Do Conference Attendees Really Need More Bags and Water Bottles?

Looking at event swag through the lens of sustainability.

Author: Barbara Palmer       

swag bags lined up

“Why do we need another bag?” Flavia Oliveira, the director of sales and marketing for Visit Santa Cruz County, asked audience members at the PCMA Northern California Chapter’s L.E.A.P. Conference.

Flavia Oliveira, the director of sales and marketing for Visit Santa Cruz County, loves water bottles. And over time, as a frequent industry events attendee, she has been the recipient of quite a few of them. “They’re so pretty and cute,” she said during a presentation, “Maximizing Environmental Impact Through Meetings,” at the PCMA Northern California Chapter’s L.E.A.P. (Learn. Engage. Act. Participate.) Conference, held at the San Mateo Marriott on Sept. 8. Eventually, however, Oliveira came to a moment of reckoning, when she asked herself what exactly was she was doing collecting water bottles, when it would be so much more sustainable to keep reusing the same one.

Flavia Oliveira headshot

Flavia Oliveira

She resolved to stick with one — or two, “in case I lose one,” she said. Oliveira now makes a point of taking her own water bottle wherever she goes, and is encouraged, she said, by the increasing number of venues that now offer refillable water stations. (Her tip for when one can’t be found: Check the venue’s fitness center.)

And in that same vein, “I’m sure we all have a pile of bags somewhere in our house — why do we need another bag?” she asked her audience, who murmured their agreement. Or the tchotchkes that are ubiquitous at trade shows as giveaways, she added. “Maybe we need to go through a revolution about what our giveaways actually are.”

At Visit Santa Cruz County, where “we’re preaching about sustainability the whole time,” the organization took a hard look at its giveaways, making sure that what it was putting out into the world was sustainable, Oliveira said. Sustainable items aren’t always the cheapest — which might be a good thing, she said.

Oliveira hoped that her audience would leave “feeling a little bit more inspired to do something different and to bring that to one or two more people,” she said. The momentum is out there, she said. “A lot of people are doing amazing things, and everybody has something to share. You need to keep being loud.”

Barbara Palmer is deputy editor of Convene.

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