Green events

'Greening' our practice as facilitators

'Greening' our practice as facilitators

The two worlds I straddle - sustainability and process - interweave in all sorts of ways. And one of those ways involves challenging myself, and other facilitators, about the sustainability of our own practice.  And although I've called this blog post 'greening' our practice, of course there are the social and ethical aspects of sustainability as well as the environmental ones to consider.

Virtual meeting - up to my ankles

In November '09 I blogged that my toes were in the water, trying out how to integrate e-communications into workshops. Over a year later and I'm happy paddling up to my ankles: using cut-down post-its, a document camera and telepresence.  I was delighted to work with a client which had installed video-conferencing in many locations in the UK and US.  We were able to run a half-day workshop for a small team who were spread over three different locations.

This is a stock picture from Teliris on wikimedia commons, but it gives an idea of what the room looked like. In addition to the large screens, the people in the 'main' room had screens in the desk where images from slide shows or the document camera were visible.

Here are some very practical lessons and tips from that experience, firstly about things you can do before the meeting begins:

  • When designing the session, keep it interactive, don't feel that you have to make it one-way just because participants are on different continents.  Consider what might cause you to alter your design.  For example, I had expected there to be at least two people in each location, which would enable pairs / small group discussion.  But in the end one of our locations was used by just one person. So I adjusted the meeting design to include quiet thinking time, rather than pairs discussion. I asked everyone to make a note of their key points, so that everyone was ready to say something in the later round robin.
  • Make sure you check the time difference between locations, and double-check it!
  • Visit the room you'll be facilitating from, and play with the equipment.  How do you enable participants to view slides or an electronic document?  How do you dial up the other locations?  What do you do if the connection is lost? How much delay is there when people speak?
  • If you're lucky enough to have a ceiling-mounted document camera, can the camera pick up writing or diagrams on a flip chart sheet or on the desk?  How big does the writing need to be? Where are the edges of the camera's vision, and do these match the edges displayed to participants in other locations? Mark the edges with masking tape.
  • Make friends with the IT / facilities team.  What works well in their experience, and what trouble-shooting tips can they share.  How do you get hold of them during the meeting?

In the meeting

Having worked out how the document camera worked, and tested different sizes of post-it and handwriting, I was able to use small square post-its to record individual contributions and move them around until we had collaboratively created a timeline of the organisation's journey to this point.

Later in the session, I recorded contributions about people's vision of the future in a mind-map which was also broadcast live to the people in other location, via the document camera.  Unfortunately one of the locations lost the feed, so we ended up with some people not being able to see what the rest of the meeting could see: an imbalance which we were unable to correct before the meeting ended.

For my own use, I made a little map of who was sitting where, and used it to keep track of who'd spoken. This enabled me to invite contributions from time to time.

This was a half-day meeting, so I built in a comfort break which everybody really needed. Keeping focussed and engaged in virtual meetings are harder work than face-to-face, I think.

Improvements?

In future, I'd like to work out a practical way of integrating a running record into a meeting like this.  A simple word document shared live through google doc or a similar system might work.  You would need to check that everyone could access it - firewalls might be a problem.  Alternatively, a bespoke webmeeting package with a whiteboard could be used. I'm getting experience of both Huddle and Central Desktop in different client work at the moment.

No-fly zone: how's it going?

8.01 Left home just after the pips. 476 and then the Northern Line from Angel. Man with lacrosse stick on the bus makes room for woman with toddler and pram. Everyone trying to be accommodating. 08.40 Cup of tea. Plenty of time.

9.10 We set off from Euston, on a Pendolino. We don’t have seat reservations but since this isn’t the usual train which does this journey, I’m not sure anyone else does either. We will have to change at Crewe. Slightly nervous. New apartment blocks near Euston have solar panels on the roofs, each at a slightly different angle.

09.45 Lots of people get off at Milton Keynes, so we swap seats so we have a table and sockets for our laptops. Now we can work! Misty. We pass sopping allotments and horses dripping slightly in the fields.

09.50 Announcement reassures us that Crewe know we’re coming, and we will be helped to make our connection. Those who need assistance, those with lots of luggage, those with small children and pushchairs – it sounds like she knows us all individually. Reassuring.

10.27 Going through the Shugborough Tunnel, 777 yards according to the sign.  Signal down, of course.

Sycamore, willow, birch, oak. Freight train. Convolvulus.  Canal boat being manoeuvred through a small arched bridge.

10.31 passing through Stafford station. Vertical axis wind turbines on building by the station are not turning. Design flaw? Or grid problems leading to automatic shut-down? Or just not enough wind?

10.41 Mobile broadband connection on this laptop is SO SLOW. Everything takes much longer to do than I’d like.

10.58 Successfully changed at Crewe onto the new train. Which apparently divides at Chester. We think we’re in the right carriage. Table and sockets all present and correct. Weather slightly brighter. Beginning to think about the ferry – will it be rough? Wish I’d remembered to bring wrist bands.

11.07 More canal boats. They manage to look so much more attractive than caravans. Very small wind turbine whizzing round, powering who-knows-what on one boat.

Getting hillier. Red soil peeps through. Dramatic ruins on rocky hill which juts out of flat landscape.

11.17 Chester. Dapper gent sharing our table gets off here. Cheeringly large number of bikes at the station bike racks. Race course looks very well cared for, protected by the curve of the river. Surprisingly busy looking airport – runway lights look very bright as it’s still a bit overcast.

11.31 Judging by the length of the sign at the station we have just passed through, we must be in Wales. I was hoping for an announcement.

11.33 Tidal stream alongside us – tide’s out, lots of shiny mud with a very thin channel snaking through it. Lots of people in this carriage have bought crisps from the shop and there’s a crackling crunchy noise in front and behind me. Hungry.

11.36 Gleeful lady just popped her crisp packet! Unbelievable. They wouldn’t allow that in the quiet zone.

11.37 I can see the sea! This line is right by the water’s edge, with just a narrow stone wall on the seaward side. Sea level rise, anyone? One for the Climate Change Risk Assessment , I think.

11.41 Three grey herons in meadow – but no water for them to fish in. I wonder what they are doing there. Mountains stretch out ahead and to the left, silver in the haze. Blue sky on the seaward side – perhaps we’ll have a smooth crossing.

11.46 Rhyl.  Sun breaks out! People hunching over their screens so they can read despite the light.

11.52 Fortifications line the forested hillside, but this must be a folly – there’s no room for anything behind them!

11.53 Wind farm out to sea, gleaming white in the sunshine, but none turning. Bad news for electricity generation, good news for calm crossing?

12.03 Llandudno Junction. Gateway to Snowdonia National Park. Ah, to be in the hills.

12.07  Or in the river, like a dozen kayakers and four boatloads of canoeists.

12.16 Clouding over a bit.

12.22 Arriving at Bangor. Suddenly much noisier. Jolene being played on a very poor machine – perhaps a phone. Hope they get off.

12.28 Spectacular bridge crossing, and some kind of monument: not quite Nelson’s Column. Apparently we’re now on Anglesey. Lush and green; boggy fields; wind-twisted, low trees; sheep and cattle; glossy crows in low hawthorns.

12.38 RAF training flight zooms past and I wait for the sonic boom which doesn’t arrive.

12.44 Could that be a little egret in that pond? Black bill, otherwise snowy white.

12.45 White water rafters in channel between railway line and road. Annoying music is back.

14.01  On ferry. Luggage had to be checked in, which we hadn’t anticipated. Quick swapping over of essential items before we consign our cases to the conveyor belt. Once through security, we wait for a while on the little bus, regretting checking in so promptly. Cheery man from National Statistics Office of Ireland invites us to take part in travel survey, but fails to lift the mood, which is grey.

Once on board, the veggie dish of day is chick pea curry. Surprisingly good, although the naan bread is best avoided. Very glad, as I didn’t think we’d get decent veg-laden food on this rather convoluted journey. Wi-Fi working (faster than mobile broadband on train), spacious table by the window, weather good. 14.29 Fully at sea, though hills still visible if I crane my neck. Water steely grey, sky pearly grey, water a little choppy but boat still moving smoothly.

14.42 My phone tells me that making and receiving calls will cost me £1.30 a minute. Should have brought continental adapter as electrical socket need round-pin plug.

15.15 WiFi means I can follow Ed Miliband’s first speech as Labour leader on twitter. No mention of environment yet. Hmm.

15.16 There it is! Needs a new politics. I’ll say.

15.48 Google thinks I’m in Norway.  Shame that the only Norwegian I know is the finger counting rhyme: “Tommeltott, Slikkepott, Langemann, Gullebrand, og Lille Petter Spillemann”.

Transfer from ferry port to Connolly station is free, quick and easy.

Connolly station is small, tidy and shiny but eating options very limited.

19.14 Our Belfast-bound train crosses a lot of water on a narrow causeway.  CCRA again!

20.01 Dundalk.  Station architecture familiar from so many English Victorian stations: decoration iron columns and canopies, decorative brickwork with stripes and arches picked out in cream, green and terracotta.

20.14 Glad I brought a book (Peggy Holman’s Engaging Emergence – lovely) as well as my laptop, as I’m now out of juice and there’s no sockets on the train.

20.20 Passing Newry. Strings of orange streetlights netting over a bowl of hillsides.

Walked from Belfast Central station to hotel – about 10 mins – refreshing after the long journey.

In room by 10.00.

Feel fresh and ready for workshop.

During workshop, people who knew about our travel choices swapped their own stories and perspectives: ferry journeys disrupted by bad weather, the iniquity of untaxed air fuel, questions around the relative carbon intensity of a very full flight versus a mostly empty ferry.

Return journey

18.09 On train waiting to leave for Dublin.  Glorious blue skies and sunshine.

18.35 Golden skies and long shadows.

19.09 Sky pinkish and grey, mountains on the skyline.  Newry by daylight this time!

19.21 My phone tells me I’m in Ireland.

20.32 About 20 minutes late into Connolly station, but we get a cab straight away and there’s no trouble checking in.  Very few foot passengers.  Will there be any veggie hot meal at this time of night.

Yes!  Chick pea curry again, no mini poppadums this time, but mango chutney. Naan bread still inedible.

23.30 My phone tells me I’m in the Isle of Man.

Stupid O’clock.  Walk from ferry terminal to hotel in Holyhead marred by lack of signposting.  We can see the hotel, but it takes a couple of goes to cross the main road and actually get to it.  We spot a footbridge from the station which we’ll use tomorrow. Hotel cheap and cheerless.

08.15 Meet for the walk back to the station.  Marred this time by discovery that entrance to footbridge is firmly locked.  Weather good.

09.23 Train to Birmingham, we change at Chester.  Lovely morning, with pale sun illuminating semi-wild countryside.  Green fields edged with thick hedges and grey stone, with occasional peat bog breaking through.

09.55 Back across the bridge to mainland Wales.  Statue looks wistfully out across the short stretch of sea.

10.04 This stretch of track lined with nut trees.

10.14 Penmaenmawr The sea on our left gleams and shimmers, calm and sunlit.  To the right, rocky hills and screen slopes. The road and the railway line protect (separate?) the hills from the sea.

10.49 Prestatyn. Warm hubbub of chat on this friendly train, as Sarah types up worksheets from yesterday's meeting and I catch up with emails.

11.32 On new train at Chester, waiting for the off.  Table and sockets mean we can work all the way back to London.  Hurray.

12.05 Speeding through gentler landscape, though rougher sedges still break through the grass in the sheep fields.

12.21 Passing large power station, not sure which one.  Modest clouds of steam emerging from cooling towers.

12.53 Getting hungry, but we’ll be back at Euston in less than an hour. Should I wait to eat proper food?

12.59 Milton Keynes.  Signal much worse as we approach London.   Very frustrating.

13.22 Shop closed, so food decision is out of my hands.

13.48 Leek and potato soup at Prêt outside the station.  Feeling revived.

Verdict: doable, cost relatively low, requires free day for travel on either side of assignment.  Preferable to have more than one thing to do to make full use of the time (and carbon) of travelling.   We had first draft of workshop record ready pretty much by the time we left the train. Take continental plug adapter for ferry.  Investigate staying overnight in Dublin rather than Holyhead on return leg of journey.

Making my work a no-fly zone

Last time I flew for work was in 2007, running a workshop in the Netherlands.  I had tried to find a way to go by boat and train, but couldn't make the timings fit in with other commitments. The last time I flew for pleasure was so long ago that I can't remember. I have turned down all work that involves flying since then, but without being up-front about this.  I say I'm unavailable or "I'm sure you can find someone locally" .  And I try to help them do just that: a great reason to network internationally and to keep in touch with people who I've come across over the years who understand both process and sustainable development, or may know someone who does.

Being up-front

On a coaching course this year, we did a pairs exercise about 'boundaries'.  We had to identify a time when we had noticed a boundary and maintained it.  We were invited to illustrate this.  As I drew the picture I realised that flying was emerging as a boundary for me.  It has been a value-in-action and I can choose to make it an espoused value too.  In that realisation I decided to make it an explicit aspect of my work.

The illustration I drew at the time shows this through the picture of sealed charter which makes 'not flying' a clear part of how I do business.

Since then, I've included this in the 'walking the talk' statement on this website, and in an updated discussion document which I share with new clients which sets out how I intend we will work together. (This latter also includes a range of other 'draft ground rules' for our consultant-client relationship: things like honesty, collaboration, learning from feedback, acting in good faith and so on.)

Testing my commitment

I've had a chance to test out this espoused value in two different situations recently.

One is a new client is based in the UK and the USA.  I set out up-front (before putting in a proposal) that I would not travel to the USA as part of this assignment.  I felt some trepidation in doing this: might I lose the work?  Reflecting further I realised that this outcome was not, surprisingly, such a big worry for me as I'm turning down work at the moment and I knew I didn't want the work if it meant flying.  The bigger source of my anxiety was that these people who I'd only just met might they think badly of me. They might interpret my refusal to fly as a criticism of them - they almost certainly are obliged to fly for work.  They might simply think me wildly eccentric.  (One day I'll blog on the EAFL meme : "environmentalists are **** loonies" ).  They might worry that association with me would make their colleagues think this about them.

I'm being very frank here - explaining my worries discretely even though I know they were quite murky at the time before I was able to pin them down precisely.

The new client was not put off, although I will continue to watch for the impact this stance has on our relationship, as well as the practicalities of the project.  Our first multi-continent workshop was run using impressive video presence facilities, and I'll blog about that separately.

The second challenge came about because I wasn't really paying attention!

I am working on stakeholder engagement for the UK's first Climate Change Risk Assessment. As part of this, there are workshops for stakeholders in the Devolved Administrations - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  I agreed to facilitate these workshops as part of a team, with the workshops distributed between us.  Only later did I realise that - of course - Belfast is usually accessed from other parts of the UK by plane, these days.  As luck would have it, the Belfast workshop is the one date that I could do.  Could I get there without flying?  Fortunately I had a full day with no meetings on either side of it, allowing slow travel.

I checked the cost of travelling by train and ferry, using the legendary Man in Seat 61 website.  I also checked the travelling times, and worked out that two nights accommodation were probably needed, not one.  I resolved that I would absorb the additional expenses if they proved to be higher than those of my flying colleagues, and not charge for the longer travelling time.

Armed with these mitigations, I raised my 'no flying' commitment with my immediate client (the consultancy I am sub-contracted by).  They seemed fine with it.  And - thanks Sarah, you're a star - one of my facilitator colleagues said she'd travel with me too.

I still feel a bit funny about this choice to go by train and ferry rather than flying.  It takes much longer.  And if we miss a connection, or there's a storm at sea, people may criticise me for choosing a less reliable way to travel.  It feels like an experiment which could go wrong.

And I have read and re-read this blog entry, afraid to click 'publish', for some weeks now!

Experimenting with 'being the change'

I know that for many people, deciding not to fly for work would be a seriously career-limiting decision.  The way we organise our working lives and our international organisations is now so dependent on being able to travel very long distances or across seas fast, that  using only surface transport would be very inconvenient.  Even within the UK, there are lots of journeys which involve moving from one island to another, where boat is slower and - ahem - more bilious than flying.

I have the great good fortune, though, to be in a position to say 'no' to flying for work even as I recognise that this is not an option for many of the people I work with.  So I can be an experimenter, someone who tries out what a world with seriously reduced dependence on aviation might look like.  And if I can do it, perhaps I should.

How are people taking it?

The reaction from people who I've told about this has been an interesting range.  Some applauded and said "I bet your clients love it that, because you're really walking the talk".  Some said "that's a long time to be away not earning".  Others said "that's really interesting, I'd like to experiment like that, tell me how it goes".

I'm going to actively reflect on this experiment, and I'll tell you how it goes.

Is refilling marker pens a waste of time?

In-the-room facilitators often use a lot of flip chart paper and plenty of marker pens.  It's very irritating when the pens begin to dry up.  A juicy pen is best.  And I get through a lot of them. I use two different kinds of marker pens which I can refill: Staedtler and Rosinco.  I buy the refill ink from the Green Stationery Company, who order them in for me because although the pens are widely available in the UK, the refills are not.

The systems are different.

With Rosinco, it's a 'drip and soak' system, where you stand the pen on its bottom in a rather charming wooden stand, and fit a plastic funnel around the nib end, a bit like the collar you put on a pet to stop it biting its stitches.  You then drip the ink from a bottle into the collar, and it soaks into the pen.  It's a bit messy when the collar is removed, as there is inevitably some ink left around the head of the pen.  The pen itself uses a cardboard tube, and the refill set comes in a brown paper bag.  So it's got an old fashioned 'natural' feel to it.  And do you know, I couldn't find a web page showing the refill pack.  If you know of one, please post a comment.

The Staedtler refill ink comes in a short stubby tub, and you put the pen head down into the refill station and leave it for four minutes (or it could be four hours, the diagram of a clock face is ambiguous).

During workshops, I put masking tape around the lid of dried up pens which I can refill, and put the non-refillable ones straight in the bin.  When I get back to the office, the dehydrated pens go in a special box until I have time to do a refilling session.

So is it a waste of time?  I don't mean this from an environmental cost-benefit analysis.  I'm convinced enough that refilling is better than one-trip pens.

I mean clock time.

I'm a busy person.  Can I slow down enough to supervise the pens as they drink their fill?  Can I multi-task while they are soaking?  (I can only blog about this once!)

Taking the time to do something slowly when there is a faster option feels eccentric and hard, when a glance to my left shows my to-do list growing all by itself. Shall we add slow stationery to slow travel and slow food?

So I multi-task by using pen refill time as time to stop and stare.  I may not be standing beneath the boughs, but I can gawp at the tall tree outside my office window and - on a day like today - listen to the swifts screeching and see an urban fox sunning itself on a shed roof.

It's also an opportunity to reflect on mindfulness and intention. Even in these small things, I have an intention. Even for this small amount of time, I am aware that I find it hard to quieten the task master in my head.

So not a waste of time: a use of time.

Now the ash has settled: eleven questions to get insights from the shutdown

Was the shut down of air travel a right pain for you and your organisation? Now that the ash has settled, there's a great opportunity for you to use the recent disruption to discuss sustainable development with your colleagues. [And as if to prove the point that it's a good idea to be prepared, it's back - as of 08.52 @BST 4th May 2010.]

Whichever way you look at it, a low-carbon economy (whether forced on us by peak oil or chosen as a planned way of mitigating climate change) will mean a drastic reduction in cheap air travel.  Your colleagues may feel this is too far off, or too fanciful, to plan for.  But the shut down actually happened.  So it's a great way in to discussions you might not have been able to have before April 2010.

Here are 11 questions to structure a discussion about your organisation's dependence on air transport - and how you can reduce it over the long term.

  1. What was disrupted?
  2. What was enhanced?
  3. What did we do differently, that worked really well?
  4. What did we do differently, that was a right pain?
  5. What contingencies did we have in place, or put in place, in case the shut-down had lasted for twice as long?
  6. Or ten times as long?
  7. What would we have done if we'd had a week's notice?
  8. What would we have done if we'd had a month's notice?
  9. What would we have done if we'd had five year's notice?
  10. What will we keep doing differently anyway, because it worked better?
  11. What will we build into our medium and long term planning, to help us be ahead of the game when air travel again becomes more expensive and less available?

Volcano getting in the way of your vital meeting? Go virtual!

With the skies over Europe still (rather blissfully) free of planes, more people will be thinking about meeting by phone, video conference, telepresence or web-meeting. Like Fay Ripley and this groovy crowd in the dothegreenthing video strange meeting, part of their stay grounded strand.

On the cheap

If you have skype then teleconferences for a small number of people are possible at very low cost. If there are only two of you, you can video call using skype.

I expect that providers of web meeting software will find their free trials taken up a lot this week.  Free trials are available on Citrix GoToMeeting , Webex and DimDim (which also has a totally free product).   Acrobat Connect is free for small meetings - three people maximum.  Elluminate.com is aimed primarly at a teaching / training situation, but their vRoom product is free for up to three people to meet.

Top tips

If you aren’t used to this way of meeting, but have been forced to change your plans, here are some top tips for teleconferences.

Before the call

Ensure that someone takes responsibility for preparing and chairing the call - including

  • confirming start and finish times.
  • compiling an agenda and circulating it to everyone in advance.  The agenda should be descriptive - that is, for each item, it should be clear what the ‘task’ is to be undertaken in relation to that item (hear an update, share views, reach a decision etc).
  • ensuring that it’s clear what preparation is expected for the meeting (e.g. circulating a paper, reading the paper, etc).
  • sending round details of the number to call, any associated PIN, and whether the number is toll-free.
  • ensuring that someone has agreed to take a note of key decisions and action points.

All participants should make sure they are calling in from somewhere quiet and with minimum distractions.

Let the chair know if you cannot make the call.

At the start

When you join the conference, announce your presence.

At the start of the call, make time for

  • a round of introductions
  • confirming the agenda and altering it if needed
  • confirming the end time
  • discussing and agreeing any ground rules

During the call

  • During the teleconference - and this may sound laborious, but it really helps - for each item or point, the person chairing should give everyone a chance to contribute by going around the group in a set order, e.g. alphabetical order of first name, (with people ‘passing’ if they like).  People should say when they’ve finished on each point, so that others don’t interrupt or get twitchy about how they’re going to catch the chair's eye.
  • If the conversation is flowing more freely, people should state their name when talking.
  • Keep interruptions and distractions to a minimum - rustling, snuffling, chewing, tapping, side conversations all add to the background noise for everyone.
  • Some conference call systems have a ‘mute’ facility, which automatically mutes people’s phone lines when they are not talking.

At the end

At the end of the meeting, make time for

  • a final round of checking that there’s nothing else people would like to raise
  • confirming action points
  • confirming the arrangements for the next meeting
  • feedback on anything that needs to be done differently at the next meeting (process review)

Others' tips

Gillian Martin Mehers has blogged about preparing for a video conference.

Facilitate Proceedings blog about virtual meetings.

If you’re interested in exploring how to facilitate really good group interactions online, there is also a curriculum for an online facilitation course, developed by Nancy White.

Practising for transition?

After the 7-7 tube bombings in London, there was a surge in the number of people cycling.  This rise was sustained, and London still echoes to the swish of cycle wheels.  Over the next few days, as people are forced to find ways of doing business without flying, perhaps some of the experiments will be so successful that they’ll be added to the set of options which are considered ‘normal’.  Maybe we’ll look back and discover that we were experimenting and practising for transition to a low-carbon economy.

Have fun with your experiments.

Small print: I don’t have any business connection with any of the products mentioned, nor does their presence here imply any endorsement etc.  Just blogging to be helpful.

e-meetings - my toes are in the water

I'm keen to use more 'e' in meetings. Teleconferences mean live conversation without the travel.  Add in some kind of live editing of a shared document (like google docs), and everyone can see the notes being written in real time, just like flip charts in a workshop.  Share some video or slides, and everyone is viewing the same input.  Include video calling (e.g. using  skype), and we can see each other as well.

I can see that there's loads of potential to reduce participants' carbon footprints (probably) and include people whose other commitments mean that adding travelling time onto meeting time would mean that they couldn't attend at all.

Toe in the water

So I'm making a concerted effort to experience e-meetings of all kinds as a participant.  I joined a webcast (lecture and panel discussion) a couple of days ago, and I'm attending a webinar on how to design good webinars next week.

I'm also adding in some virtual elements to meetings which I facilitate.   Some tips on good teleconferences, built from that experience, are available here.

Spontaneous blending

Trainers sometimes talk about 'blended learning', which includes traditional face to face workshops with virtual elements like a web-based discussion space or a module delivered by email.

In a workshop I ran over the summer, there was a fascinating example of spontaneous blending of methods.  The group is a community stakeholder group, set up to represent local interests during the early phases of developing plans for a flood defence.  During a half day workshop, the group was looking at maps showing alternative sites for the defences.  Timescales for the project are very tight, and this workshop was taking place during a very short window of opportunity for people to feed comments back to the organisation which is developing the plans.  So the pressure was on the participants to ensure that they were accurately reflecting the views of the wider constituencies that they were there to represent.

One innovative participant whipped out a camera phone and took pictures of the maps.  Within seconds they could be sent to people who weren't at the meeting, and their comments relayed back.  I don't know whether this meant that their views made it 'into the room' during the meeting, or whether it simply gave them a head start in discussing the plans after the meeting.  In any case, it set me thinking about how much wider groups of people could be involved, if we can come up with ways of using technologies like camera phones and texting, which are ubiquitous.

What if this person had stuck to the ground rule about keeping mobile phones off during the meeting?

I'm enjoying dabbling my toes in this pool.  I'm readying myself to dive in!

Walking the talk - my own practice

As sustainability facilitators, we all want to reduce our negative environmental and social impacts, and improve the positives.  Elsewhere I have written about 'walking the talk' at events, workshops, conferences which we might be organising.  This is how my own practice puts that into action. This post is about my own practice, in case anyone wants to check that out.

As a small practice, there is no environmental management system or formal policy.  But I do take steps to reduce environmental impact and maximise the positive social impact.

Transport

Using public transport and cycling to client meetings and events, rather than using a private car. I do not fly. I encourage clients to use telephone or video conferencing, or e-mediated processes, where appropriate.

Energy

The office uses energy efficient equipment.  Both electricity and gas for the building are purchased from Good Energy, a supplier of renewably-generated electricity.  Good Energy also pays a rebate for the solar hot water heated on site, through its renewable heat incentive HotROCs.

Carbon offsets

I participate in a carbon sequestration scheme through the Environmental Transport Association, to help offset emissions from public transport, taxis, car use and air travel (which is rare).  In addition, an annual offset is undertaken with Climate Care, based on average carbon emissions for a business of this size.  Off-setting the carbon from client meetings, workshops or events can also be arranged.

Stationery and consumables

‘Greener’ options are used, including recycled paper (including flip chart paper and post-it notes), refilled / remanufactured ink cartridges, solvent-free pens, refillable pens.  Preference is given to organic, local and fairly traded food at the office and where I have control over refreshments at workshops.  Reusable containers and crockery are specified where I have control over refreshments at workshops.  My company (Verlander Walker Ltd) is a silver-level signatory to the Mayor's Green Procurement Code.

Waste

Paper and envelopes are reused.  Paper is collected for recycling.  Cartridges are sent for recycling.  Polythene mailing films are sent for recycling.  Organic waste is composted.

Water

Water efficiency equipment has been installed in the workplace.

Community activities

As well as fee-paying client work, voluntary activities range from Chairing the Management Committee of a community business, organising peer-learning and networking among sustainability consultants, to raising funds through events like jumble sales for an inner-city primary school.

Sliding scale

Project fees are negotiated individually, with lower day rates charged to the voluntary sector, and higher day rates for the for-profit sector.

Walking the Talk

If you're a sustainable development communicator who works face-to-face - as a trainer, facilitator, speaker or internal champion - then you'll want to know how to reduce the environmental impact of those face-to-face events. Walking the Talk (an article I originally wrote for the environmentalist) looks at some ways that venues, practitioners and the meetings industry in the UK are trying to reduce their carbon footprint and tackle other environmental impacts.

Update

November 2010: A useful blog post here from GreenBiz.com, simple steps to greening your meeting has some more ideas.

April 2011: blog post from Coro Strandberg with a link to a guide to sustainable meetings developed in Canada by The Co-operators, an insurance and financial co-op.