By David Ezer
Getting hundreds of Jewish leaders to the Jewish Funders Network Conference in Jerusalem was not only a logistical challenge — it was also an environmental one. From air travel to Styrofoam cups to reams upon reams of paper, a conference like this one had the potential for a large environmental impact. But some simple changes that I and my colleagues instituted while planning the conference went far toward offsetting the gathering’s environmental burden.
The most significant environmental impact was participants’ travel. We had hundreds of people taking long-haul transcontinental flights to Israel from around the world, resulting in tons of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. The travel was necessary, but we lessened the impact by purchasing carbon credits — fiscal support for projects, such as afforestation, to remove the equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, offsetting our environmental impact.
The other major potential impact of the conference was waste. To minimize this, we attempted to find meeting venues with good composting and recycling practices. We also ended the practice of allowing attendees to leave brochures and materials on a distribution table — stacks of paper handouts that would later be discarded. Instead, we provided all of the same information on flash drives. It added a moderate cost, but the flash drives also saved a lot of paper — not to mention many hours of labor sorting handouts and stuffing them into tote bags.
We undertook several other efforts that helped minimize our environmental impact for a small cost, making it fairly easy for our organization to commit to maintaining a high standard of environmental sustainability at future conferences. Today, Jewish Funders Network’s green meeting practices have grown to include the following:
- Printing conference marketing and program materials on recycled paper, using vegetable based inks; reducing the size and number of pages of brochures in favor of electronic materials; and making all registration processes online and paperless;
- Distributing all other conference materials on flash drives;
- Promoting ride shares between the airport and the hotel;
- Donating leftover food to a local soup kitchen or shelter;
- Avoiding disposable silverware or flatware, except where unavoidable for kashrut observance, and then using only biodegradable products;
- Serving water and juices in pitchers, providing straws and stirrers on request only, serving condiments in bulk containers instead of in individually wrapped packets, and asking bar staff to give out napkins only when asked;
- Using Energy Star rated office equipment;
- and requesting paperless hotel check-in and check-out.
We also ask that our attendees help us keep our conferences as green as possible by:
- Purchasing additional carbon offset credits;
- Recycling glass, newspaper and plastic on-site;
- Bringing their own reusable bottles for beverages;
- Returning name badges to us at the end of the conference for reuse;
- Participating in the hotel’s linen and towel reuse program;
- and thanking the hotel for its efforts to be environmentally friendly.
With a simple orientation shift, a few questions asked of our venues and vendors, and letting attendees know about the environmental impact of our work, we’ve been able to reduce waste and provide a considerably greener event for a very small increase in cost. And most importantly, we have introduced the idea of holding conferences in a more environmentally sustainable way to a community of Jewish funders who might be inspired to adopt these same practices at their organizations.
David Ezer, a Certified Meeting Professional, is the director of programs at Jewish Funders Network. Previously, he worked as the conference manager at Chamber Music America and as a talent agent for classical musicians. Ezer also produced two seasons of the Bard Music Festival at Bard College in Annandale, N.Y. He earned his master’s of business administration at Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business.
The Jewish Energy Guide presents a comprehensive Jewish approach to the challenges of energy security and climate change and offers a blueprint for the Jewish community to achieve a 14% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by September of 2014, which is the next Shmittah, or sabbatical, year in the Jewish calendar.
The Jewish Energy Guide is part of COEJL’s Jewish Energy Network, a collaborative effort with Jewcology’s Year of Action to engage Jews in energy action and advocacy.The guide was created in partnership with the Green Zionist Alliance.