Big turnout, small impact
Today’s blog post comes from our colleagues Gina Broel and Eden Mack who are on Microsoft’s events team and are responsible for facilitating some of the company’s largest events. Their mission? To ensure Microsoft event planners, vendors and local communities work hand-in-hand to integrate sustainability into events and communicate the value of this work back into Microsoft’s corporate environmental strategy. Enjoy!
Summertime for most people means sun, outdoor fun and vacations. But for the Microsoft Events Team, it also means the busiest time of the year. In June and July alone, the team typically reaches nearly 50,000 in-person attendees with its various conferences & events. These events – some of which have up to 15,000 to 20,000 attendees – are not small productions, and neither is the effort to reduce the environmental impact.
Beginning in 2008, the Microsoft Events Team set out to reduce the environmental impact and increase the social responsibility of its largest events through the Microsoft Sustainable Events Initiative (SEI). And the results have been impressive – for instance, just from 2010-2011 alone, the team increased recycling and diversion rates by 30 percent and reduced waste per person by 31 percent. In 2011, these events avoided nearly 30 tons (approximately three semi-trucks full) of waste. Of the waste that was generated, 66 percent—the equivalent of 262 tons—(approximately 26 trucks) was recycled, composted, or donated.
Here are just a few examples of how those results were achieved:
- Partnering for sustainability: Since practices vary greatly from one venue and city to the next, we work closely with vendors and venues in the planning stage to maximize what can be done and what we can measure. Working together to acquire composting service in locations which previously didn’t have it, and improving existing recycling practices, helps our events and furthers our partners’ efforts to increase their own green practices. We also stay active in the sustainable events conversation through the Green Meeting Industry Council.
- Less waste: Wherever possible we try to eliminate or reduce unnecessary stuff, which conserves water, fossil fuels, resources and greenhouse gas emissions. Actions like replacing individual bottled water with water coolers, utilizing china versus disposable serviceware, and reducing printed materials, signs and SWAG make a difference. Annually, our events now keep approximately 350,000 plastic bottles from use.
- Smart and innovative procurement: Where we do need materials, we try to close the loop by using recycled and recyclable content, or identifying innovative ways to use leftover materials, such as utilizing reclaimed signage from previous events to create bags and other SWAG. “Up-cycling” has resulted in savings of both fabric—on the order of 315,000 square feet—and the hundreds of thousands of gallons of water that would have been used in producing new fabric. Utilizing technology: We have been able to conserve resources by implementing mobile websites and apps to reduce paper waste. Other technology solutions have included providing virtual data and content capabilities to reduce the amount of equipment needed onsite and utilizing digital technology to help extend the reach of our events and reduce travel where face-to-face meeting may not be possible.
- Local donations and community engagement: Social responsibility is a big part of our sustainability efforts. In addition to organizing meaningful volunteer activities, we look for opportunities to give back to local communities. In 2010 and 2011 we donated approximately 30,000 meals and thousands of leftover event supplies to food banks, schools and youth organizations.
Managing events, and successfully increasing their sustainability, is truly the epitome of a team effort – there are multiple stakeholders in the mix, from internal staff to hundreds of vendors, suppliers, cities, venues, hotels and more. We make the effort because Microsoft’s commitment to sustainability is present across all the company’s operations, including our meetings and events. There is certainly more work to be done, but we continue to keep our collective environmental responsibility in mind and work with venues and vendors to choose event planning options that decrease our environmental impact.