Greenpeace: Take a page from your paper-waste playbook

Conferences may not be fully virtual for a while -- but surely they can use less paper

Replacing the physical with the electronic -- also known as dematerialization -- is among the effective techniques for achieving greener business practices. Dematerialization comes in various forms, such as replacing physical CDs with downloaded MP3s; conducting meetings virtually via video or telepresence instead of bringing far-flung people to one place; and using electronic documents instead of physical ones.

The topic was discussed at the recent GreenNet forum in San Francisco and continues to linger in my mind for a particular reason: Among the members of the panel advocating the merits of dematerialization was Casey Harrell, Greenpeace's own IT analyst.

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The irony is at this same event, Greenpeace announced its "Cool IT" list for 2010, celebrating the greenest high-tech companies out there. To help disseminate this announcement, Greenpeace handed out informational packets to press members and anyone else who wanted a copy.

Each packet included three pieces of recycled paper, printed on front and back with soy-based inks. All three pages, in one way or another, described the Cool IT Challenge and Leaderboard. The pages came tucked in a sturdy, Greenpeace-emblazoned, paper pocket file folder (also recycled), along with a business card -- again, printed on recycled paper -- from Greenpeace's press officer. The press officer's contact information was also on one of the aforementioned sheets of recycled paper.

Notably, Greenpeace gave a presentation about its Cool IT announcement during a session at the event. Additionally, all the same information is available on the Greenpeace Website.

The irony should be clear: I didn't need three pieces of papers in a file folder with a business card to cover the story. (Truth be told, I didn't cover it; someone from the IDG News Service did.) But had I been writing about it and wanted to use Greenpeace-provided materials, I'd have consulted the electronic materials online for simplicity. The venue even had wireless Internet access, and far as I could tell, every member of the press had a computer.

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