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IBM Goes Green for Conference

The company recycled thousands of pounds of material and went paper-free for much of the event

Big Blue went green last month as IBM's Information On Demand Conference embraced a slew of sustainable practices. The 6,000-person conference, held at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, recycled meeting materials, reduced waste and initiated a variety of other green efforts.

"We're running a Smarter Planet campaign as an IBM company and one of the big themes is Green & Beyond. The conference ties nicely with messages we are already delivering in the marketplace," said Maria Winans, vice president, information management brand and category marketing for IBM.

The meeting was coordinated by Atlanta, GA­based planners Meeting Consultants, Inc., which supplied the event with organic coffee, energy efficient light bulbs, refillable water dispensers, as well as cups and silverware made from recycled materials. Recycling bins throughout the conference collected 47,900 pounds of material‹helping contribute to a conference-wide recycling rate of 89.1 percent.

"We have put more emphasis on this because corporate clients are asking and expecting these types of initiatives," added Allyson Wagner, project specialist for Meeting Consultants, who oversaw the conference. "Green initiatives aren't a trend, they are a way of doing business and as we move into the future, it will be a standard."

Meeting Consultants will be calculating the waste recycled at this event into the nonprofit Green Meeting Industry Council's 2009 initiative Million Tons of Trash Challenge, which aims to divert one million tons of corporate event waste from landfills this year.

Leftover food was donated to local farms for animal feed and non-recyclable signage is being repurposed by event partner Greener Vegas, a local nonprofit, to be donated to other nonprofits, or art and drama departments at local schools.

"We give attendees conference bags where they carry personal belongings or laptops, all of the extra were donated to local schools in Las Vegas,² said Sarah Davidson, IBM's program director for the IOD Global Conference.

"Overall there were 325 extra conference bags. We've already gotten a thank you note from Lamping Elementary School. They have a program that allows students to borrow laptops, but they didn't have a method to transport them safely. Even though this was just a small piece of the green initiative, there are now 35 bags being used by elementary school students to bring laptops home."

The green practices also changed how conference organizers communicated with attendees. The customary post-session surveys were provided online instead of on paper after every session. This not only reduced paper use, but also allowed the event coordinators to immediately know the popularity of a session. Additionally, instead of using posters and physical signage, the conference relied on digital signage. According to Winans, by having only the basic information printed, it allowed for more flexibility in case last-minute changes had to be made.

The conference also provided many tools for attendees to eliminate their paper trail. iPod Touches were available on loan and Smart kiosks with Internet connection were set up around the event. "We wanted attendees to have access to information in whatever way was convenient for them, they could use their laptop, pda or the kiosks if they didn't have a device available. They didn't have to walk around with big booklet, which usually goes to waste."

The information that usually goes into the event booklet was instead posted on a central event SmartSite, which virtually provided conference materials, updated schedules and even a live news feed. The site also listed every attendee and allowed individuals to create profiles for social networking before, during and after the conference.

IBM noted that this conference showed how green practices can be done on a large scale and expect other major software group conferences to follow in the next year. Winans sees more opportunities to improve on the company¹s green successes this year. ³One place that we can still improve is with the booklets. We really didn't want to go 100 percent from full conference guide to not having anything, but now that we tested the reaction of the attendees we can do away with that brochure entirely."