What’s involved in greening an event for over 4,500? What happens on a typical day at the show? MeetGreen Sustainability Project Managers Aaron Elliott and Romana Cohen recently worked at the 2016 Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio. This is an annual event for the association and they wanted to show you a behind the scenes look at what a Sustainability Project Manager’s day is like.
A typical day starts with a quick jog by the river in Columbus. Humid already. Grateful for a moment of nature, fresh air, and local sights before the intensity begins. One must practice personal sustainability in order to be an effective change maker. Scoping out the local bins.
Our role as sustainability consultants onsite is to be investigators, anthropologists, teachers, facilitators and leaders. A typical day starts by checking out the recycling situation in the hotel lobby on the way to the convention center. What material are the cups made of? Are the right bins in place? Are attendees using their own mugs and/or water bottles? Where can I find a quick breakfast on a real plate?
Unitarian Universalist Association models a deep commitment to sustainability by gathering together a team of recycling volunteers who help to educate attendees on proper waste sorting. The green booth, pictured, is our sustainability HQ onsite. Here, we provide information about sustainability at the conference and act as a hub for volunteers and questions. This morning, the MeetGreen team synchs, we deploy our amazing recycling volunteers to various waste stations, then we have a quick check-in with the hotel, catering and convention center staff.
Most days are filled with educating attendees about all things sustainable at General Assembly and beyond. Videos of food getting pulped and transported into the fancy-pants new convention center in-house digestor entertain the young and old alike. It makes compost after just 18 hours! The bowl on the table is the final product, created from the food waste that has been diverted from the first day of the conference.
Lunch time rush. We’ve got all hands on deck while we are stationed at key food areas to be waste diplomats and educators.
Quick MeetGreen huddle over buffet lunch. Are people enjoying this new Meat Free Friday campaign? The veggie lasagna knocks it out of the park. We admire and note all of the local, seasonal and organic ingredients that have been specifically sourced for this event. We check that bulk condiments are being used, the compost bins are functioning properly, and that the full staff is comfortable with new system (this is the first time they’ve ever composted in the convention center!).
With General Assembly, we help pilot, scale and refine the operational and educational systems that deepen the overall sustainability of a specific event, with the intention of leaving a much longer legacy. This only happens by enlisting the full team through deep collaboration and many conversations. Here, we enjoy a moment of gratitude for the awesome convention center staff that have been receptive, patient and enthusiastic about utilizing a brand new sorting system.
Time for one of our daily back-of-house checks. We take a power walk behind-the-scenes in the convention center. Is everything being sorted properly? Are all systems working as planned? Is the digestor done with a new batch of compost? We roll up our sleeves, dig through trash, and move a few bins.
So much of sustainability is carefully executed and supported behavior change. The human solution is often the most effective one. In order to minimize fruit flies in our compost bins, the passionate volunteers begin to design fruit fly traps out of discarded trash. In mere days, these volunteers are well spoken advocates for proper waste diversion, as well as product designers!
The work day is almost over. The volunteer team is getting weird. Songs about recycling are being composed and rehearsed…
One last push. We are on the ground to problem solve on the fly, all hours of the day. While the convention center does not recycle glass, we perform an emergency rescue mission to sort and save empty glass bottles from an evening reception. The bottles are taken back to the residence of a volunteer, where they can be recycled.
Such stirring work! Just starting to unwind from the day. All night long I experience vivid dreams of moving Styrofoam containers from the recycling to the trash can…