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It’s Time for Associations to Transform

March 6, 2013

I’ve been struggling lately with finding relevance for associations. I’m struggling because I love associations, but I question how they will continue with current models. Here’s my problem: I think many associations have forgotten why they exist, and instead, focus on just collecting dues and holding events. I’ve spoken with several association leaders lately that are having a hard time meeting financial goals, delivering value to stakeholders, and achieving their goals. I’ve also spoken with many association members who really question why they pay to be members of an organization and whether or not the fees are worth it. We need a major transformation both in terms of what associations do, and how they are funded.

I think many associations act like cocoons: they’re insular, and keep their value hidden. On the other hand, I’m also starting to see signs of associations evolving to be more like butterflies – and I hope to see more of this. So how do cocoon associations and butterfly associations compare?


Cocoon Associations

Cocoon associations are inward facing: concerned with themselves and their growth. They focus on recruiting members and holding events. They hide their value – and showing it only to those on the inside, and are restrictive about things like sharing content. They are tightly guarded, and put up a barrier that separates them from the world. They are also stuck in one place, not able to leave their spot. This combined with their vulnerability to everything from the economy to their competitors. Cocoon associations don’t sound very promising – but they have a huge potential to emerge transformed.

Butterfly Associations

Butterfly associations on the other hand have an outward focus and they show their value to everyone around them. With their wings outstretched and open they move freely as needed. When faced with a possible threat – they can fly to a safer place. They’re not completely protected from the butterfly nets of the association world, but they have the ability to be nimble. They are also transformed with a new focus on the mission of the association, not simply the management of the association. Butterflies are fascinating, they soar to great heights and they’re loved.

The Transformation Process

Becoming a butterfly association is no easy task and involves consultation and collaboration as well as answering some pretty tough questions. A few questions and tips to get you started:

  1. Start by asking yourself: How is your association relevant? Do you deliver value?
  2. Next, ask yourself if your current practices are the most effective way of achieving your mission. Are you preventing your leadership from focusing on key priorities because they are being consumed by projects that while valuable, or are not the best use of their time and talent? Are there other initiatives that would be more important?
  3. Develop a long-term plan, one with room for flexibility, but that ultimately commits to a transformation.
  4. Develop an alternative funding model that will help ensure your long-term sustainability that is not heavily dependent on member dues.
  5. Gain support for your vision with your board and stakeholders. Keep in mind that when you’re stuck inside the cocoon, it can be difficult to see the beauty that will emerge.


Hybrid events… in case you needed a reason

February 6, 2013

About ten years ago, I was working at a hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when I got the call from the keynote speaker… his flight was canceled and he wouldn’t be able to attend the conference. Our banquet captain at that time came up with the plan for us to do the presentation via speaker phone, and we advanced the PowerPoint slides for the speaker. I can’t say that it was a great success (the sound in particular was pretty bad), but it was better than the alternative: no keynote. Fortunately, we now have much better (and often affordable) options available to us today to bring in speakers virtually from pretty much anywhere with an internet connection. For a great example of this, see Adrian Segar’s post on bringing a keynote in via Google Hangouts.

Flight Cancellations and Delays: The Numbers

So how bad is the situation? It’s easy to point to major climate events such as October’s Hurricane Sandy that grounded over 17,000 flights, but what about the average day? In examining the data from for the past 30 days, the numbers are really astounding and signal the importance of having alternative arrangements in place.


Note: these numbers are estimates. They were generated in the late afternoon Pacific time zone and may have changed by the end of the day. Also, global data is not signficantly higher than the combined numbers for the three identified regions, so there may be flights from other regions that are not included in the data.

How Do Hybrid Meetings Help?

Hybrid meetings combine live and virtual meeting elements. They enable a live meeting or event to include a virtual audience or even virtual speakers. For me, the most effective ones also allow for real time, two-way interaction between the live and virtual communities, often through the use of social media. Hybrid meetings can help to mitigate the impact of flight delays or cancellations that result in speakers or attendees being unable to attend in person by providing an alternate way of participating.

How To Prepare

Here are a few tips to help you prepare for a speaker being unable to attend your event due to flight cancellations, delays or other unforeseen circumstances:

  1. Select your platform in advance: Whether you are using one of the free services such as Skype or Google Hangouts, or partnering with one of our industry’s great event technology companies, have a platform selected in advance. Collect account information for your presenters in advance so that you can easily and quickly connect with them.
  2. Check your bandwidth capabilities: Not all venues will have the bandwidth needed to live stream a presentation. To determine this, I recommend the Convention Industry Council’s free and easy bandwidth estimator.
  3. Train your speakers: Provide your speakers with an orientation prior to your event. This is a great opportunity to discuss the needs of your specific audience so that the presentations can be tailored to them. Ideally, offer these orientations using the platform that you would use to bring them in virtually if the need arose and review the backup plan with them.
  4. Know where to go: Many airport lounges will have quiet areas or small private rooms where presenters can go to do deliver their presentations. Have a list on hand of where to go for the major hub airports for your destination.
  5. Pre-load your presentations: Ask your presenters to send you a copy of their presentations in advance so that these can be pre-loaded on your platform.
  6. Have a live facilitator: Have someone designated in advance to be a live facilitator for a virtual speaker. This person will be responsible not only for onsite logistics, but also for engaging both your live and virtual audiences and facilitating communication amongst them and with your speaker.

Gamification Framework for Meetings

January 23, 2013

Last month, I had the great honour of speaking at the Next Generation Meetings Conference in Stockholm about gamification in meetings and events. As part of the presentation, I developed a list of 5 key considerations when looking to enhance your meetings through the use of gamification.

To get us started, let’s start by defining gamification. In a nutshell, it is the application of game mechanics to non-game situations.

From an event perspective, examples can be high-tech, such as the development of mobile apps that encourage specific behaviours, rewarding participants with points for completing specific tasks (or quests). While the development of game apps for events is a growing trend, gamification should not be viewed only as this. Gamification can also be low-tech through the use of interactive activities that have game-like aspects. Regardless of the form that gamification takes for your event, there are a few key elements that should be considered: goals, audience, mechanics, execution and social.


  • Goals: The first (and arguably the most critical) step is to determine your meeting or event goals. Whether your goals be education, networking, innovation, awareness or something completely different, understanding your goals is fundamental as this will provide the context for your design decisions. You’ll want to have a clear understanding of your goals for your organization, your event, your community and potentially your industry.
  • Audience: Knowing your audience is also of great relevance to gamification. Going beyond the traditional understanding of demographics, you’ll also want to know about what motivates your audience, what is the organizational culture, and what are the attitudes and aptitudes for different manifestations of gamification – including technology and social media.
  • Mechanics: With your knowledge of your goals and audience, you’re now able to move into the mechanics stage. Develop aspects of your game in such a way that they reward your participants for the types of behaviours that will help you to achieve your goals. As an example, if you’re hoping to encourage your participants to visit your sponsors’ websites, you might want to develop a mobile app that gives points to your participants for doing this.
  • Execution: As great as your game may be, it also requires great execution skills in order to be successful. Effective games require onsite support, proper infrastructure, feedback mechanisms and champions. If you’re offering an app, consider offering an orientation or training as part of your opening session. Also, make sure that your venue offers the needed infrastructure, including appropriate bandwidth levels. FYI – there is a great bandwidth estimator available for free from the Convention Industry Council.
  • Social: Finally, your game needs to consider the types of social interactions that you would like to encourage. For example, is connecting your live and virtual audiences a priority? Are you hoping to facilitate teambuilding or networking? With this in mind, develop aspects of your game to encourage this type of interaction. A very cool tool for encouraging social media use at an event is the Kred Leaderboard. I saw it in action at Next Generation Meetings and I really liked that it measures both influence and outreach. To learn more about and influence as a game, check out Kred CEO Andrew Grill’s presentation at the Next Generation Meetings conference.

Susty Things I Loved in 2012

December 31, 2012

2012 was a big year.

Our book was published, my youngest started Kindergarten, and I had the opportunity to visit some great places. During my travels, I collected several snapshots of sustainable events, practices and venues and have compiled them into a list of my favourites from 2012.

Disclosure: In case you’re wondering – this post is completely biased and the comments are not endorsements. Almost all of these images refer to industry friends or to organizations/events that have hired me as a speaker in the past year. That said, I think it’s a shame to not celebrate the great things that are being done by these individuals and organizations.


Where: Copenhagen, Denmark
What: Sustainable Transportation

I was amazed by the great public transportation system in Copenhagen. Everyone rides it, including this little guy and lots of people with their bicycles. Speaking of bicycles – I am convinced that I saw more bikes than cars in Copenhagen, even though it was cold and snowy. I recommend picking up a Copenhagen Card for admission to several attractions and unlimited use of the metro. I also learned a great word for the holidays “Hygge”, which Visit Denmark defines as “creating a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people around you.”


Where: Ottawa Convention Centre, Canada
What: Compost bins at a tradeshow

I’ve seen composting bins in a few venues this year, but these ones at the OCC were by far the classiest and were located near the buffet to help with the important issue of food waste. While I still believe that we need to reduce food waste before it happens, composting is a positive step towards managing it after it has been produced.


Where: Kimpton Hotels, Oregon, USA
What: Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

In my last post, I wrote about EPR and how happy I was to see an example of a manufacturer taking responsibility for product disposal – even if the example came from the in-room honour bar. These toothbrushes can be mailed back to the manufacturer for recycling.


Where: Tampa Marriott Waterside, USA
What: Rooftop Garden

I had heard that this hotel had converted a pool-side kitchen into a rooftop farm, and so I went investigating in the middle of the night to find it.  FYI – the hotel saves $1000 a month in lettuce costs alone from their venture. While transportation emissions only represent a small percentage of the carbon footprint of food, I love the freshness, flavour and impact on local economies of local food.


Where: IMEX America, Las Vegas, USA
What: Alternative Energy

I love the bike blender that has been accompanying the Tourism Vancouver team to different tradeshows. Here it is being powered by Glenn Thayer, who I highly recommend as a moderator/host if you’re planning a hybrid event and want to ensure that your live and virtual audiences are engaged and your content and goals are effectively delivered.


Where: Museo del Acero, Monterrey, Mexico
What: Repurposed Recyclables

I had the opportunity to visit this museum in Monterrey, and loved the wall display of painted plastic soda pop bottles converted into planters. The number of plastic items that are thrown away each year is astounding, and the impact on the ocean is particularly troublesome, so to see them used in this way made me smile.


Where: Canada Day Celebrations, North Vancouver, Canada
What: Sunscreen Stations

Outdoor events on hot summer days are wonderful, and they also carry important risks: sunburn, heat stroke and dehydration. Save Your Skin Foundation set up a sunscreen station at a Canada Day Celebration in North Vancouver.


Where: Somewhere above Iceland
What: Styrofoam Avoided

I really don’t like polystyrene, and have found that several airlines use them for their in-flight service. That’s why I was so happy to see that Icelandair uses paper cups.


Where: White Point Beach Resort, Nova Scotia, Canada
What: Bunny Food

In November 2011, White Point Beach Resort‘s Main Lodge was destroyed in a fire. This summer, I was able to visit and there were so many things that were inspiring, from the incredible views, to the clear commitment to sustainability and the undeniable welcoming nature of Nova Scotians. But what struck me the most was a basket full of bunny food for the hundreds of wild rabbits that live on the property – even when preoccupied with a massive reconstruction, they didn’t forget the bunnies. The lodge is now reopened and I highly recommend it!


Where: San Francisco Airport, USA
What: Water Bottle Refill Stations

I love the trend towards having water bottle refill stations in public areas and event venues. In addition to this one at SFO, I spotted them in the Tampa Convention Center and the Clarion Hotel Arlanda in Stockholm.


Where: Prince George Hotel, Halifax, Canada
What: Sustainability Communication

This little frog prince can be found in each of the rooms of the Prince George Hotel in Halifax and draws attention to the towel and linen reuse programs in the hotel.


Where: CINTERMEX, Monterrey, Mexico
What: Ashtrays turned planter boxes

As someone with asthma, I really value smoke-free environments. I loved this example of an ashtray-turned-planter as a way of continuing to use the waste bins even though they had ashtrays on the top. FYI – According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 235 million people suffer from asthma.


Where: Las Vegas, USA
What: Tradeshow materials turned into an art exhibit

Repurpose America helps conventions to repurpose non-recyclable materials. When I was in Las Vegas for IMEX this fall, I met CEO Zachary Delbex who invited me to attend an art exhibit made almost entirely from materials that they had collected from tradeshows.


Where: CMP Conclave, Tampa Bay, USA
What: Donation in lieu of delegate gifts

I thought it was great that Tampa & Company made a donation to Make a Wish Foundation instead of delegate gifts at the CMP Conclave this year. I love seeing this type of commitment to the community and hope to see more of this in 2013.


Where: Costa Rica Trade Show Booth, ICOMEX
What: Bags made from recycled materials

These bags are made from 80% post-consumer waste materials, mostly bottles and polymer bags by Grupo Britt. In looking over their website, I found that they have another program that employs women from a high-risk neighbourhood to make tote bags from their own waste packaging.


Where: Fundidora Park, Monterrey, Mexico
What: Shipping containers turned into food stands

I had never seen a shipping container turned into a a restaurant before spotting this one in Fundidora Park in Monterrey, Mexico, but I have since learned that they are popping up around the world.


Where: SACC Conference, San Diego, USA
What: Boxed water

Technically, I didn’t attend the Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges conference, but my husband did and he brought one of these back from the event. Although I will always prefer a refillable bottle, boxed water provides a better alternative to bottled and can be a practical way of taking water to outdoor events where dehydration may be a concern.


Where: Tijuana, Mexico
What: Anti-littering signs

This may be a stretch for a post about sustainability, but I’m going to label it as waste management. This chewing-gum covered sign, which roughly translates to “Throwing out your gum is prohibited.” located outside Caesar’s Restaurant in Tijuana (home of the original Caesar salad), made me laugh. And, for the record, it was highly effective at keeping the street clear of gum.


Where: Tampa Bay, USA
What: Bike rentals

Bike rentals are a great trend that I’ve seen in many destinations, though I think that this waterside setting was the most picturesque. I’ve also noticed that several hotels are now offering them to guests to use during their stay. I think it’s a great way to promote exercise, low-carbon travel and local tourism. The most innovative bike program I’ve seen was in Montreal this summer where a partnership with Telus turned the bikes into free, pedal-powered wi-fi stations.


Where: Clarion Arlanda, Stockholm, Sweden
What: Gluten and lactose free buffet items

I was so happy to see a section of the (phenomenal) breakfast buffet at the Clarion Hotel Arlanda Airport dedicated to gluten, lactose and sugar free items. They also features these items in the coffee break for the conference that I attended.


Where: Halifax Waterfront, Canada
What: Solar compactors

The Halifax Waterfront has installed Big Belly Solar waste and recycling stations. The sections include can and bottle recycling, garbage, paper recycling and organics. The build-in solar powered compactors reduce collection frequency. They have also been effective at encouraging recycling rates, especially beverage containers, with a reported 95% diversion rate within 3 months and combined diversion rate of 83% for containers and paper.


Where: Geo Aventura Resort, Nuevo Leon, Mexico
What: Solar panels

I attended a team building activity at this eco-tourism resort this past fall, and was really impressed by their local hiring practices and these solar panels that they use to provide part of their energy needs.


Events and Extended Producer Responsibility

December 21, 2012

EPR_toothbrush It’s official: I take strange photos when I travel. This one is of the toothbrush in the basket of stuff you can buy in your room at a Kimpton Hotel. These toothbrushes, made by Preserve, are made from recycled plastic. That would usually be enough to make my green side smile, but what really got me excited was that the company includes a postage paid mailer for you to return the used product back to them for recycling.

Why was this so exciting to me? I’ve been looking for some time for an example of extended producer responsibility in the meetings and events industry, and I finally found one! Granted, toothbrushes might be a bit of stretch as an example from this industry, but let’s go with it anyway.

What is extended producer responsibility (EPR) you ask? The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) provides the following definition:

OECD defines EPR as an environmental policy approach in which a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle..

In the toothbrush example, from what I can tell this is a voluntary decision by Preserve to take responsibility for the recycling of their products. In many cases though, extended producer responsibility is a required by regulation.

Examples of Extended Producer Responsibility Regulations

There are examples of EPR regulations around the world. Many of these are summarized on this website from CalRecycle, A couple to highlight include:

  1. British Columbia’s Recycling Regulation that sets requirements for designated products including beverage containers, paint products, tires and packaging. This website also has excellent resources for developing a product stewardship plan.
  2. UK Environment Agency’s waste packaging and producer responsibility. This regulation emphasizes waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE), packaging and waste batteries due to their impact.

Scenario Planning for the Events Industry

Imagine for a moment that regulations came in that required that event producers be responsible for the take-back, recycling and final disposal of their products at a recovery rate of (for example) 75%. How would that change your planning processes? A few approaches that event producers could take would include:

  1. Reduce First: The easiest step for our industry to take is to begin by eliminating unnecessary items or excess volume. This will not only reduce your production costs, but also your disposal costs.
  2. Repurpose Products: There are many great organizations that will accept donated items from events. One example is Repurpose America. I had the pleasure of attending an art show during my last trip to Las Vegas where the artwork was made almost entirely from products collected by Repurpose America from tradeshows and events.
  3. Inform and Collect: Inform your event participants that you will be collecting and properly disposing of leftover items from your event. Collecting name badges for reuse has been a longtime practice for many events, and this can be extended to other items such as conference bags and printed materials.
  4. Support Supply Chain Programs: Identify suppliers that have their own product stewardship programs. One example is Clean the World, an organization that works with hotels to collect, sanitize and distribute hotel amenities such as used soaps.
  5. Prioritize Products: Some products that are used in the meetings industry will be important to prioritize due to their environmental impact. My top two would be: polystyrene (I recommend eliminating, see my previous post here) and partially used batteries.
  6. Purchase Products With Less Packaging: This is related to the first point – reduce first, but with an emphasis on the fact that many products we purchase contain significant amounts of packaging. As an example, look for items such as USB sticks that do not come individually packaged.

Next Steps

Our industry has a great opportunity to demonstrate environmental leadership by implementing the types of life-cycle planning measures that are encouraged through extended producer responsibility. I encourage all meeting professionals (on the planner or supplier side) to start implementing some of these measures.


Pricing for Engagement: Recap of the Three-Part Series in MPI’s One+

December 6, 2012

Price Tags

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.
– Henry David Thoreau

Over the past few months, I’ve had the privilege of writing a three-part series for MPI’s One+ Magazine on pricing strategies for meeting, event and association professionals. I see pricing as one of the most important issues facing our industries, particularly as it has so many facets beyond profitability. Pricing involves more than math; it also involves ethics, an understanding of your stakeholders and of the economic context.

An underlying theme in all three articles is the need to use pricing as a gateway for engagement, rather than as a barrier. It’s a tall order, and requires changes to the way we currently do business in our industry. Key points from each of the articles are summarized below.

Part 1: Framing the Pricing Picture: Revenue, Risk and Registration

The first article in the series examines issues related to managing financial risk. Topics include increasing registration, encouraging earlier registration and simple steps to increase room block pickup.

Sample Article Recommendations:

  • To encourage earlier registration, ensure the event experience starts when people register, not when they arrive at the event.
  • Use hybrid meetings as a way of increasing participation by reducing the Total Cost of Attendance (TCA).

Read the full article.

Part 2: Adopting Better Discount Practices

The second article in the series explores the better use of discounts. The article includes a case study of an association that dramatically increased the number of early registrations by using an alternative to the traditional early-bird price strategy. This article also reviews various price-discounting strategies to encourage greater profits, social balance and environmental benefits.

Sample Article Recommendations:

  • Use limited quantity discounts as an alternative to early bird discounts.
  • Take the stigma out of discounts by offering preferred pricing in recognition of the rare and important voice that is brought to your event community.

Read the full article.

Part 3: Price Check: Member and Sponsor Engagement

The last article in the series focuses on alternative models for two important relationship and revenue streams for meetings: membership and sponsorship.

Sample Article Recommendations:

  • Consider organization wide membership models instead of individual models. See the results of one association that went from 1,200 to 25,000 members in 3 years by doing this.
  • Use a credit-based model for sponsorship and partnerships to allow for customization of benefits.

Read the full article.

The styrony of it all

December 3, 2012
Styrofoam Containers

Image courtesy of winnond /

I admit it. I regularly forget to bring my reusable bags to the grocery store.

I’ve tried lots of ways to remember – from keeping them in my car, to making myself buy new ones when I forget them, to carrying things home without a bag. But even these inconveniences haven’t worked. I think it’s the same gene that results in my systematically forgetting to close cupboard doors.

Anyway…. I was in the grocery store the other day, and once again I had forgotten to bring my bags.

As I admitted my sin to the cashier, the person in line behind me gave me that look – you know the one: “I’m greener than you are.” She had brought her bags.

I shuffled my stuff into a plastic bag, trying to rationalize to myself once again how I would reuse it, and how I would remember to bring my own next time. That’s when I noticed it: the person behind me was buying four or five different packages of meat, all super-wrapped with polystyrene (commonly known as styrofoam) trays.

It got me thinking about the irony, or in the case the “styrony” of the situation: too often, we tout ourselves as being sustainable because we do one highly visible action, ignoring many bigger issues that contribute to the impact that we have. (By the way, an easy way to reduce styrofoam from the grocery store is to get your fish or meat from the butcher counter in the store where it is typically paper wrapped.)

So What’s So Bad About Polystyrene?

  1. Possibly Cancer Causing: Let’s start with the health issues. In 2011, styrene, one of the chemicals in polystyrene was added to a list of possible carcinogens by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Additional health concerns have been identified, particularly for workers involved in the production of polystyrene.
  2. It’s Bad for the Environment: According to the University of British Columbia’s Risk Management Services “Styrofoam is harmful to the environment both in disposal and in the chemicals and processes used to create it. Styrofoam takes over 500 years to degrade in normal landfills, and has been piling up for years to make up nearly 30% of garbage by volume found in landfills today. Along with filling up our landfills, when Styrofoam is burned over 90 different hazardous chemicals are released into the environment.” In addition, polystyrene is made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource.
  3. It’s the Major Contributor to Ocean Garbage: A 2011 study from British Columbia estimated that “there are 36,000 pieces of ‘synthetic marine debris’ -garbage the size of fists to fridges -floating around the coastline, from remote inland fiords to 150 kilometres offshore. Of that, 49 per cent is Styrofoam or similar polystyrene products…”

Recommendations for Eliminating Polystyrene (and Styrony) at Events

Before you pour your next cup of organic, fair trade coffee into a polystyrene cup, or ship your eco-friendly awards in boxes packed in polystyrene peanuts, consider a few modifications:

  1. Provide alternatives for styrofoam cups: My preference is for reusable containers. There are corn based options as well, but the verdict is out on their environmental benefits, with at least one study finding that the greenhouse gas emissions for corn-based alternatives being higher than polystyrene.Encourage your participants to bring their own mugs. You could even turn it into a donation drive, where people bring their mismatched mugs to use at your event, and afterwards they’ll be washed and donated to a community group.
  2. Implement a policy: Make it a policy for your company to not use polystyrene, and include this as part of your RFPs. As an example, if you are hiring outside vendors for your events, such as for concession stands, implement a “polystyrene-free policy”. Some communities, many of which are in California, have already banned the use of polystyrene.
  3. Wield our collective sword of influence: On a recent flight, I was shocked by the bags of garbage collecting at the back of the airplane filled with polystyrene cups. While I appreciate that polystyrene cups are lighter and more affordable than paper, I’d be thrilled to pay an extra few pennies on my next flight to keep it polystyrene free. I say we start an online campaign for the major airlines to pledge to be polystyrene free by Earth Day.
  4. Reduce your need for packing materials: A major use of polystyrene at events is for packing materials. If possible, avoid the use of fragile items as give-aways at events, reducing the demand for polystyrene. If you need packing materials, consider alternatives such as crumpled newsprint instead of polystyrene peanuts.
  5. Don’t count on recycling: Although technically polystyrene can be recycled, facilities that process the material are hard to find and the recycling process itself is very resource intensive. Instead, eliminate the use of the product.

A MAUDE Framework Case Study: The Book Sale for Belugas

November 23, 2012

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick –

One of my favourite scenes in the movie “That Thing You Do” is when they hear their song being played on the radio for the first time and go crazy. I had a moment like that recently when I was reading an article on the Fast Company website when an ad popped up for our book!  The book was released last month, and while I know that the ad was generated by cookies that know that I’ve been checking out the book’s Amazon site, it nevertheless got me pretty excited. But I digress… I mention the book because in it we introduced the MAUDE Framework for Community Service Projects. The framework provides guidance on developing community service projects by focusing on five key aspects that can help increase the impact and long-term sustainability of the initiatives.

Last week I came across an event that captures the MAUDE Framework really well. It was developed and delivered by some fresh faces to event management: a small group of 8-year olds and a 4 year-old little sister. The kids wanted to do something to help beluga whales, so they hosted a book sale. The books were all “gently used” and donated by students from their school. Altogether, they collected 500 books and raised $433.50.

The MAUDE Framework and the Book Sale for Belugas

The framework looks at five criteria, each of which is illustrated through the book sale.

  • Meaningful
    The first element of the framework looks at whether or not the project has a meaningful impact on the community. For any community service goal, there are different strategies that you can implement and each will have a different degree of impact. The kids had decided that they wanted to help belugas, and we talked about their options. In the end, they decided that they could make a positive difference by raising money for an organization that is doing work to help the whales. They chose the Vancouver Aquarium. The sale also helped get kids excited about reading, and found new homes for books that otherwise would have sat on shelves.
  • Aligned
    The second criteria looks at alignment with the organization’s mission, vision and values. Well, they’re not an official organization, but if we extend this to the school, then a book sale that encourages reading certainly is in alignment.
  • Unique Skills
    We all have things that we do uniquely well, or have access to resources and contacts that have unique abilities. In this case, the students had access to a great resource: books that they had read that were sitting unused on their shelves. They also had lots of friends with books. Every day for about two weeks, they visited all the classrooms in the school and asked students to bring in donations. The results were impressive! (Note – Lesson learned for next time: we’ll have boxes labeled for the donations as they come in to make sorting a bit easier!) As for the four year-old, she added in her talents by singing Raffi’s Baby Beluga.
  • Destination Specific
    When designing a project, it is valuable to look at the needs of the local area. In this case, this was done through the leftover books from the sale. Although most of the books were sold, there were about 100 leftover that were donated to a local charity with a family resource centre.
  • Engaging
    One of the risks in designing community service projects is that you people won’t be interested in participating and so it is really important that it be engaging. The screams of “I love that book!”, the line ups to buy the books and the huge smiles as the kids walked away with their nose in their new books were clear signs that they hit the mark with this event.

Tips for Using the MAUDE Framework

If you’re interested in applying the MAUDE Framework, I have a few recommendations:

  1. Start with U: Begin by listing all the things that you or your organization do exceptionally well. By leveraging these skills or resources, you’re able to amplify the impact of your project. Consider the effect of a marketing company designing a campaign for a food bank – this effort could potentially far exceed the impact that they could have by doing a canned food drive.
  2. Think Long-Term: Check if there is on-going support needed for your project to have long-term significance for the community. For example, if you are involved in building a well, how will it be maintained? Who will provide services, training or equipment for this?
  3. Work with Local Contacts: Community service groups and even destination management companies are great resources for event professionals to rely on in developing community projects. As an example, they can coordinate multiple organizations to provide continued support for a project. They likely also have valuable experience that can streamline the planning process.
  4. Avoid Photo-Op CSR: Using the framework can be a good step to avoid developing community service projects that are more about public relations than they are about having a positive impact. That said, I am in favour of promoting an organization’s good work in the community provided that it has had a genuine positive impact. If it hasn’t, the organization runs the risk that the public relations campaign will backfire on them.
  5. Be Prepared: I can’t leave my risk management hat off for too long, so a quick reminder to use common sense, use good health and safety practices and talk to your insurance provider about your plans.
This article is based in part on information in Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility in the Meetings and Events Industry by Elizabeth Henderson and Mariela McIlwraith. © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.  All rights reserved.

Extending your meeting’s impact: Connecting outside your industry

August 26, 2012

Image from by CoraMax

A couple of months ago, I started following the tweets from the Aspen Environmental Forum. This event was presented in partnership by the Aspen Institute and National Geographic and took place on June 22-25 in Aspen, CO. The event had an extraordinary line-up of scientific and environmental speakers. I was mesmerized by the content – and the event quickly rose to the top of my list of events to attend next year. At one point, a tweet (that I have since lost track of), came out that said that what was needed was to get the messages from the event outside of the scientific community. This is an example of something I’ve heard in many industries and in many events: there is a need to communicate outside our inner circles, and something many industries and events struggle with.

Why do we need to communicate outside of our own group? Because in many cases, the goals that we seek to achieve can only be met by engaging stakeholders outside of our community.

Too often, industries seem to get stuck “talking amongst themselves” and we need to break away from this. I’ve worked with programs in many different industries throughout my career, and without exception, all would benefit from engaging with stakeholders outside their community. In the meetings industry, we could benefit from educating government, corporate and association leaders about the value of meetings. In the sustainability sector, we could benefit from educating mainstream organizations and consumers about the impact of the decisions that are being made. We can only do this though if we’re able to connect with outside groups and individuals. The question becomes: How do we accomplish this?

Recommendations for connecting outside your industry:

  1. Keep your messages jargon and acronym free. This can be tough if you’re using tools like twitter with character limits, but it can make a big difference in keeping the attention of outsiders.
  2. Use examples that non-experts can relate to and visualize.
  3. Invite active bloggers from outside your industry to participate in your program.
  4. Use tools like Storify to capture tweets from your meeting that are relevant to “outsiders”. Add links for additional information and reports that support the tweets.
  5. Develop relationships with potential “ambassadors” for your industry. These will be preferably outsiders who are knowledgeable about your industry’s value, and who can provide first-hand accounts of the value that your industry provides.

I hope you’ll  join me on Monday, August 27th at 3pm EST for a tweetchat on this topic using the #eventtable hashtag to discuss this further.

Reducing Food Waste at Events

May 30, 2012

I mentioned on twitter earlier this week that we’ve been talking about not wasting food at home quite a bit. Since the conversation was temporarily halted by my four year old (see below), I’m going to turn my attention to reducing food waste at events.

Why a Focus on Food Waste?

Jonathan Bloom’s (fantastic) website and blog states that Americans waste more than 40 percent of the food they produce for consumption. That comes at an annual cost of more than $100 billion. When we add to the equation the amount of resources including water and energy that is involved in producing food, the numbers become even more staggering. For an example, see my recent post on the footprints of cheese.

We waste food at a number of points throughout the value chain, but when it comes to events, an area that is in our direct control is that of portion sizes. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control released an infographic showing that today’s average restaurant meal is four times larger than it was in the 1950s. I see this as a call to action for our industry to scale back our portion sizes as well.

CDC The New (Ab)normal

What’s Wrong with Composting and Donating Leftovers?

In most of the conversations I’ve had about reducing food waste at events, the top two strategies that I hear that are either in use or that are recommended are to compost food and donate leftovers. Let me start by saying that I think these are both valuable options, and should be used after we do one important step: reduce the amount of waste that is produced in the first place. Let’s examine each issue:

  • Composting: Yes, composting food and using it for fertilizer is a good thing. What’s better though is to not throw away high quality food, regardless if it ends up in a garden bed or in a landfill. In some ways, I find that composting gives us license to not focus on waste reduction in the first place, much in the same way that carbon offsets help us to ignore reducing carbon emissions.
  • Food donations:  These are also a great thing to do, and yet I’d rather see us reduce food waste and redirect some of that $100 billion dollars to support food banks. That way, they can get the types of food that they most need, and can leverage their buying power to do so in an affordable way. That said, I do strongly encourage food donations after waste reduction strategies are implemented. One of the biggest objections I hear about donating food is a concern over liability. Regulations about food donations vary in different jurisdictions, but many have legislation to encourage food donations. I recommend looking into the applicable regulations where you are holding your event, and follow smart practices such as working with reputable partners, and ensuring that they are able to meet food safety standards. For more information on food donation regulations, see below:

Five Tips for Reducing Food Waste from Events

I must admit to being really inspired by Jonathan Foley’s 5 Step Plan for How to Double Global Food Production by 2050 and Reduce Environmental Damage. Some elements of his plan can be applied directly by event professionals, while others fall to the responsibility of by policy makers and agricultural producers. The tips below include actions that are within the direct control of event professionals and the chefs that we work with. With all of these recommendations, follow safe food handling practices and regulations for your area.

  1. Serve less food to begin with:
    Does anybody really need dessert with lunch? The portions and frequency of food service at meetings and events has always astounded me. By reducing the amount of food that we serve, we can reduce the amount wasted. I also recommend reducing plate sizes at buffets and receptions. Jonathan Bloom has a page dedicated to tracking the results of eliminating food trays in college dining halls and the impact it has had on reducing food waste. Another relevant study was conducted by Dr. Brian Wansink and co-authors spurred the Small Plate Movement™ that promotes utilizing 10″ diameter plates to decrease the amount of food people eat, without having an effect on their perceived fullness or satisfaction.  A secondary benefit of cutting back on excess food, especially the high sugar kind, is that it makes your events more productive. Many event venues are now starting to embrace the concept of brain-friendly foods, as outlined in this article in Meetings & Conventions with great recommendations by Andrea Sullivan. In my experience, plated meals tend to reduce food waste over buffets as food quantities are more predictable, and plated meals tend to be less full than with a buffet.
  2. Reduce upstream waste by buying ugly food:
    Food at events tends to be perfect: same size, same shape, same colour, same flavour. We’ve lost our appreciation for ugly food over the years, and it’s time for it to make a come-back. I remember the first time I tried a friend’s grandmother’s tomato sauce. The mason jars were her prized possessions and she told us about the weekends where her family would come together to make the sauce. They had a connection with a local farm where they would get all the bruised, overripe tomatoes as her grandmother insisted that these made the best sauce. I have to agree, I’ve never had better. We have the potential to reduce upstream waste by creating a market for great food, particularly produce, that might otherwise be plowed over. My latest favourite ugly food: grapes. When they start to go a little soft, pop them in the freezer – at your first try of these mini-no-cook sorbets, you’ll quickly learn why ice wine is so sweet. As an added benefit, ugly food tends to be economical. Chefs can increase quality, strengthen relationships with suppliers and reduce costs by looking to incorporate ugly food into their menus.
  3. Plan for day 3 soup:
    Planning to serve soup on day three of your event allows you to pick foods for the first two days that lend themselves well to making stocks or soups later in the program if there are leftovers. These can be supplemented with additional food (preferably using items regularly stocked in the kitchen) if the leftovers are not sufficient. Work with the chef to design menus that will work well for this and to ensure sufficient staffing. Remember to include bones or trimmings that might have ended up in the compost (or the landfill!) as well. Celery leaves add great flavour and onion skins add colour to stocks.
  4. Pay extra attention to carbon and water intensive foods:
    Some foods, including beef and dairy, require high amounts of energy and water to be produced. When these items are thrown away, food waste issues are compounded. Cheese trays stand out to me as one of the biggest sources of potential waste. At events, I’ll often see them filled with several varieties, and by the end of the event, many are still covered. Now, I’ll admit it: I love cheese so I’m not proposing eliminating cheese (or beef) from menus. What I am proposing that we serve smaller portions of carbon and water intensive foods, and that we be particularly attentive to adding them to buffets or reception platters where chances of food waste are greater. As Jonathan Foley notes in his plan, “Only 62 percent of crops become human food; 35 percent feed meat and dairy animals (the remainder is for biofuels and other uses). If humans switched to all-plant diets, all that agricultural land could produce 50 percent more human food, because feeding crops to animals that then become meat is a highly inefficient way to transfer plant energy to people.” While Foley does not see a switch to be likely, he notes that a small shift away from meat would mean that we could net far more calories for humans. This is certainly feasible for events. We can easily reduce the frequency with which we serve resource intensive items including beef and cheese with alternatives such as fish, chicken or vegetarian meals.
  5. Tattoo your bananas:
    This is perhaps the most obvious point, but to reduce food waste, serve people food that they like. This week, as part of my previously mentioned attempt to reduce food waste at home, I’ve taken to tattooing bananas. I’ve been carefully carving my kids’ names, words and drawings on their bananas and letting them brown in those spots revealing the hidden messages by lunch time. The best part is that they’ve actually been eating them and asking for more bananas for lunch! The point here is not to literally tattoo bananas for your event, but to make small modifications to food to make it more appealing for people to eat and not waste. Great flavour, beautiful presentation and a bit of personalization can go a long way to reducing food waste.