geyser at night, but they both agreed they needed more. Soon, with the support from Keith and Kristen Tremeer, one of the other directors, Claire began evaluating the company’s work processes to see how they could reduce its environmental footprint, internally and externally.
Q: Why did you feel your company needed a ‘Green Policy’?
A: According to me, conferencing and the waste it generates is the reason why we needed to implement a green policy. An international conference can involve people flying in from all around the world to attend, there are usually paper registrations for each delegate, handbooks and paper research books to be printed, hotel and transport resources utilized, as well as paper, plastic, “stuff” in delegate bags and if there is a exhibition running parallel to the conference, the shipping and production of exhibition materials. In short, conferences can generate a lot of waste – African Agenda felt that we needed to implement a green policy to counter-act these wasteful elements of our sector.
Q: Which policy came first, internal or external?
A: They emerged at the same time essentially. The offices always had recycling bins and recycling collected, but the formalization of the internal office policy (including new elements such as composting, sustainable procurement) happened at the same time we launched the external conference policy.
Q: What companies did you look at for inspiration?
A: We didn’t really look at any other companies, but we did look at the guidelines from Convention Industry Council’s Green Meeting Report as inspiration for the structure of our external policy.
Q: What obstacles arose in implementing your Green Policy?
A: Hmm… well, it’s hard to manage the waste that accumulates from the exhibitions but we’ve discovered a lot of ways to reduce how much is produced. For example, early in the planning stages, we send out guidelines to the sponsors encouraging them to choose gifts that are functional, like reusable water bottles with their logo on them, and to choose gifts that are environmentally-friendly, like pencils made from recycled newspaper. In order to reduce the food and beverage waste, we have the leftovers collected by Feedback, a South African food redistribution program. We also started providing bulk items for condiments and beverages instead of those that are individually wrapped. We did have a reaction from a few international delegates who were dismayed that we were not serving bottled water – in order to overcome this we now place notices at water stations explaining that South Africa’s water is safe to drink and tastes good. Education is key!
Q: How much capital was needed to implement the new policies?
A: Really none. It just took time for me to evaluate our processes and figure out how we could change them to lessen our environmental impact.
Q: Have the budgets for conferences increased much now that you implement your ‘green policy’?
A: No, the difference in “greener” choices can often be cheaper (less packaging, less bottled water, choosing locally produced gifts that don’t have to be shipped from a far location). We have found that often being “green” saves our clients money! Occasionally we will find that some items, like eco-friendly banners, are marginally more expensive than standard ones, but overall these few occasions are far between. Overall, there is little difference when calculating to “go green” in the budget.
Q: How do your clients react to your ‘Green Policy’?
A: From the very beginning, we provide the client with a copy of our Green Policy so they know what’s going on. It’s much easier to incorporate the ‘green’ strategies from the start than to go back and weave them into what we’ve already organized. After the conference, we provide the client with a case study that includes the effects of our ‘green policy’ and we’ve received a lot of positive feedback.
Q: What advice do you have for other companies looking to create a Green Policy?
A: Figure out the largest impact areas and break them down into a document so you can see what you can do to improve. Breaking them down into manageable areas makes it so much easier to succeed.
For more information about African Agenda or to see their Green Policy, visit www.africanagenda.com.