Being Green at PDC2008

As the Content Owner for PDC2008, I'm now a member of the Tier 1 Events Council at Microsoft. This is a group that meets a few times a year to share ideas and best practices around our largest events (like Tech·Ed , MIX, and PDC). We met all day today and covered a number of great topics.

One of our sessions was titled Environmentally Sustainable Events Initiative, and it was presented by Gina Broel and Jessica Ludders. We discussed what it means to be a "green" event based on the Green Meeting Industry Council. According to the council, a green meeting incorporates environmental considerations to:

  • Achieve economic and strategic business goals

  • Minimize or eliminate environmental impacts

  • Positively contribute to the environment and host communities

We love to measure, benchmark, and assign metrics to just about everything we do at this company, and environmental sustainability is no different. We've looked at things like the amount of waste generated by our events, the amount of uneaten food and scraps that are discarded, and tangible items like plastic water bottles, attendee bags, and other giveaways that aren't used. We'll use metrics to measure and track how much we improve the situation year over year.

For an example of some work that is already being done, check out Tech·Ed's Environmental Sustainability Efforts. And if you attended MIX08 in Las Vegas, you probably saw the bag that Tim Aidlin designed from recycled materials.

For PDC2008, we're back at the Los Angeles Convention Center. This past month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized the Los Angeles Convention Center (PDF) as an “Earth-Friendly” Green Venue, and their Food Services went green (PDF) late last year.

In today's meeting, I was fascinated to learn that the hotels we use for our events report finding bags and backpacks that have been left behind by our conference attendees. It made sense when I thought about it: you bring your stuff to the event in last year's backpack, and because you receive a brand new backpack at this year's event, you "upgrade" and leave the old bag behind since it won't easily fit in your luggage. This caused me to wonder:

  • How important is it to receive a branded bag or backpack at PDC2008? Would you be disappointed if you didn't receive one? For MIX06 and MIX07, we didn't hand out big bags, and I don't recall anyone giving us feedback that they were disappointed.

  • As an attendee, would you be willing to pay an optional additional fee to help us make the conference more environmentally sustainable? This is my own crazy idea, by the way. But it's driven by the feedback that attendees would like us to be more green, and this is one way that might make it even more doable.

I'd love to hear your feedback. If you have any other suggestions about how PDC2008 can do more for the environment, please leave a comment to this blog post. Last, if you'd like to submit your ideas to our council, you can send e-mail to


Update: We just launched a new site that talks about Microsoft's environmental sustainability efforts.

Comments (14)

  1. Matthew Adams says:

    Hi –

    That email address is bouncing for me at the moment, so I’m posting here.

    There are a couple of things I’d suggest on this front:

    1) I really don’t like the fistful of printed flyers and leaflets (often in a plastic bag) that are shoved under hotel doors, and are found in the bags and backpacks. In my experience, they all just get dumped in the hotel room trash. Finding some way of minimizing that would be good. Which leads me to suggestion 2…

    2) Instead of a backpack stuffed with partner flyers, why not give everyone a USB key with those flyers preloaded on it? (OK, a USB key isn’t exactly green, but it would have a lot longer lifetime than the backpack, get rid of the printed flyers and be a useful, inexpensive item)? It could also have the “last minute” conference schedule on it, in case of WiFi connectivity overload problems.

    3) It’d be good to have recycled paper/board notepads for the conference. The ones used at the MS Healthcare DevCon in July were a great form factor, and you didn’t need a bag to haul it round – it’d slip into your laptop bag.

    4) On the signup pages, give people the opportunity to sign up to carbon-offset their flight in.

    5) Yes, I’d definitely be prepared to pay, say $100 or so, towards making this a greener event. (e.g. offsetting the hotel-conference buses)

    Just a couple of random thoughts.



    Matthew Adams


    Digital Healthcare

  2. Dave says:

    I don’t keep backpacks anymore, nor do I keep most of the stuff that’s in them. You really only need the bag because they are a receptacle for the junk given out, much of which is sponsors, so there’s another dilema. Personally, I say given a badge and that’s it; agenda should be small enough to fit into a badge holder.

  3. gduncan411 says:

    Due to all the stuff, books, DVD’s, swag, etc, etc, not having a backup provided might be a pain. BUT I think we can live without a branded one. In fact, I’d prefer a good backpack that wasn’t branded. For branding, put a PDC2008 tag on it that can be easily removed (or used as a badge holder, or pass into a later event, etc)

    As for a Carbon Offset fee (or Green Fee, Earth Tax, We All Share the Planet contrib), I think that would be cool. It would be cooler if those that contributed, got a special “dot” on their badge. Or special color lanyard, badge holder, or something (aka Eco Achievement) that was still eco-friendly, yet allowed us to show our eco-geekness.

    Hope this helps,


  4. Brian says:

    Some quick thoughts…

    For most people ‘geek’ backpacks and bags are a waste. Often their only use is for carrying swag back to a room. Most people travel with a much better quality bag to carry their laptop/photo gear. I’ve purchased several bags (at quite a cost to me) that are much more comfortable/usable than anything a conference organiser can offer.

    This leads on to the usual conference swag. When I attended PyCon 08 (community organised, multi-company sponsorship), I received:

    * 2 conference T-Shirts (PyCon and Google PyCon)

    * 1 PyCon bag. Useless for anything but grocery shopping, but why not make it a canvas bag that’s designed for that purpose.

    * Multiple sponsor CDs with their product demos etc.

    * Flyers and leaflets from sponsors.

    The only items that had value for me were the conference T-Shirts. They had greater value than any Microsoft t-shirt I’ve been handed because someone actually spent money/effort on the design. The CDs are useless because geeks already have the software if it’s any good, and we’ll get it from the web or our software repository if we rebuild our machines. The flyers weren’t given more than a quick look because people were chatting around the registration desk, and sponsors had lots of other opportunities to explain their products. Besides we’ll find these companies if we actually need the products, the hard sell will work on software management but less on developers.

    For a greener PDC, I would prefer to see:

    * A software download site for attendees to get hold of any software downloads (new releases at the conference, and Windows trials so I could re-pave my machine if I hose it up).

    * More than one cool t-shirts with thought given to the design.

  5. mswanson says:

    Love the feedback, everyone, and I can tell you that the appropriat teams are "listening in."

    @Matthew…we’re looking into the e-mail alias problem you encountered. In the meantime, please continue to post feedback here.

  6. Mike,

       Definately nix the bags.  I think everyone is in agreement that most of us all have our own bags.  I would rather see the money spent on some fun "branding" of the event.  For instance I collect patches for my bag.  Why not have PDC patches and a staff there to sew them on for you?

       Or the little bubble type pins that people sport.  PDC stickers for people’s laptops.

       I think the branded schwag should be in the currency that people already trade in.


  7. Steve says:

    Is this a cost-cutting exercise dressed up as being green?

    I always fly home with more than enough to fill the conference bag, so I would like them to continue.

    And the if the bag is good quality – the more likely it will be used either by myself afterwards or given to colleagues that haven’t attended. It’s the cheaper bag that are a waste.

    Why not make it option to choose whether to have a bag or not during registration?

    If the event is to be green, I think there are better areas to concentrate on. Such as encouraging the convention centers to not having the air-con so cold, or escalators not running continously.

    And as others have said, the CDs in the conference bag. I do look through the leaflets put into the bag.

  8. Abe says:

    I like the bags – especially if they are of good quality. I guess it depends on how many events you attend. There is a special coolness to having a PDC bag. But I guess what I more important is what is inside the bag. If you want to replace the bag with a cool gadget that would be nicer though

  9. Greg Hazzard says:

    How important is it to receive a branded bag or backpack at PDC2008?

    Yeah, a nicely designed recycled material or cotton or ?? bag that will be the envy of Whole Foods, Trader Joe shoppers – with subtle brand identity/advertisement artfully done. Win/Win! The tote bag should be one the owner does NOT want to leave in the car when they go in for bananas and milk or munchies. They should want to show it off! This goes a long way to give developers/geeks/techies a new lead in a real substantive trend. Could it be cool to be a Microsoftie?

    As an attendee, would you be willing to pay an optional additional fee to help us make the conference more environmentally sustainable?

    If attendees have to pay extra, that won’t sustain itself. Even Thomas Friedman has taught us that. That requires creativity on the planning side. That takes the buy in/acknowledge of management. Walmart requires it’s suppliers to get on board; event coordinators need to at least include in it’s checklist for venue hosts sustainability ideas. As one commentor mentioned, a degree or two on the AC thermostat is significant in carbon requirements. Small steps are welcome. Achievable goals are great for those who haven’t heard of or subscribed to the Triple Bottom Line mantra People, Planet, Profit which is what sustainability is by definition.

    Let’s help Bill and Melinda out! We can do our part to help lighten our load so that those parts of the world that are going to feel the effects of global warming more than ourselves are spared at least one bit; not a nanobit, a bit. It’s binary. Either it’s 1 or it’s 0. Julie Lerman says it all in her blog title, ‘Don’t Be Iffy!’

  10. Mike Dunn says:

    The 8.5×11 papers from sponsors that are stuffed in the bag are 100% useless to me and are 100% trash. I’d say get rid of those first. I realize y’all still need sponsorships, so I like the idea of having the materials on a USB key. People who would’ve read the papers will read the materials on the key. Just make it a decent key, not a cheapo 128MB thing, because a crappy key will end up in the trash as well.

    The bag itself is really only important during the conference. My laptop and personal stuff gets carried in a sturdy backpack that no bag is going to replace. (In fact, I’ve only ever used one conference bag (from the 2005 MVP summit) for anything once the conference was over, and that’s for carrying clothes when I bike ride.) If the bag were something like a canvas tote, which could be turned in at the hotels as we’re checking out, that would be fine with me.

    I agree with the post about t-shirts being more important to us geeks. 🙂  Shirts > Bags

    As for paying a “green” fee, I don’t like the thought of giving up $xyz for some nebulous concept that I have no idea whether it’s actually doing any good. I’ll do my part at home where I can actually see the benefits (biking to work, recycling containers, etc).

  11. Paul says:

    I like the idea of not receiving a bag at a conference. What’s really important to me is to be able to run and develop on the latest Microsoft OS and bits. Receiving a copy of VS or Vista or Expression that I can use on my personal box is of huge value to me. I remember at MIX one year we received a copy of Expression Studio and Vista … both of which I still use today.

  12. mswanson says:

    Thanks for all of the feedback, everyone.

    @Mike: If we ever decided to implement an optional "green" fee, we’d certainly explain exactly how it would be used.

    @Paul: It’s great to hear that you enjoyed the MIX software. That was one of my responsibilities that year. 🙂

  13. Hey Mike,

    I really like the green idea and I am happy that they put a Man like you in charge of these events.

    I have to chime in about the USB key idea.  I have so many USB keys now from events and various devices I’ve purchased, that they’ve really become useless and will probably get disposed of in the future.

    Maybe MS can create a “Conference MSDN Subscriber” zone, a bit like the MSDN subscribers zone, which would provide ‘l337’ pre-release software from conferences and events like PDC (doesn’t the ticket cost about the same as a full MSDN subscription anyway?).  This method would also get the community coming back to view sponsored videos, ads, etc.

    Sorry, wish I had some better ideas.  I would be more than happy to pay a green fee, just give me the list of features when you’re ready 😉


  14. Johan says:

    I’m fine with no bag and no t-shirt. No advertisement papers. USB sticks are bad replacements. I’m all for raising the temperature, it’s almost always a degree or two colder than it needs to be.

    I’m unsure about a green fee, but if you do, the idea of making thoose attendee badges green (or some other color) is good. But I’m not sure green badges is enough of a carrot to make people (me) pay extra. I agree with the previous comment where I make my own actions matter, rather then paying someone else to do something for me.

    I also like the idea mentioned of downloads being available through the Conference site, where you could also place sponsor ads etc. You just need to find a way for that to be available onsite without overloading the wireless. But maybe there is a solution to be found for that?

Skip to main content