Companies of all types and sizes are changing their habits in order to protect the environment, whether in small ways like switching to a paperless office or through dramatic shifts, like implementing a sustainable supply chain. But one of the easiest ways for a business to go green is by holding eco-friendly meetings.

According to Meeting Strategies Worldwide, a typical five-day conference for 2,500 attendees uses 62,500 plates, 87,500 napkins, 75,000 cups or glasses and 90,000 cans and bottles. Most business meetings may have a far smaller impact than that, but all of that waste still adds up fast. Whether planning a large annual conference or simply a weekly assembly of staff, companies and organizations can cut waste, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and use fewer resources with a few simple eco-friendly meeting tips.

Green online meetings

Virtual meetings are the greenest way to go, since they're practically waste-free and require no travel. Technology enables meeting participants to collaborate online, eliminating tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that are produced by automobiles and airplanes. It may seem like online meetings would be less dynamic and engaging, but in fact, they can be even more productive and efficient than face-to-face conferences, and certainly cost far less money.

Eco-friendly meetings can be held virtually using any combination of voice, online chat, video, instant messaging and desktop sharing. Web conferencing applications like Netspoke by PGiMeet can allow meeting participants a full range of input options, from virtually 'raising a hand' to ask a question to showing their agreement or disagreement.

You can even host 'virtual events' online either with software or with the help of an event planner. Virtual events include a series of planned, live interactions between meeting participants complete with speakers, workshops, shared documents and even participation incentives like prizes and bonuses. Plan your conference just as you normally would, with a schedule of events, but hold them all online using web conferencing applications or even a 'virtual reality' program like Second Life, which uses avatars to visually put all participants in the same room.

Transportation, venues & food for green meetings

If online meetings aren't an option, consider other ways to make your conference greener. Three of the biggest ways to make an impact are transportation, food and choice of venue.

Encourage meeting participants to carpool if they all live locally, or set up group transportation to shuttle attendees from one place to another. A travel agent can help book as many attendees on the same flights as possible or choose flights that arrive around the same time. Ask local transportation providers about bio-diesel or hybrid shuttles, vans and even limousines for high-end events and seek out companies with a “no-idle” policy. Provide all meeting participants with information about public transit including maps, tickets and directions.

When choosing a venue for your eco-friendly meeting, look for hotels with strong sustainability policies. Energy-efficient lighting, recycling programs and non-toxic cleaning products are a start, but many green hotels also use low-water native landscaping, low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints and carpets and transportation fleets that run on renewable energy.

Food produced by local growers is a great way to go when planning your green meeting. Request menus that focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients along with organic or fair-trade coffee, tea and sugar, sustainable seafood and ethically raised meats.

Eco-Friendly Meeting Products

Cut back on waste by using eco-friendly meeting products like recycled, chlorine-free paper printed with soy inks, or go paper-free with digital notifications, online registration and slideshow presentations rather than handouts. Consider providing reusable water bottles or mini trees as gifts and favors, or make a donation to a green charity instead. For décor, use organic flowers, living plants or baskets of fruit and donate them to a hospital or nursing home after the event.

Some venues, like Marriott hotels, offer a series of eco-friendly meeting products including 100 percent recycled writing pads, pens and food-wares made from biodegradable and recycled content, water service in pitchers and coolers rather than individual bottles and minimal linens.

And finally, for those environmental offenses that you just can't seem to avoid committing, there are always carbon credits. Offset the emissions related to your event using a reputable carbon offset provider like

Know more about eco-friendly meetings? Leave us a note in the comments below.

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Green online meetings