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Sustainable Travel Session Notes:
SpaceShare Green Travel and Networking

Notes from the Green Meeting Industry Council's 2007 "Greening the Hospitality Industry" Conference in Portland. Stephen Cataldo from SpaceShare was on the Sustainable Transportation panel.

Example: National Conference for Media Reform

SpaceShare's networking tools are customized for each event. At the National Conference for Media Reform a few weeks ago, we orchestrated nearly 350 people looking to share rooms, rides, or connect on flights.

Total Users: 347
Rides Offered: 64
Rides Needed: 99
Hotel Roommate Searches: 262
Homestay Requests: 158
Homestay Offers: 6
Airport Connections: 76
Total Requests: 665

Conference attendees find the conference travel connections site on the conference registration and information pages. They quickly sign in and describe what they are looking for, say a ride from Baltimore or a hotel roommate or someone to share a taxi. Many people look for more than one connection. The computer then finds them likely matches, so they can skim half a dozen posts for a good match, rather than read hundreds. Their privacy is protected as they begin contacting each other.

Transforming Hospitality Green: Lessons from the Chemical Industry

Earlier during the conference, I heard about a conflict between the "star" system for hotels and the green desire to switch shampoo from plastic bottles to refillable shower dispensers. This is a good time to step back and look at an industry that has transformed: imagine the conflicts between environmentalists and chemists 20 years ago, and you realize that the conflict level in greening the hospitality industry is very small.

Yet today, chemical companies all declare themselves green, and have made tremendous progress. People who manufacture chemicals have generally come to accept and appreciate that minimizing waste is part of their job, and that the effort to minimize waste often helps them produce chemicals more efficiently and cheaply: greening helped them look at their production process from start to finish, and create as much output with as little waste as they could imagine. Their business is manufacturing chemicals: when forced to green, they cut manufacturing waste and increased profits.

Earlier during the conference, people have talked about the effort to get rid of "black plastic." This is similar to how the chemical industry transformed itself: looking for waste and removing it. For the chemical industry, manufacturing is "what they do," so removing waste tends to mean higher profits.

Do we manufacture conferences?

It worked great! I not only made a connection to share a ride, but established a great relationship with a prospective client!
-- Eva Booker

The most challenging question I heard at this conference: wouldn't the best way to be green be for everyone to stay home, to just have webinars instead of meetings?

If we manufactured conferences, then cutting out the waste would help us look into the details of our process, and greening would lead to more profitable conferences, or maybe just countless webinars. But the process of greening has much more to offer the meetings industry than cutting out waste as we "manufacture" meetings.

Conferences and Meetings produce connections

SpaceShare's approach to greening conferences is different from an approach to greening manufacturing. Chemists reviewed their manufacturing process from start to finish and in great detail, looking for waste, and found themselves more efficient and profitable. Even planners should review attendee's experiences, from start to finish and in great detail, looking for waste while creating connections. With a limited set of resources, how can you help your attendees connect as much as possible, from the moment they decide to attend, through the years after your event?

SpaceShare's approach to conference greening

I found someone to share a cab with from the airport and someone to share a room with at the conference. Perfect!
-- Sarah Browning

The moment someone signs up for your event, it's time to start helping them connect, ideally with people who live in the same community, or who have matching interests.

  • Give them a place to introduce themselves and meet people with similar interests, to talk to speakers, talk to each other, advertise their business or plan a topic-based lunch at your meeting. We'd love to see more green voices on the Idea Factory Conference Board, or joining us next year at that event.
  • Create connections based on their interests. Ambassador programs, job and internship matching? Who do your attendees want to meet?
  • If they drive, pack the car and have a discussion about local issues on the way to the conference, and action-steps on the way home.
  • If they fly, create a regional mini-conference on the flight. Help them share taxis or car-rentals, or brave public transit as a group, once they reach the airport.
  • Budget travelers can share a hotel room. Help people who can't afford to be at the conference hotel double-up and stay in the heart of your community. Activist or academic events sometimes encourage neighbors to open their guest rooms for students.

    I was able to connect with a wonderful colleague... I would recommend the use of this service for all conference travelers.
    -- Susan Davis

    People will spend much of the conference making quick connections with each other, handing out oh so many business cards. But the person you drive with, fly with or room with is a real connection. That is the person you are most likely to become friends with. Even simply sharing a taxi from the airport, you will have someone to check in with, someone who is more of a personal connection than a business card, someone who can network for you, someone to stay in touch with after the event.

    People love it

    Met a great advocate from L.A. and we are corresponding by email. Great fit. Spent the time together at the conference.
    -- Mary Lassila

    We hear back all the time from people who have never done anything like this, but have a great experience. Conference planners and conference attendees leave feeling good about being green.

    We create community. For example, our carpool tools for a previous National Conference on Media Reform led to an email network in the Kansas region. People who carpooled together or connected while exploring carpools remained connected after the event; local activity groups can form under their own leadership and energy.

    This worked extremely well for us - it allowed us to provide no cost housing for four individuals from around the country. I'm sure it made it possible for some to attend the conference who could not have done so other wise.
    -- Gene & Linda Farley

    Joy in Giving, Joy in Greening: One of the most inspiring aspects of working at SpaceShare has been the feedback. We expected to hear thank-you's from people who received rides and we have, but the most excited emails have often come from the people doing the giving. Hosts opening up their living rooms have been esctatic about being able to help, to participate in the conference, to help students participate in a conference they otherwise couldn't have. SpaceShare's tools move people from audience to participants, to contributors, to the first steps in being leaders.

A green meeting is a consciously created meeting

SpaceShare's tools worked very well and it was so easy to set it up with you. I also really appreciated the marketing blurbs you sent and now this follow-up information.
-- Sarah Park, Social Enterprise Alliance Membership Director

Conferences can be very powerful places for green education. We hear from people all the time who say something like "I never thought I'd share a room with someone, but I did and now I have a new friend." The chemical industry got better at manufacturing chemicals by reviewing their process to cut out the waste, the meetings industry will get better at creating connections by reviewing our process to remove missed opportunities to help people connect and share resources, and when we have transformed meetings green, attendees will love it. The greening process in the chemical industry convinced thousands of chemists that greening made sense; the events industry can show millions of attendees that human to human connections are the core, that simplifying our consumption is more enjoyable and more worthwhile.

Making it happen: We've worked with nearly 200 events through 2006, customizing our tools around each planner's needs. So you are welcome to contact SpaceShare and tell us about the travel needs and networking goals of your attendees, and we'll together explore pathways to a greener and better connected gathering.

Replacing Cars with Community

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