The greening of the conference -- groups meeting at IU take the plunge
When Naomi Spector started planning an annual gathering on teaching world languages to young children, she couldn't stop thinking about all the foam cups, aluminum soft-drink cans, plastic utensils and paper plates consumed at the typical conference -- not to mention the reams of paper.
For a meeting focused on connecting with and appreciating the world in all its diversity, producing all that waste didn't seem right. "We are an organization that talks about being responsible to the world," Spector said. "It just seemed to me we should practice what we preach."
So she and other organizers embarked on planning a "green conference" for the meeting -- the 2010 annual conference for the Indiana Network for Early Language Learning (IN-NELL) and Bridges: Children, Languages, World, which took place Oct. 2 at the IU School of Education.
They would minimize the use of paper, providing conference documents and presentation materials in electronic form that participants could follow on computers. And to every extent possible, they would refrain from using throw-away food service items.
Spector, an IN-NELL board member and the project coordinator for Bridges, a project of IU's Center for the Study of Global Change, said she expected it would feel a little awkward for conference participants to go cold turkey, so to speak, on paper and hand-outs.
"We're just going to have a nice, leisurely day, and we will work through it," she said as the conference approached. "We all need to start getting used to this."
But planning a green conference turned out to be easier than the organizers had anticipated. They got help and advice from the IU Office of Sustainability, which has taken a similar approach in organizing its own events. The Indiana Memorial Union, which provided permanent lunch ware, has also benefited from campus sustainability projects, including a "Greening of the IMU" planning and brainstorming session led by the Office of Sustainability. And Bloomington Bagel Co., which provided a slow-food movement menu, had implemented its own green initiatives, including reusing, recycling and composting waste.
Conducting paperless sessions, relying on PowerPoint slides and projectors instead of handouts, simply required a different type of planning and preparation. Presenters had to make sure they allowed time to upload their documents, Spector said. Having fast computers with plenty of memory was essential.
And providing lunch and snacks with food served on real plates and drinks in real cups went off without a hitch. At the end of the day, organizers packed up the plates and linens and took them from IU's Wright Education Building back to the IMU to be washed.
"I think the most interesting thing about 'going green' was how it largely went unnoticed by attendees," Spector said after the conference ended. "It just became a part of the background, even when there was a bump or two."
Was it worth it? Spector calculated that the conference saved 13,000 sheets of paper with its approach, a little more than the equivalent of one tree. That may not seem like a lot, but think about how many conferences take place at IU and in Bloomington during the course of a year. More importantly, think of the message that's sent by re-using resources rather than wasting them.
"When you work with children, you're not just teaching them a language," Spector said. "You're teaching them a lifestyle. If you teach them to be careless, they will be careless. If you teach them to be conscious of the impact of their actions, they will be."