A Supercool Guide To Sustainable (In-Person) Meetings

2 November 2022

Do you have in-person meetings and want to make sure these have as little negative impact on the planet as possible? Yes? This guide is for you.

To do our bit for the environment, here at Supercool we're careful to keep our negative impact to a minimum. We all work from home most of the time but sometimes meet in person – whether that's with clients, potential clients, sector partners, or each other.

The Supercool Guide To Sustainable (In-Person) Meetings is based on an internal document used by the team, but includes practical tips and suggestions that can be used by anyone and everyone.

👉 Hang fire! Do you even need a meeting? 👈

Does everyone need to participate at the same time? Or could you achieve the same thing just as easily through email, a shared Google Doc, or a pre-recorded video? The following assumes you've considered this and concluded – "Yep, we're gonna need a meeting."

❓ Do you need to meet in person?

First, it helps to be super-clear about your objective. What specific thing or things do you need to've achieved by the end of the meeting? Knowing your objective – and whether it's relationship-based or task-based – can help you work out if the meeting is best held in person or by video call:

Relationship-based objectives:

Things like initial meetings with people you’ve not met before, certain types of workshop or interactive/team-building sessions, and tricky – potentially emotive or complex – conversations are often easier and more effective when everyone's in the same physical space.

Often. But not always – see ‘Are you being inclusive?’

Task-based objectives:

Things like a general catch-up, reviewing project milestones with an established group, or talking-through new functionality might be more suited to a video call.

Video calls are usually much easier to fit into multiple people's schedules, no travel or venue hire means they're less costly, and they’re just generally simpler to arrange.

But there are common downsides of video calls:

  • Technical glitches
  • More stilted conversation / people talking over each other
  • Lack of body-language cues
  • The temptation to do other work during the meeting
  • Other distractions (kids, pets, deliveries etc.)

Are you being inclusive?

As well as defining what objective you're working towards, it can also be helpful to consider who’ll be at the meeting.

Some people find talking face-to-face much easier than online communication. Dialogue can be more natural and free-flowing when you’re in the same room. And you have body language cues to help with nuance, and building rapport.

But other people find that video calls provide a kind of 'safety barrier', which helps them to be more open and honest than they might be in the same room as everyone else. It can feel less confrontational.

Perhaps some people live so far away it's impractical for them to join in person? Or maybe they have a disability, caring responsibilities – or any other reason – which makes it a challenge or impossible to be physically present at an in-person meeting?

With that in mind, what format – or mix of formats – might work best to make sure everyone present is involved in a meaningful way?

If being together in the same room would work best for some attendees but not everyone, perhaps a hybrid meeting – a mix of in-person and remote attendance – could work? (This can get very complicated though – not only in terms of technical setup, but also how the meeting is run*.)

* A hybrid meeting will need extra planning time, to ensure that those joining via video and/or phone call are able to follow what's going on – both in the room and via any other video/phone links – and everyone can take part equally in discussions/activities. Be sure to test any tech ahead of the meeting itself.

🗓️ Plan ahead

You know what you're aiming to achieve from the meeting, considered who'll be there, and have decided it'll work best in-person. Great! Now for the detail.

Planning ahead will help you keep negative environmental impacts to a minimum. As the 6 (7) Ps of planning goes – Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents (P***) Poor Performance.

🏢 Location/venue – where’re you meeting?

Sometimes this will be decided for you. But if you’re tasked with choosing a venue, here're some (environmental) considerations:

  • How accessible is it by public transport?
  • What information does the venue have available about their environmental efforts?
  • Could you use this trip to meet with other clients, partners, colleagues etc. in the same area?
  • Arts, cultural and heritage venues often have (great value!) spaces available for hire – and usually have a coffee shop, café or restaurant too. They’re generally pretty great at considering sustainability, and working it into business practices, so can be a great choice for a sustainably-minded meeting.

During initial conversations with a venue, let them know that sustainability is important to you. They may have some ideas for changes they'd be willing to make to usual practices, to be more eco-friendly.

Whether you’ve selected the venue yourself or it's been decided for you, here’re some things you might want to suggest or ask about before your visit:

  • Jugs of tap water rather than bottled water
  • Reusable cups, glasses etc. rather than single-use plastic/paper
  • Make-it-yourself tea/coffee rather than big, pre-made vats
  • Request recycling bins in the room you’re using
  • Is there in-room access to light switches, heating controls, air-con settings? (So it can be switched off/turned down when it's not needed)

The more we ask meeting venues about adaptations that will benefit the environment, the more quickly these will become the norm.

The more we ask about adaptations that will benefit the environment, the more quickly these will become the norm

How to decide where's best:

If you have a shortlist of venues but are struggling to work out which is the 'most sustainable' option, a super-simple scoring system could be helpful. Grade each possible meeting venue from 1 to 5 on:

  • Access via public transport
  • Public availability of information about environmental practices
  • Clear actions that support environmental sustainability (e.g. no single-use cups)
  • Willingness to adapt standard practices for an environmental benefit
  • Not-for-profit venue

🚶‍♀️ Travel – how will you (and others) get there?

An obvious environmental consideration but always worth a reminder. Travel there and back is likely to be the biggest contributor to a meeting's carbon footprint.

The basic transport ‘hierarchy’ in terms of increasing environmental impact:

Walk > Cycle > Public transport > Shared private transport > Motorbike > Car > Plane

Plan your route to include as much walking, cycling (not hugely likely but don't rule it out!) and public transport as is possible and practical.

If you do have to use a car, perhaps you can share a ride? Or use it for just part of the journey – e.g park at a railway station and get a train most of the way.

🍴 Food and drink

Ahead of time, think about where – and what – you’ll eat and drink.

  • If you can, take a drink and/or snacks with you from home – certainly invest in a reusable water bottle or coffee cup. And you might want to take some fruit because – all-natural packaging!
  • Meat production has a huge environmental impact. If you’re not already vegetarian or vegan, could you go plant-based for the duration of your trip?
  • Independent cafés that make fresh food on the premises will use less plastic than, say, a sandwich from Pret or Greggs. They’ll often use local ingredients too, meaning a smaller carbon footprint.

There’re some more tips about choosing a sustainable restaurant in this article: How to choose a restaurant and help save the planet

Birds-eye view of a pine table with cutlery, salt, pepper, and two plates of veggie food. Plus a bowl of sweet potato fries
Kate went vegan at The Octagon, Bolton's café

If you’re in charge of organising in-venue catering for others:

  • Could you go fully plant-based?
  • Offering a plated meal will tend to result in less food waste than buffet-style catering. (Buffets often include 3% or so ‘overage’ which more often than not leads to leftovers.)
  • Be careful not to over-cater – provide fruit as a top-up snack.
  • Have a plan for any leftover food – can any of it be taken away by attendees? Or given away to a food bank or local charity? Or used in any other way to avoid it being wasted?
  • Finally, consider asking whoever's doing the catering for a food waste report – to help you provide more accurate catering in future.

😴 Overnight stays

If you can, time your meeting so it won’t require an overnight stay. Why? Because an overnight stay will increase your environmental impact – it means potentially more travel, more outside catering, more laundry from towels and bedding (which will use more energy and more water).

If you do need to stay overnight, as with meeting venues, research your accommodation.

Most hotels now have notices about things such as towel reuse to help the environment, reminders not to leave taps running, and lights that turn off when you’re not in the room. Lots of these are really cost-saving measures, but they help the planet too. Premier Inns are actually a pretty good, low-impact (and low-cost) choice.

As with 'Where're you meeting' – to reduce the transport/overnight impacts of each meeting, could you make use of being in a certain location and arrange other meetings while you’re in the area?

🤓 Activities during the meeting

Super-obvious, but have your agenda and any meeting notes, 'hand-outs' etc. ready as on-screen docs that're emailed/shared in advance – rather than print-outs.

Consider other peripheral bits like sticky notes, materials used for workshops etc. – is it really needed? Could you use an alternative? Can it be recycled? How much mess will you be creating? Is it worth it?

📍 While you’re there …

  • Avoid single use plastic cups, food packaging etc.
  • Use local, indie places for catering as they tend to use less plastic packaging. (And a sit-down meal can be more relaxing than a sandwich on-the-go!)
  • Turn off lights and any equipment like projectors etc. when you're not using them.
  • Don't leave laptops/phones plugged in when they're already charged.
  • Don’t use heating or air con unnecessarily, if that’s within your control.
  • If you’re staying overnight, walk or use local public transport to get to and from your accommodation*
  • Don’t travel home with more than you left with (i.e. don't buy more stuff), except …
  • If you have anything to recycle but there aren’t recycling facilities at the venue, take it with you and recycle it at home.

*Only if it's safe! Your safety is the priority – if that means a taxi ride, take that cab.

🌍 Consider offsetting your impact

You might be offsetting your travel already? For example, at Supercool we offset the whole team's travel – at home as well as for work – through our Ecologi subscription.

If not, you might want to offset per-journey. Especially if that journey is something out of the ordinary that has a large impact e.g. flying somewhere, a whole-team get-together, or a long journey to a conference.

Here're some tools to help you work out the environmental impact of your journey:

By train – The Trainline's Carbon Calculator (Not yet live 🙄)

By car – MyClimate's Car Emissions Calculator

By air – ICAO Air Travel Carbon Emissions Calculator

📣 Share what you’re doing!

Yes, yes – I know I'm always banging-on about sharing the environmental actions you're taking.

But telling other folks what you’re doing helps to encourage and inspire them to do the same. And the more of us who consider the planet, the more of a positive difference we can make – together.

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