Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Green ideas flow, like water

A Canadian University organizers a conference for 9000 people along environmentally sound principals, including substituting bottled water for the real thing.

Concordia university conference organizers and volunteers dig deep to host an environmentally friendly event, from supplying compost bins and organic coffee to mapping out water fountains

When nearly 9,000 people descended on Concordia University for an academic conference this month, organizers had more to think about than just booking guest speakers, finding hotel rooms and reserving lecture halls.
Determined to organize an environmentally friendly conference, they also had to try to source locally produced food to feed the visiting academics, provide organic coffee to get them going in the morning, offer recycling and composting collection along with garbage collection, and make sure water fountains were well marked on campus maps since no one would be getting any bottled water.
Getting rid of bottled water was something the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences wanted to do, said spokesman Alison Faulknor. The federation and Concordia together organized the eight-day conference, and encouraged conference-goers to bring their own water bottles and fill them up at campus fountains.
"This is the first year we decided not to distribute water, and that was actually something that our delegates had been asking for for a couple of years," Faulknor said. "Every year we're working with host universities, and they're moving in that direction as well. Bottled water is being banned on campuses across the country."
In the past, between 3,000 and 4,000 bottles of water were usually distributed at the annual conference, said Marie-Josee Allard, Concordia's conference manager It's something conference organizers are seeing more often -requests to reduce the environmental impact of their gatherings. Many hotel chains have changed the way they operate in order to present themselves as more sustainable to conference-goers -by doing things like offering sustain-ably produced food, getting rid of small bottles of shampoo and lotions, serving jugs of ice water with real glasses instead of in plastic bottles. Others have gone even farther, renovating to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings or to get a coveted LEED-designation for a more eco-friendly building. Convention centres, including Montreal's Palais des Congres, have drawn up guides to organizing green meetings, looking at such issues as having "paperless" meetings, recycling, composting and using reusable dishes and cutlery.
At Concordia, other environmentally friendly moves at this month's conference included having online registration and reducing the number of registration documents printed, and giving conference-goers the option of receiving a delegate's bag or not. Organizers encouraged visitors to use public transit, providing maps for the metro and bus systems, and promoted the Bixi bike-rental service as well, Allard said.
A group of volunteer students rolled up their sleeves part way through the conference and took a look at how the more environmentally friendly waste management system was going. They sorted through bags of garbage to see whether people had sorted their recyclable and compostable materials before throwing out their trash, said Faisal Shennib, the university's environmental coordinator. One of the conclusions: there should have been more recycling and compost bins available, Shennib said, because the volunteers found recyclable water bottles and cans, as well as food that could have been composted, in the trash.
It was the first time a university conference held at Concordia had offered such extensive compostablewaste collection, with more than 50 brown bins located around the campus where conference events were taking place. More than a dozen student volunteers -calling themselves Sustainability Ambassadors and decked out in green T-shirts -hung out near the garbage, compost and recycling bins to help people figure out what to put in each one. The bins were also labelled with specially made stickers, a move that will continue even though the meeting is now over, Allard said.
"One of the challenges was educating the delegates about which bin to use," Allard said, adding that she sometimes finds herself standing in front of a recycling bin wondering whether a certain item is recyclable. "It was confusing, too, for some delegates, because where they live the recycling bins aren't blue."
The compostable food waste was taken to the university's west-end Loyola campus, where a composter will turn the food into compost to be used on the university's grounds, Allard said.
Overall, the conference was a good experiment for holding more environmentally friendly events at the university, Shennib said.
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Action plans
School's out this week, and we have lots of environmentally friendly ideas about how to amuse the kids in Montreal this summer. Find out more at

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