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Published on September 5th, 2008 | by Guest Contributor

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GTR: Decreasing the Eco-Impact of Special Events with Twirl Management

Twirl Management

GreenTalk Radio Host Sean Daily talks about the importance of waste reduction in
minimizing the environmental impact of formal events and casual
get-togethers with Johanna Walsh, CEO and Eco-Event Consultant at
Twirl Management.

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Transcript

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Sean Daily:  Hi and welcome to Green Talk, a podcast series from
GreenLivingIdeas.com.  Green Talk helps listeners in their efforts to
lead more eco-friendly lifestyles through interviews with top vendors,
authors, and experts from around the world.  We discuss the critical
issues facing the global environment today as well as the technologies,
products, and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area
of your life.

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Sean Daily:  Hey everybody, this is Sean Daily.  Welcome to Green
Talk Radio.  Today’s topic is going to be on something that I think
touches the lives and businesses of everyone, which is events, and
specifically eco-friendly events and event consulting.

I’m going to be talking today with Johanna Walsh, who is an
eco-event consultant and is the CEO of Twirl Management, a company that
specializes in eco-event planning and consulting in management.
Johanna, welcome to the program.

Johanna Walsh:  Hi Sean, thank you very much.

Sean Daily:  It’s interesting because I think everybody who’s in
business eventually goes to an event and some people, like myself,
probably go to many during the year and it’s always struck me as an
area of potentially great waste and maybe in many cases aren’t run very
sustainably.  So I was fascinated to hear about you and the specialty
that you have with the company and the consulting that you do.  Is it
correct that you do not only corporate events and conferences and trade
shows and things like that, but also on the personal level like
weddings and festivals and parties?  Is that correct?

Johanna Walsh:  That is correct and special events, as well, would
be in that category; like a Christmas party for a company, that kind of
thing.

Sean Daily:  OK.  So how did you get into this?

Johanna Walsh:  My background has always been in some type of
production; from film and fashion and photography production and always
staying on the events side.  I worked many events from conferences to
fashion shows to photo shoots that all ran the gamut and there was
always one defining factor which was so much waste being created from
these events.  One of the last large trade shows that I worked before I
started the company, before I really got the ides for the company, was
here in San Francisco and there were so many small, plastic chatchkies
with the companies name on them and piles of plastics and garbage
everywhere that you turned and the amounts of papers and handouts being
distributed was almost appalling.  We were thinking there’s got to be
better ways to meet and interact and have these great events and
conferences that are necessary for business and just interaction and
not have them have to have so many products and create so much waste
for the environment and communities they serve that will, in the end,
take up the brunt of having to recycle and dispose of these products
properly.

Sean Daily:  It’s funny that you mention the chatchskies because I
know a lot of people who go to trade shows – there’s a term for it and
it’s escaping me at the moment – but people who go to trade shows just
to collect chatchskies.  They’re kind of like treasure hunters.

Johanna Walsh:  [laughter] People love free stuff, they go crazy.

Sean Daily:  Right, free stuff junkies for lack of a better term.
So that’s interesting that you mention that, though, because I was
thinking more from just the event side of the food and the trash and
things like that but you’re even talking about down to the vendor level
about what’s being provided at the booths, it sounds like.

Johanna Walsh:  There’s definitely the element of where the food is
being produced, whether it’s coming from local sources, if you can
also, for cost benefit, get organically grown things, and the venue
that you’re in, in terms of the power usage, and transportation to and
from the event.  It takes communication on all levels for all of the
stakeholders whenever you’re planning an event to really examine what
the best practices are to make your event as little-waste as possible.

So everyone’s involved from, definitely, your on-site staff to the
venue staff.  So everyone is essentially involved in terms of examining
how to green your event – all of the key stakeholders, from your event
staff to your venue staff, and your cooks, your busboys, and including
the vendors that are coming into the space to help provide services to
your visitors.

Sean Daily:  Are the vendors typically receptive to that, have you
found with these events?  Are they willing to not do the chatchkies and
do something that’s greener, like something that’s online-deliverable
or something that’s not going to create as much waste?

Johanna Walsh:  It depends on the topic of the conference or meeting
and how invested you get them in the project.  In some cases you can’t
require it, in some cases you can depending on the pull that you have
as a conference organizer.  A lot of times most of them are open to
it.  A lot of them were looking for an opportunity to go a lot more
eco-friendly, but weren’t sure how.

What I’m seeing a lot, especially on the conference front, in the
last month or two, the debate has changed.  It’s no longer me, or other
people who are producing green meetings, saying ‘no, this is how you
should do things’.  It’s now turned a little bit to where they’re
saying ‘OK, we know we have to do this.  How do we go about doing
this?’  That includes the vendors coming in saying ‘all right, we have
to change but we don’t know how’.

Sean Daily:  Now I’m just curious, can you give us a specific
example?  Maybe one on the corporate side, like a trade show or a
conference you’ve worked with and how the event was greened, as it
were.  And maybe something more on the personal side, like a wedding or
something like that.  Would you be willing to indulge us on those two
fronts?

Johanna Walsh:  Sure.  I can talk about a great Christmas event I
did that was kind of a mix of both corporate and private for an
architecture firm in the Bay Area.  We looked at a lot of different
aspects because it has to be event-specific; some things work and some
things won’t work for each event.  What we did for this architectural
firm, they’re called Nolan Tamm and they’re based in Berkley, we did a
bunch of different things from having solid china-ware instead of any
kind of plastic disposable material.  We created so much less waste in
terms of paper plates, plastic forks, even the biodegradable stuff.  We
saved on all that by using real glassware for the guests.

We provided all the beverage service in bulk, which, again, cut down
on so many containers from serving the 500 guests that were there in
addition to making sure all our beverage were brewed and made locally.

We did a few different options for transportation, which included a
shuttle to and from the B.A.R.T. station.  B.A.R.T. is our local Bay
Area Rapid Transit system and the architecture firm was about three
miles away from there.  So to encourage people to take public
transportation, we set up the shuttle that went around and picked
people up and brought them to the event and then also brought them back
to B.A.R.T., which was great because we got a response that probably a
third of the guests, if not more, actually utilized this and were
thankful for it because they could really enjoy themselves and drink
wine with the event and there wasn’t the liability of getting in the
car at the end of the night.

Sean Daily:  Any other aspects to it that you can remember?

Johanna Walsh:  Let’s see, it was December which feels so long ago. [laughter]

Sean Daily:  You can move on to another event, too.  I’m just
curious to hear snippets from each event to create some inspiration for
people that are maybe planning these types of events or are responsible
for creating them and working with folks such as yourself to create the
event.

Johanna Walsh:  Sure, of course.  Well, right now I’m actually currently working on a project based in Syracuse.

Sean Daily:  Ahh, my alma mater.  Sorry.  [laughter]  Syracuse University – go orange.  I’m sorry.  I’m done.

Johanna Walsh:  [laughter] And we’re looking at a couple different
things and Syracuse really wants to become a center for green meetings
and green conferences so working with their current infrastructure,
like one of their main conference centers is being developed to be lead
of the current and existing building lead certification, so within
that, kind of providing infrastructure for meeting to go on with
utilizing much more local businesses in terms of recommended vendors
for people holding conferences there.

They do a lot of good things already at the conference center for
using local foods, but we’re trying to look at how to better utilize
“no bottled water” policies and have attractive water stations.  That’s
a big thing at conferences, actually.  It’s one of the largest, that
there’s so much bottled water drinking.

Sean Daily:  I know, it’s terrible.  Every trade show I go to
there’s a gazillion bottled water bottles everywhere.  That’s usually
what the things are filled with because you’re talking a lot and you’re
dehydrating and you’re thirsty all the time.  I just thought of a
really good give away; these people need to be giving away the sig
bottles and similar aluminum bottles.

Johanna Walsh:  Exactly.  I was just at a specific green meeting’s
trade conference and that’s what we got and I love it because I’ve been
wanting to have one for a while.

Sean Daily:  They’re so great.

Johanna Walsh:  To replace my old [inaudible] and it’s nice to have one now.

Sean Daily:  That’s cool.  So anything else before we move on to
some other questions I have for you?  Actually, this would be a good
place to take a break.  We’re going to take a quick break with a
commercial sponsor and then we will be right back talking with Johanna
Walsh who is the CEO of Twirl Management, which is an eco-event
consulting and planning firm.  And we’ll be right back.

[music]

[commercial break]

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Sean Daily:  OK, and we are back with Johanna Walsh, and I should
mention that she is the CEO of Twirl Management; an eco-event
consulting planning and management firm, and we’re talking about
ecologically-conscious events, both in business and in personal events,
and parties, and so forth.  When we left did you have anything in the
tip category before we move on to another question?

Johanna Walsh:  Yes.  In terms of the public sector, I am helping
coordinate a festival and helping them do a lot more green initiatives
in downtown San Jose.  And one of the really cool things that we are
going to get implement that – it’s one of my favorite pet projects
because I don’t usually get to do it on the corporate side – is we’re
going to go and have local community members, such as schools and
classrooms that the festival is serving, help us design really cool and
event-reflective receptacles.  The trash receptacles can both be
marketing tools for the theme of the event as well as be visual
indicators to easily divide trash for the visitors.

But also, it gives us an opportunity to go into classrooms and to
community centers to teach the benefits of composting and recycling and
the fact that if you’ve got a compostable, biodegradable item, it
really does need to be composted and it won’t go into the trash or it
doesn’t really work.  These kinds of lessons that we’re developing for
this festival are what I’m really exited about in terms of the waste
diversion from landfills.

Sean Daily:  I don’t know if this is possible – well, I believe that
it’s possible, but it’s got to be challenging – is that I just talked
to a company that has zero trash cans in their facility, it’s all
recycle.  Literally, they have no trash cans.  And I was just thinking
about what a cool thing it would be to be able to achieve that at an
event.  I know people can bring in their own stuff that’s going to be
garbage, but literally with an eye towards something like “zero in the
waste bin.”

Johanna Walsh:  There are venues – I think there’s some in Canada,
and I know Mosconi here in San Francisco and a few other vendors – that
really strive for that.  The thing is, it really involves so much
communication with your participants.  There was an anecdotal story I
heard from the woman who’s the general manager at Mosconi that they use
all biodegradable plastics and serving ware for every event that they
do, it’s billed into their rate, however, for their boxed lunches, they
had everyone put water bottles into their biodegradable boxed lunches
and then throw them into the trash.  So the bottled waters contaminated
the biodegradable ability to just shove those things into the compost
bin.

Sean Daily:  Right.

Johanna Walsh:  So, so much of it is communication and education.
It’s something that I think is very easy to do on site with a company
because you’re really utilizing and educating your staff.  And this is
where I’ve seen so much well done work with volunteers and setting up
different programs to help facilitate the trash sorting on site, which
is the biggest problem, I think, in terms of going one hundred percent
waste-free.

Sean Daily:  I’m curious, since you mentioned it, I was going to ask
you about the Mosconi, because that’s the biggest one that’s close to
us in the San Francisco Bay Area and certainly a lot of events are held
there and it’s very popular, but how much of the ability to achieve
this has to do with the event facility itself?  How much can you cart
in, philosophically and materially, and how much of it is really being
dependent on the facility, and thus, it comes down to a choice of
facilities and cities and such?

Johanna Walsh:  I know that certain cities are really positioning
themselves as green centers for meetings and conferences.  San
Francisco is definitely one of them.

Sean Daily:  What are some of the other ones out there that are greener?

Johanna Walsh:  Pittsburgh, who has the only lead certified conference center as a new building, Portland.

Sean Daily:  Makes sense.

Johanna Walsh:  And like I said earlier, Syracuse is looking to do that as well.

Sean Daily:  That surprises me and I’m glad to hear that.

Johanna Walsh:  Actually, there’s a lot of building and
environmental conservation going on technically, on the tech side, and
architectural side happening in Syracuse, which is really exciting.

Sean Daily:  That’s a good cross section of the country, as well.
You’re covering almost all the major areas there.  How about in the
Midwest; Chicago or any of the places more towards the center of the
country that are greener or trying to go green with the conference
centers?

Johanna Walsh:  Off the top of my head, I don’t know.  I know green
event planners that work very hard in places like Salt Lake City to do
green events.  I’m not sure about cities from the Visitors Bureau
trying to make their city a green meeting center.

Sean Daily:  I’m just curious because I’m thinking of all the
typical markets for conferences; you have Northern and Southern
California, you have Texas, you have the Midwest – Chicago is a hot
spot – and then, of course, Las Vegas is a big one, then you have the
East Coast, you have the Boston area, Philadelphia, New York and such,
and occasionally down in Florida, in Orlando.

Johanna Walsh:  I know Vegas is doing a lot with their power supply
in trying to do a lot more solar offerings.  And Anaheim Convention
Center has a great organic food program.  It has done a lot within
their facility to minimize waste and utilize a lot more local
agriculture for their events.

Sean Daily:  Johanna, going back to the client side of this, I’m
curious – and I’m not actually interested in you, I don’t want to put
you in an uncomfortable position with this question with your clients,
so let’s talk about the industry in general and not necessarily your
clients, but are you finding that most individuals and organizations
that looked to having an eco-friendly event are doing so based more on
an intrinsic motivation to be green sustainable or is it more about the
public perception and the rap – i.e., more of a green washing kind of
thing?

Johanna Walsh:  Sure.  I would say that a year or two years ago, I
was seeing clients that were more interested in this because that’s how
they operate.  I have certain clients that are pretty green year round
and following up with their events in that way is just a no-brainer and
part of their corporate culture.  I think that definitely from larger
corporations there has been kind of an ‘oh, no’ moment that in order to
be relevant, as well as they’ve got other initiatives across the board
from E-waste recycling and these types of things, that the events are
just another side of that and that service to their employees.

And then I see a lot of green washing and I don’t think that
somebody who’s green washing necessarily hires somebody like me to do
an event because what I see a lot of times with [inaudible] trying to
promote a green event is that it will always be carbon-neutral.  And at
least from an outsider’s perspective, it looks like they’ve just
purchased a lot of carbon credit in order to neutralize the effects of
their event instead of what I prefer to do, which is working to see how
much you can reduce; how much waste, how much fuel, how much imported
food to products.  Bring that down to the bare minimum and then talk
about carbon credits.  Some things you can’t get around, like air
flights, which as you know are one of the worst things you can do.

Sean Daily:  Right, and events dictate that – in-person events.

Johanna Walsh:  Yes.  It’s something you can’t get around, but if
you could actually on-site and really utilize every tool that you have
to decrease the amount of waste you generate.  Even in registration,
offer opportunities for people to [inaudible] their flights with their
tickets – maybe even bill that indirectly.  There are various options
that you can do that with.  I think there is a need to look at what you
can do and not interfere with the participants of the delegate’s
experience at all.  It doesn’t need to be that way at all.  It can all
be behind the scenes.

Sean Daily:  Are you seeing interest in online events?  It seems to
me that the greenest event of all would be an online event.  I realize
that an online event can never really truly replace meeting people in
person and I wouldn’t recommend that that’s the way we go as a society
because I think that has its own set of problems, but I think that
in-person events, within reason, have a lot of value.  But are you
seeing that from your clients?  Is that anything that you get involved
with or have an opinion on?

Johanna Walsh:  I definitely have seen it.  Technology is allowing
that process to be a lot more interactive as well as it saves a lot of
costs for companies to be able to have a teleconference or video
conference to pursue things like [inaudible] and all the different
meeting tools that are available.  I think there are different ways to
look at not having to travel so much for meetings.  One of the
solutions I’ve found or have heard is that if you have an annual
meeting, you can change it to every other year and then on the off
years, have localized meetings, like chapters, so that people aren’t
traveling as far as often.

From the event planner side, that means that you just inherited ten
extra meetings that you get to book for your profit and your business
model and you get better, stronger team building I think.

Sean Daily:  OK, so we’re going to take a quick last break and then
we’ll be right back with Johanna Walsh from Twirl Management.  Thanks
everybody.

[music]

[commercial break]

[music]

Sean Daily:  OK, and we are back talking with Johanna Walsh from
Twirl Management.  She’s an eco-event consultant and planner.  Johanna,
I guess the last question before we run out of time today; I just
wanted to find out if you have any additional tips more on the personal
side for people that are, in general, just planning parties and doing
events on a smaller scale – some of the things that people should be
thinking about and the kind of research they can be doing – anything
along those lines?  What would be your advice to somebody who’s sitting
there saying ‘I’m planning a big party’, what’s the first step forward
in this process?

Johanna Walsh:  Personally, when I approach any event, I like to
look at what is going into creating the event and where all those
things are coming from and what you are going to end up with in terms
of your waste and your garbage.  Where is the food being made and how
is it being made; is it seasonal?  If you have the fortune of living
somewhere such as California or the East Coast or various farm
communities, you have great local seasonal foods all year round.  Where
is it being held?  Are you using tons of power in order to light and
produce sound for your event?  How far are people traveling?  I would
totally recommend using rentals.  There are great rental companies that
will do service ware; forks, spoons, knives, plates, and they’re fairly
reasonable prices.  It’s reusable material – you don’t even have to do
the dishes.  It works out nicely.

Sean Daily:  I like that.

Johanna Walsh:  If you can, use biodegradable stuff, if it’s
available in your marketplace.  Other good tips?  Recycle, reduce,
reuse, repurpose.  Get creative in terms of how you apply your basic
ideals of conservation to your individual events.

Sean Daily:  OK.  Do you keep tips on your website – at the TwirlManagement.com site?

Johanna Walsh:  There is a blog there that highlights various things
that the company does in terms of its events – about the products we
use and how we go about making our own tradeshow booths.  It’s very
company specific.

Sean Daily:  OK.  And I’m curious, one last question before we go –
I said that that was the last question but I just thought of another
one.  How many other companies and individuals like you are there out
there, like Twirl Management?  Are you one of a handful or is this a
burgeoning industry?

Johanna Walsh:  It’s a growing industry.  There’s a great
organization that most of us are all part of called The Green Meeting
Industry Council – it’s GMIC.  They’re a great networking place in
terms of venues and planners that are starting to focus on this as
their specialty and their product offerings.  I know in San Francisco,
there’s probably five or six companies that I know of that are
specifically doing this on all different scales.  Some have been around
for 20 years and some have been around for 1 year.  But it’s definitely
a growing industry and there are standards and benchmarks that are
starting to be created specific to this industry.  It’s an industry
that’s often overlooked so there’s definitely a movement towards trying
to create a baseline to qualify as a green event and to be able to
empower more event planners to always plan green.

Sean Daily:  Well, I think the fact that you have your own council speaks volumes. [laughter]  That it’s a growth industry.

Johanna Walsh:  It’s getting there.  I probably shouldn’t officially
say a number, but I was just at a conference for them and it was really
refreshing to be in a room of two hundred-some people all on the same
page.

Sean Daily:  Hopefully an eco-friendly conference. [laughter]  I’m assuming.

Johanna Walsh:  It was very eco-friendly.  They did a wonderful job.

Sean Daily:  That’s good.  That would be kind of expected in that industry. [laughter]

Well, my guest today has been Johanna Walsh.  She is the CEO of
Twirl Management and an eco-event consultant.  Johanna, thank you so
much for being on the program with us today.

Johanna Walsh:  Thank you so much, Sean, for having me.  I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about this.

[music]

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