Long before sustainable events were trendy, when event marketing was not yet a buzzword, Paul Salinger was passionate about the impact of events. Not only in his position with Oracle, but his personal commitment and lifestyle reflect a thoughtful consideration of our planet’s resources. He is the real thing. Leading by example, Paul has openly shared the sustainability initiatives practiced at Oracle OpenWorld with others in the community, inviting colleagues and competitors alike to tour backstage during the 60,000+ person event.

Paul Salinger has the innate ability to challenge their supply chain to go beyond what is easy and bring innovative solutions back to the event’s green team. Vendor Green Team members, who may otherwise see themselves as competitors, work in tandem to do the impossible to lessen the environmental impact. Knowing they are breaking new ground, organizers and suppliers alike work together to revolutionize meetings.

As President of the Green Meeting Industry Council, Paul’s considerable influence did indeed transform an industry. It is a personal honor to recognize his achievements as I believe he is an unsung hero in this movement, yet has touched the lives of so many, including me.

Graciously, while traveling to Oracle OpenWorld Latin America in Brazil, Paul took time to share his vision, insights and perspective on the future with us.

As a change agent in your organization and the events industry, what inspires you?

What inspires me is the ongoing opportunity to be involved with something that could really have a positive effect on the world. The event industry is just one piece of this, but given the volume of meetings and events that take place on a daily basis, if we could get everyone from attendees to planners to suppliers aligned and working toward sustainable goals it would have an enormous impact on our ability solve challenges around waste, carbon, diversity, human rights, etc., all while keeping economic sustainability as part of the goal.

What experiences have helped forge your environmental ethic and vision for sustainability?

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s and seeing impacts like rivers being on fire, acid rain creating deforestation, deforestation in the Amazon, smog and pollution in Los Angeles and realizing that some of this is still an issue have helped inform my interest in environmental issues. I want to take this on and be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. Seeing the advances in clean and renewable energy and the general awareness around waste diversion and carbon mitigation, I have hope we can create a world that is cleaner and more equitable for all of humanity.

Of the numerous programs you have initiated at Oracle, which makes you most proud?

Bringing together an entire supply chain in the San Francisco community to create common goals and agree on common measurements and sharing of data was a huge win and something we are very proud of. This has created a real legacy of best practices for all events in San Francisco that other conferences and events can take advantage of to increase the impact of sustainable events and help San Francisco reach broader waste diversion and carbon goals.

What changes do you anticipate in the next five years? Will they change how attendees experience events?

I’m optimistic we will continue to see positive change over the next 5 years. A lot of it may happen at the local level or through regional partnerships around clean energy and mutual collaboration on sustainable practices. It’s hard to predict how this will trickle down to the event industry as much still needs to be done. The industry needs more champions to step up throughout the entire cycle of events from business leaders to event planners to suppliers to attendees to maintain both awareness as well as practices. If we can get aligned, then the attendee experience should be one where they don’t really need to think about sustainability. It will just be baked into the event as a standard practice and we can focus on things like health and well-being for attendees that will create better experiences for them. Initiatives like healthy, organic food with a low carbon footprint, lower carbon means of transportation leading to cleaner air so attendees can feel good about walking more, and more long-term social projects that are measurable and create longer lasting positive impacts so attendees can identify with an event.

What is one “green metric” or data point that you are most curious to track for your sustainable event initiatives?

Here’s a real stretch goal. I’d love to be able to show every company and maybe even every person, attending or exhibiting at our events, their overall footprint by answering the questions:

  • What did they bring to the event that had to be either diverted from or go to landfill?
  • How much did they reuse or recycle?
  • How many people did they bring that had to fly and how much carbon was created, and did they contribute to offsetting it?
  • How did they transport materials to the event and what impact did that have?
  • What did you buy or bring onsite and how did you dispose of it?
  • Did you make conscious choices in your purchasing or consumption of goods?

Hard stuff to find out and get real data on, but this would build a tremendous amount of awareness and possibly drive different behavior.

What is one green “stretch goal” you have for your team? Something unlikely to happen this year, but one your team is looking for ways to make happen.

We’ve actually had the stretch goal of being a zero waste and carbon neutral event for the last five years. We were aiming for that by this year, but we will not get there just yet, so that remains our stretch goal and we continue to look for ways to make that happen within the constraints we currently face (inability to control attendee travel and offset all of it, challenges with packaging and materials in the supply chain, inability of main venue to divert waste at a higher level, challenges with designers and creatives to think sustainably in their designs and choices of materials, to name a few).

What is the biggest obstacle still to be overcome for sustainable event professionals?

The biggest obstacle we still have is not really having leverage to drive the changes we want to see. Part of this is because the industry, both planners and suppliers, have not come together to create standards that apply to all events and to the whole supply chain. We can’t change packaging practices, for example, unless we have an agreement across the industry that we won’t take goods packaged unsustainably (without the ability to recycle, reuse or compost). There are just no consequences for suppliers. Same with venues that don’t have a comprehensive waste management system that allows us to both get to zero waste and capture data the right way to be able to measure and report it. Without data across all events we will always have a hard time building a case for sustainability. The industry, as a whole, will need to decide this is important enough to come together and create a set of agreed upon practices and create both incentives and consequences for destinations, venues and suppliers across the event supply chain, and then make sure that these are aligned with business objectives and needs to truly create sustainable events for the long term.

About Paul

Paul Salinger is a Vice President of Marketing at Oracle. He reports directly to the Chief Marketing Officer and works across marketing to support the creative delivery of marketing messages and event strategies and design. Paul works closely with Oracle senior executives on their messaging and content for event presentations. Paul is also the evangelist and leader for running Oracle events sustainability and has created and led the global initiative for the last 11 years, working closely with both internal and external stakeholders to create an award-winning program.