Green Your Meeting By Going Virtual

Everyone wants to go green these days, including meeting planners. And while there are many ways to green a meeting, one of the greenest approaches to meetings is to not meet in person.

This is a way to have most of the functionality of a face-to-face meeting, while saving enormous amounts of energy, money, and—perhaps most importantly—time.

Let’s say you want to have a day-long new product introduction meeting with your territory managers for 50 people, who live scattered around the world in places like Nagasaki, New York, Nairobi, and Nurnberg.

The costs of a face-to-face conference include (among others):

  • 40 or so airfares, plus lower travel costs for 10 people who live close enough to use land transportation—and the enormous carbon impact of flying so many people around the world
  • Two nights’ hotel for perhaps 45 of the 50, assuming at least a few people are locals, commuting—and food for all of them
  • Three days of lost work time for each of the 50 attenders
  • Additional lost productivity because after a few hours, your attenders are on overload and can’t realistically absorb any more information
  • The tree or two sacrificed to create paper for the handouts, much of which end up mixed into the general trash in the conference facility (and not separated off for recycling)

But now let’s flip it around. If instead of one full-day live in-person event, you had four two-hour sessions, each a week apart. What happens then?

Instead of consuming massive quantities of jet fuel and spewing carbon into the world, you’re consuming electrons, and not all that many of them. Even with high bandwidth, full color, and a processor-intensive interface like OpenSim or Second Life, the energy resources consumed and carbon generated are minimal (especially if your company has actively eco-friendly programs in place, such a supplying your computers with solar- or wind-generated electricity, carbon offsets, or at least Energy Star equipment).

Time consumed by the meeting is only the time actually spent in the meeting—nothing wasted for travel time.

Attenders have time to recover from each session, work with the material, try out the product, and think of questions between sessions, so they are more focused and able to absorb more.

Chat and bulletin board features let attenders explore collaboratively even across great distances.

Handouts can be distributed electronically, and many cases will never need to be printed.

People who weren’t able to attend can run through replays of the trainings, on their own time, when it’s convenient.

And meeting managers can get “corporate karma points” for helping the organization meet its green goals while saving employee time and money—how cool is that?

Does this mean you should never have an in-person meeting? Not at all. There are a number of benefits to meeting in person that nobody’s figured out how to do over the Internet so far. But it does mean that before you plan an in-person meeting, you should ask yourself (and your colleagues) if the goal could be accomplished more easily, cheaply, and “greenly” in the virtual world.'
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