Eliminating Attendee Waste One Cup at a Time

Author: David McMillin       

As the business events industry aims to reduce its carbon footprint, one organizer successfully did away with the mountains of cups often left behind at meetings — while giving to those in need.

The business-events industry has made strides in sustainability practices in recent years. The Metro Toronto Convention Centre’s efforts to cut carbon emissions during exhibitor load-in, the Minneapolis Convention Center’s new initiative to help its clients understand how they’re using energy and water during events, and Element Hotels’ clothing recycling program are just a few examples of how members of the meetings community are embracing an eco-friendly approach to business.

In addition to suppliers jumping on the sustainability train, more event organizers are recognizing the role they play in making a difference for the planet. For Kimberly Smith, though, reducing waste isn’t simply an add-on benefit. As the director of conferences and events for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, it’s part of Smith’s mission. I caught up with Smith earlier this month to discuss her all-vegetarian menu planning efforts, and she mentioned an additional step her most-recent event took toward sustainability that seems much easier than eliminating all the meat on a menu — creating a cup-free on-site environment. Bonus: The environmental initiative included a CSR element.

“We got one of our exhibitors, Cupanion, to provide every attendee with reusable cups to help us reduce our carbon footprint,” Smith said. “Use of the cup is tied to an app that tracks reuse, waste diverted, emissions saved — and helps fund water-based projects around the world.”

Cupanion’s approach is simple. Each time someone refills their Cupanion, they scan their Fill It Forward tag and someone in need will receive a cup of clean water. At AASHE’s 2017 Annual Conference, Cupanion’s app helped divert 1,417 disposable cups and 716 disposable bottles. The app delivers a fun, gamification component to the basic human need of water, too. Users can earn badges — “You’ve earned the Dino Badge! You have saved 83 cups from going to landfill. If these cups were stacked, it would be as tall as an adult Brachiosaurus.” — and they can monitor their individual progress toward consuming their recommended daily intake of 64 ounces of H2O.

Smith believes that every event organizer should embrace the challenge of thousands of one-time-use cups. “Planners need to work with caterers to create a plan for not having cups available at the meals,” Smith said, “and to prevent cross-contamination.”

Cupanion’s efforts have given more than 2.8 million cups of clean water to those in need. Interested in having your attendees add to that total while eliminating waste? Contact the company here.

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