Just how eco was BlogHer ’10?

The Green Mommy and Recycla recently attended the annual BlogHer conference in New York City.  For those of you who are not familiar with BlogHer, this is a gathering of over 2,000 bloggers, mostly female, for two days of sessions and information gathering.

The Green Mommy and Recycla were excited to be at BlogHer; not only to learn new things but also because they were interested in seeing just how eco BlogHer ’10 would be.  There had been much hoopla about BlogHer’s Green Team, which worked to reduce the conference’s impact on Planet Earth, including offering a place to drop off unwanted swag (freebies) and offering an online-only (not printed) conference guide.

BlogHer ’10 was sponsored by dozens of companies, all of whom set up booths in the exhibition halls or elsewhere within the hotel.  Many provided products to the attendees that were either included in tote bags given to them when they registered or were delivered to their hotel rooms.  Yes, that’s right, new products were delivered daily to the attendees’ rooms.  Luckily, there was an option to not receive swag deliveries and Recycla opted not to have plastic toys and coupons and laundry detergent samples and more plopped on her bed every night.  (The Green Mommy is from New York and thus was not staying in the hotel.)

Recycla and the Green Mommy want to talk a bit about the aforementioned swag bags.  As mentioned, when they checked in at the conference, they were given large tote bags filled to the brim with a variety of products.  The bags themselves came from Freeset Global, which offers eco-friendly fair trade bags made by women who have escaped the sex trade.

The bags were filled — and they do mean filled — with a variety of products:

Among other items, the bag contained Play-Doh, a plastic water bottle, a mug, a plastic sandwich carrier, gum, a Jimmy Dean alarm clock, hand sanitizer, and more.  While Recycla and the Green Mommy didn’t weigh their bags, they estimate that they came in around 6-8 pounds.

This bag o’ goodies was indicative of the commercial aspect of the BlogHer ’10 conference, during which there were ample opportunities to get lots of free stuff and much encouragement for attendees to be as materialistic as possible.  The Green Mommy and Recycla found this to be quite off-putting and were repulsed by the rampant materialism gone amok.

Luckily, there was a swag exchange room, in which bloggers could drop off all of their unwanted freebies.  The Green Mommy and Recycla took this opportunity to unload their swag, including the fair trade bag and its contents.  While the bags were nice and well-made, they were simply too bulky for shopping and the burlap exteriors were rough and scratchy when carried.

The Green Mommy and Recycla took a lot of notes at BlogHer ’10 and have some thoughts to share with you:

Good Eco Actions at BlogHer ’10:

  • The conference guides were emailed to attendees, not printed.
  • Much less bottled water offered — Attendees were encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottles and refilling stations were available at the conference.  There were also pitchers of water at the tables at breakfast and lunch.
  • Uneaten food was donated to City Harvest, a local nonprofit organization that helps New Yorkers in need.
  • The ability to opt out of some conference swag, as well as a room set aside for dropping off unwanted swag.
  • All utensils and cups at meals were corn-based (PLA) plastic.
  • The eco-friendly fair trade tote bag that bloggers were given to carry their swag.

Not-so-good Eco Actions at BlogHer ’10:

  • The presence of any bottled water.  Pepsi was one of the corporate sponsors and, even though there were pitchers of water on all the tables at meals, bottled water was still offered.
  • Sodas in plastic bottles — not more easily-recycled bottles or cans.
  • There were no obvious recycling bins for the corn-based plastic cups and utensils and it all appeared to go into the regular trash bins.  Corn-based cups and utensils will NOT decompose in landfills or even in home composters; they must be put in industrial composters  in order to break down.
  • There were not enough recycling options in general, particularly for attendees who stayed at the Hilton.  There was no recycling in hotel rooms at all and within the conference area, while bins were available, there could have been more.
  • The sheer volume of corporate product placement and constant, unending encouragement to consume more, more, more.
  • The availability of a shipping service for bloggers to mail their freebies home.
  • The earth-friendly tote bags mentioned above were shipped from India, which is not so earth-friendly.

Suggestions for BlogHer ’11:

  • No bottled water of any kind.
  • Offer real non-disposable plates, utensils, etc. and charge conference attendees an extra $5 or so to cover the cost of washing.
  • More recycling bins, including the option to recycle, for example, the snack cups of Jello pudding that were offered in between sessions.
  • Offer a place to drop off conference nametags and lanyards to be reused the following year.  This would mean that lanyards would not have corporate logos on them (since sponsors would change from year to year), but something basic with just the BlogHer logo would work well.
  • If BlogHer does offer free tote bags, don’t ship them from around the world and instead look for U.S.-made options.  Also, a bag that isn’t so bulky and would instead fold into a small bundle would be helpful.
  • Less swag, please!  And, of the companies represented, more green offerings!
  • No shipping options for swag — if they’re forced to deal with their stuff and haul it back home on airplanes, hopefully people won’t take so much crap

So these are the Green Mommy’s and Recycla’s suggestions.  They would love to hear more from other attendees of Blogher and other conferences.  They would also be happy to talk with the folks at BlogHer to brainstorm other ideas for the future.

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10 thoughts on “Just how eco was BlogHer ’10?

  1. It’s funny — the bags you describe were exactly the ones we received at Blogher ’09! They were light, foldable into a very small package (included), and very inviting to use. I use mine for groceries, even a year later.

    I didn’t see the bottled water – interesting.

    But as for the swag, we were encouraged only to take the conference bag at registration if we wanted one — why did you take one?

    I’m on your side here; I want things as green as possible and was frustrated with the lack of places to recycle paper and packaging trash — but i do think BlogHer is trying to address some of these issues with the steps you mention above. I’m wondering what conference feedback, for example, caused the switch away from the useful ’09 bags to the less-useful (in your opinion and mine) ’10 bags. Could it just have been that the mom-owned company offered to sponsor them last year, and the bigger company had a different product to offer this year? I did love the story behind the bags —

    • Susan, good question. Why did I take a bag? I didn’t plan to, but when I registered at the conference, I had just gotten off the train and checked into the hotel (all while traveling with my husband and children). Honestly, I was just flustered and not thinking at all. So when someone handed me the bag, I was distracted and just accepted the bag automatically. So, points off for me on that one.

      I agree, it appears that this year’s conference was more green than in the past, so BlogHer gets credit for that. Since I know that they pay attention to post-conference feedback, I’m hoping that they’ll implement some of these ideas.

      Some of the problems I saw could also be addressed by Hilton. My family stays at Hiltons and Hampton Inns (a member of the Hilton group) when we travel, so I’m very familiar with how they do things. After every hotel stay, I email the company with a request for in-room recycling and also better/more towel hooks in the bathrooms so that we can actually hang up our towels to dry and then re-use them.

  2. Jen, all of those points (in your comment) are great ideas!

    I’m glad you answered about the bag too — and I’m surprised — when I checked in earlier that day, they specifically asked if I wanted a bag. Looks like training was uneven — or perhaps they were just tired too. :-)

    • It’s possible that they asked me but I was seriously so frazzled from the walk from Penn Station to the Hilton with the kids (who now know about the Naked Cowboy in Times Square) and was about to head out to a party that I was nervous about that I really was not focused on the here-and-now.

  3. Mailing swag home might have been a frugal option for some attendees, rather than pay for an additional bag. I don’t know if the giveaways were worth the trouble or the cost of either. I did not attend.

    As for the bags, there are bags made in the USA from old billboard vinyl. They’re unique, creative, and sturdy. BlogHer could look into those.

  4. Thanks for the feedback. Just a couple of comments that might be helpful.

    There was actually supposed to be no bottled water served whatsoever. After we caught that they served some early the first day, we reiterated to not serve. So i hope after the first meal of the first day it stopped.

    Also, big facilities like this often sort trash/recycling back-of-house, because humans make enough human errors sorting themselves that they end up having to go through it anyway.

    I’d actually give a special shout-out to the Hilton, because they decided to use that compostable serve-ware on their own dime. it’s unfortunately quite expensive, and we probably couldn’t have done that ourselves. Knowing the strong streak of eco-consciousness in our community, the Hilton decided to cover that themselves. So the BlogHer community and its feedback does shape what companies do beyond BlogHer itself.

    • Hi Elisha. Thanks for your comment. The Green Mommy and I definitely saw the bottled water on Saturday too. On Friday, I ate lunch with some other eco bloggers (including one or two who were on the Green Team) and there was quite a bit of concern about the bottled water.

      I agree that the Hilton does a pretty good job with their green initiatives, but there’s some room for improvement. My family usually stays at hotels within the Hilton family and, as I mentioned in a comment above, I always email them after a stay and ask that they consider making a few changes. I had thought about the behind-the-scenes trash/compost sorting and have asked them about that. (No word yet…)

  5. Oh sigh. Thanks for letting me know. Well, as I told Lori, our events manager. If there’s bottled water on our bill, we’re not paying for it…because we couldn’t have been more clear. I’m just so frustrated that it would still show up, even after being told again on-site. grumble grumble :(

  6. I didn’t see plastic bottle drinks served at meals. In fact I noted how cute and glass the soda bottles were during lunch. I had to ask the people at the Pepsi booth to give me one of their empty plastic drink bottles so I could recycle it it in the Dream Machine.

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