45 Ways to Use Technology to Green Meetings
By Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP
This article is available in Spanish. Este artículo está disponible en español.
It is getting easier being green. The move to make meetings more environmentally-friendly is finally taking hold and meeting professionals are working together to reduce, recycle, and reuse to dramatically improve the environmental impact of events.
Technology can help in this effort reducing paper and significantly improving efficiency along the way. Here are some of the many ways it can:
Before the meeting:
1. Electronic databases of meeting facilities
Paper meeting facility directories and brochures have filled meeting planners’ file cabinets for years. Far more complete, searchable and free databases of meeting venues are available online (examples:www.mpoint.com,www.cvent.com,www.sitevisit.com) eliminating the need for printing, mailing and storing all of this paper.
2. Electronic Request for Proposals (RFPs) for securing meeting space
“Flat-file” Word documents are routinely mailed, faxed or emailed by planners to venues when meeting space is needed. These “paper-based” methods must be re-entered into a venue’s system before responding. This takes time and reduces reliability. Web-based means of requesting and booking meetings space are available such as www.starcite.com. Meeting Site Resources (www.meetingsites.net) is also doing this using fully APEX-compliant standards.
3. Online meetings space booking
Direct booking of meetings space completely through the contract stage is beginning to take hold at least for small, simple meetings. MeetingBroker (www.meetingbroker.com) and Worktopia (www.worktopia.com) are two companies providing web-based solutions reducing the need for paper to manage this.
4. Email promotion of meeting and events
Paper-based promotion of events or venues is so “last-century.” Novel email and web marketing can target audiences more directly and much less expensively than printing and mailing paper promotions.
5. Blog promotion of meetings and events
Blogs can be used to promote events (e.g. www.emergeblog.com) and to establish community in associations (http://www.mpiweb.org/cms/mpiweb/blog/blog_landingpage.aspx) without the use of paper.
6. Virtual site inspections
Interactive 360° views and interactive web maps of meeting facilities can help planners narrow down their options without visiting every potential meeting facility. This saves time and reduces travel cost and environmental impact. Good examples are http://www.swan-dolphin.com/ipixhtml/360tour.htmland http://www.mtccc.com/imapdata/mtcc.html.
7. APEX standards (www.conventionindustry.org/apex) are moving to reduce inefficient paper-based methods of communication between planners and suppliers by developing electronic standards for RFPs, meeting site profiles, meeting specifications, post event reports, terminology and contracts.
8. Electronic meeting specifications
Electronic date interchange (EDI) is much more efficient than paper to transmit meeting specifications. Currently most meeting planners will send “flat-file” meeting specification documents (i.e. Word) to venues. These need to be printed and re-entered into the venue’s property management system to generate event orders that are printed out, mailed to and signed by the meeting planner. If both sides can be on the same page electronically, it will reduce the need for paper and substantially increase speed, effort and reliability. It also makes any changes or updates much easier to manage. One of the goals of APEX is to provide the standards to do this. In the meantime, when both planners and venues are using Ungerboeck (www.ungerboeck.com), EDI can be accomplished through this system.
9. Web-based abstract and speaker management
Some large meetings can have thousands of speakers. The selection and management of these speakers can be a huge task, requiring reams of paper and lots of staff and member time. Online abstract and speaker management systems can eliminate paper and significantly automate this process. Speaker bios, photos, course notes and AV requirements can also be collected. Examples of the many products out there are www.preciscentral.com and www.owpm.com.
10. Wikis for event planning
Online collaborative web sites (wikis) will work to help meeting planners and venues work together and to be on the same page electronically. For example, Google Docs (docs.google.com) provides free online, collaborative spreadsheets that can serve as excellent project management tools.
11. Paperless online registration and confirmation
Web registration is a “killer application” for the meetings industry. Compared to the old way of paper registration forms, manual processing of checks/credit cards, and mailing of confirmations, the reduction of cost and paper is 90% or more, while at the same time increasing customer service and reliability. More than 200 attendee management products are linked at www.corbinball.com/bookmarks.
12. Online housing and room block management
Managing room blocks (especially for large, citywide events) often is a highly paper/fax intensive task that does not give the meeting planners, venues or convention/visitors bureaus a good, real-time view of what was happening. Online room block management tools, such as Passkey (www.passkey.com) and Travel Planners (www.tphousing.com) or those provided through web-based attendee management solutions such as Certain (www.certain.com), Cvent (www.cvent.com), eMeetingsOnline (www.emeetingonline.com), and ePly (www.eply.com) and many others can help manage these blocks electronically and much more efficiently. Related tasks such as roommate matching can also be accomplished using these tools.
13. Electronic travel management and e-ticketing
The airlines have been pushing web-based booking and ticking of travel arrangements for sometime due to substantially reduced costs compared to paper ticketing. Web-based tools for corporate travel management and event travel such as Cliqbook (www.Concur.com/Travel) can provide interactive self-booking tools for corporate meetings and events reducing both cost and paper as well.
14. Online incentive management
Incentive meetings are a great way to recognize salespeople who meet business goals. Web-based tools such as www.incentivelogic.com can help employers and employees track progress and increase the impact of these incentive reward programs while reducing the paper needed to manage it.
15. Online project management
Online project management tools are helpful to manage meetings. An excellent and primarily free tool to do this is www.itensil.com including process flow management and electronic document management among several other capabilities saving paper and effort.
16. Buyer ratings for venues
Web-based buyer ratings of hotels such as www.tripadvisor.com are already widely used. Similarly, web sites using meeting planner rating of venues (such as www.meetingsintelligenceexchange.com) may be used – eliminating the need for less efficient paper-based evaluation tools.
17. Electronic contracts and digital signatures
Although not widely used, the ability to sign documents electronically is available (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_signature) and should be used to eliminate the express mailing of multiple copies of paper contracts.
18. Room diagramming
To-scale room diagramming for events can insure meeting planners are getting exactly what they are expecting while communicating to the venue exactly how rooms should be set up (a picture is worth a thousand words). Fully web-based tools such as Active Matrix (http://www.meetingmatrix.com/products_activematrix.asp) can do this completely online instead of using paper.
19. Exhibit sales and floor plan management
Some tradeshow floor plans are still managed with a large sheet of paper and whiteout. Electronic tools such as www.expocad.com and www.a2zinc.net can completely manage the floor plan online and greatly assist in managing exhibitor details as well.
20. Electronic exhibitor kits
Exhibitors to large tradeshows commonly receive an exhibit kit that can include hundreds of pages of documents and forms for ordering exhibit space, decorations, AV, electrical, shipping/drayage, and much more. Exposition services contractors such as GES (www.ges.com/ecomm/2007/sampee_cd/) are making significant progress to put all of this online reducing paper and increasing efficiency.
21. Exhibit road show management
Exhibitors can also use web-based tools such as www.exhibitforce.com to manage their exhibit inventory, shipping, schedules, to-do lists, staffing, budget, and more online eliminating what normally can be very paper-intensive tasks.
22. Electronic programs
Why lug around heavy, expensive to print and difficult to use paper programs? Electronic programs/agenda are available in a variety of methods (proprietary devices such as www.ntag.com and www.spotme.com; phone/PDA based systems such as www.visiontree.com and www.nearspace.com).
23. Electronic surveys
Paper-based surveys are both time-consuming to process and environmentally costly. Often times it takes weeks after the meeting before the results are tabulated. There are many web-based survey tools and mobile applications (see the electronic program tools above) than can capture and tabulate audience satisfaction and learning, often in real-time – in time to make mid-course corrections during the meeting if needed.
24. Audience response/voting systems
Electronic keypads can capture survey details and perform secure audience delegate voting electronically and tabulate much more quickly and more accurately than paper-based systems to accomplish this. There are many audience polling tools including www.braehler.com, www.hypermaster.com, www.pcipro.com, and several others.
25. Phone based voting, audience response and Q&A systems
Mobile phones can also be used as audience polling systems (think American Idol text voting) and as a means of getting audience questions as well. Examples include www.polleverwhere.com, www.zukuweb.com,www.log-on.nl, and www.quickmobile.com.
26. Electronic appointment scheduling
Gone are the days of the paper appointment calendar. Meetings are all about bringing people together. The ability to schedule meetings at events conveniently using web-based tools can greatly improve the value of the meetings. Online tools included www.scheduleflex.com, www.cistems.com and www.wingateweb.com.
27. Electronic message centers
Paper notes on a corkboard not only are unsightly and waste paper, they are not easy to search and use. Electronic messaging systems such as www.jotmessaging.com can provide event attendees an attendee search engine/messaging system that uses both mobile phones and PC terminals while retaining attendee privacy, greatly improving attendee communication and reducing the need for paper.
28. Online course notes
Although paper course notes are very helpful to assist in notes taking in some cases, this is not always the case. Providing course notes online before, during and after the meeting can enable those using them to print them out selectively, reducing the overall amount of paper used.
29. Course notes printing/download stations
Another way to reduce paper at meetings is to provide on-demand course notes printing and USB download stations. Instead of printing out notes in advance for the estimated meeting room attendance (which can be prone to error), attendees can print out the notes they desire at central printing stations or download them to a USB drive.
30. Electronic exhibit product directories
Large tradeshows often provide paper exhibitor directories with the contact and product details of every exhibitor and product in the show to all attendees. These are often hundreds of pages. Instead, these guides can be delivered via CD (www.cdshowguides.com) or through interactive show product directories (either web-based before the meeting such as www.a2zinc.com or via interactive kiosk at the meeting). Not only do these systems reduce paper, the web-based tools can be used in show promotion as well as extend the life of the meeting as the searchable database can be kept online after the event as well.
31. Exhibit brochure download stations
An idea to reduce paper at tradeshows: Give every attendee a USB drive with the exhibit product directory on it. Than ban all exhibitor brochures. Instead, provide download stations throughout the hall where .PDF files for all of the exhibitor products can be downloaded based on attendee preferences.
32. Mobile phone ticketing
Mobile phone ticketing such as QR codes can eliminate the need for paper tickets at some events (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_ticketing).
33. NFC for registration and lead retrieval
Near field communication (NFC) is a mobile phone standard in Europe for mobile payments and exchanging contact information (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Near_Field_Communication). This technology, when adopted in the US, will be a natural for e-ticketing, automated kiosk form filling, and lead exchange. Existing forms of lead exchange (from business cards to mag stripe and 2-D barcode badge scanning at exhibits) may become obsolete.
34. Electronic auctions
Silent auctions at events can be streamlined and expanded to a larger audience using web-based auction tools with automated payment and bidding (http://www.auctionpay.com/online_auctions/default.htm).
35. Digital signage
Large events often generate hundreds or even thousands of signs. These signs are expensive to produce, labor intensive to manage onsite and usually end up in the dumpster after the event. Advances in digital signage software and reduction in the costs of flat panel displays make digital signage the environmentally responsible choice as well as improving branding for many planners and venues (http://www.envisionmedia.com/digital_signage.php). Dingital signs are often centrally managed on a computer network, so deployment and chages are a snap.
36. Banquet seating
Banquet seating for events is usually labor-intensive with one or two temporary staff sitting in front of a large paper seating diagram. Technology can provide more efficient electronic methods to accomplish this task without paper (www.perfecttableplan.com/).
37. CEU tracking
Continuing education units (CEU) or continuing medical education (CME) tracking have historically been paper-based, both with onsite sign-in sheets and in the application and tracking of the CEU data. Companies such as AllianceTech (www.alliancetech.com) and Sherpa (www.sherpa-solutions.com) provide radio-frequency identification (RFID) systems that automatically record and tally individual attendance at sessions using a small computer chip on the badge reducing the cost, time and inconvenience of paper-based systems.
38. ROI measurement
The true value of meetings, the ROI (return on investment) or the ROO (return on objectives) has been difficult to measure in the past, although typically done with paper-based surveys. Companies such as MeetingMetrics (www.meetingmetrics.com) provide systemized, web-based tools to measure ROI, ROO and other measures of meeting success from the beginning to the end of the meetings cycle and allow comparisons of meeting effectiveness from year-to-year.
39. Electronic reconciliation
Paying the bills for meetings is usually very paper-intensive and time-consuming. All the bills for every meeting expense, typically sent via paper, are then matched to the meeting and to the specific budget code, for a final paper check payment. The related tracking and labor cost for issuing a single check often exceeds $100 for many corporations. Electronic reconciliation can greatly reduce the time, paper and cost in settling the bills. Two “meeting credit card” reconciliation systems (AMEX with StarCite -- www.starcite.com and Visa with Arcaneo -- www.arcaneo.com) provide paperless methods to do this.
40. MP3 downloads for conference recordings.
Convention cassettes and CDs recordings have been a mainstay of large meetings for years. Companies such as Conference Archives (www.conferencarchives.com) are replacing these “atom-based” recordings with digital MP3 files that can be previewed and downloaded from a website for playing on your computer or iPod. As the CD’s do not need to be burned in advance for sale, the turnaround time is faster as well.
41. Post event reporting
This is another initiative where the APEX standards initiative can help. Currently a Word template for a Post Event Report exists at http://www.conventionindustry.org/apex/acceptedpractices/posteventreport020706.doc. However, Word is a terrible way to transmit and store data. Using the APEX standard, electronic date interchange (EDI) methods should be established to import these data into a database that can be electronically stored, analyzed, shared, and compared from year-to-year. This will greatly improve efficiency while eliminating the need for paper-based storage.
42. Video conference
Face-to-face meetings work in part because of the visual cues we give each other during event networking and presentations. However, with increase travel costs and the environmental impact that travel creates, alternatives are being sought for some of these meetings. Video conference systems can help fill this gap. From low-end (free) video conference software such as SightSpeed (www.sightspeed.com) and iMeet (www.imeet.com) to high-end telepresence systems such as www.cisco.com/telepresence or www.hp.com/halo there are many alternatives to getting on a plane an flying across the country to attend a meeting.
43. Web conference
Similarly, there is a demand to reduce travel for presentations and sales calls. Web conferencing tools such as www.webex.com,www.vyew.com, www.gotomeeting.com, www.globalmeet.com deliver meeting presentations via the web at the attendees’ computer screen with slides, voice, annotation and survey capabilities. Additionally, in the MUVE (multi-user virtual environment space) such as Second Life (www.secondlife.com), attendees take the form of avatars can interact and learn from each other. See www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCYIOO30E5M as and example.
For the one-to many environment (large plenary sessions) can be delivered via the web streamed with audio and video, again without the need to travel. There are several companies that can provide this including many of the large AV companies and specialized companies such as Conference Archives (www.conferencearchives.com), On24 (www.on24.com) and MAP Digital (www.mapdigital.com).
45. Virtual tradeshows
Virtual tradeshows also serve to reduce travel to face-to-face events and/or to extend the life of real tradeshows. Companies such as InExpo (www.inexpo.com) provide web meetings and tradeshows complete with keynote addresses rooms, digital booths, product demonstrations, exhibit give-aways, chat rooms, lead-retrieval systems and more – all in a 3D, web-based environment.
Meetings technology can reduce paper and the environmental footprint of meetings while increasing efficiencies substantially. These are just a few of the many ways that this can be done.