Paperless Meetings Gain Ground

"Money talks," said Loriann White, speaking of the latest trend toward developing greener meetings by going paperless. White, cofounder and executive director of the Atlanta Green Meetings Council, conducts monthly meetings of about 250 attendees that no longer rely on paper. "The environmental angle has everyone on the bandwagon, but it also benefits the bottom line," said White.

"Our number-one initiative was to reduce the amount of paper at every monthly meeting," she said, "so we directed attendees to our website for vital information. We also use iPod downloads to distribute schedules and speaker information." The council saved more than $17,000 in annual printing costs.

"I [spend] a major amount of time [working] with two associations, and I use e-services 90 percent of the time," said Sue Fern of Palm Harbor, FL-based Event Pro-SSSS. "I am working with them to get their bylaws brought up to date so that votes and other information can go via e-mail." Fern uses e-marketing for her own company: "I reduced the cost of print and postage by over $1,000 a year—with better results."

Others have noted changes in the paper stream. Said Terri Maurer, speaker and owner of Cleveland-based Maurer Consulting Group, "In years past, as the NeoCon International Contract Furniture Show at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago neared, my mailbox filled with all sorts of letters, brochures, and postcards inviting me to specific showrooms. This year, I have seen less than five of them."

Despite the benefits of going paperless, however, the paper habit sometimes dies hard. "We go round and round with the groups we work with that are used to sending out [flyers]," said Peter Goren, program manager of the Florida Green Lodging Program, a state agency. "They send out all these notices, but people never see them; they're trashed immediately. E-mail tends to be seen."

A relatively low-tech solution, but one's that growing in popularity, is to distribute conference literature on logo-emblazoned USB flash drives, which, at $2 to $3 apiece in bulk, are cheap compared with reams of stapled paper, boxes of printed glossy folders, and staff stuffing time. "We went paperless at trade shows last fall, distributing all collateral on USB drives," said Shannon McCorison, manager of global events for Denver-based ProLogis Corp., a Fortune 500 facilities management company. "Not only does it save paper, it allows us to distribute more material in a variety of formats (PDF, flash, MPEG, etc). The USB is reusable, and because of the quantity we order, the cost of the USB pre-loaded with over nine items is equal to two printed brochures. Our industry is a little old school, but people were excited to receive this format and saw the USB as a gift."
As a last-ditch effort to save trees—if not money—meetings could use notepads from recycled paper. Even so, "I'm not keen on notepads," said Goren, urging planners and hotels not to bother distributing them at conference sessions. "If the attendee didn't bring a notepad to write, he probably wasn't going to write anything anyway."

Originally published June 16, 2008