I have been reading with extreme interest some of my meeting planner colleagues posts about paperless conferences.
The subject caught fire recently after the MPI World Education Congress in Vancouver where some attendees were openly critical of the decision to not print programs. A firestorm of comments were posted on Pathable by some attendees who were not pleased with this decision stating that they didn't have an I-Phone or blackberry (couldn't download the app), they didn't have the resources for some of the technology being utilized, etc. Perfectly justified comments when faced with the prospect of possibly having no access other than digital to conference information.
Just to be clear, I don't believe that the MPI ever indicated that they were going paperfree. What they did say was:
Printing - This year MPI has decided to use a digital format for its conference guide. The guide information will be available through the MPI website and through a mobile application on both iPhones and Smartphones. We will share basic schedule information with attendees through a z-card. These are daily cards that give attendees an at-a-glance view of the day. These will be printed on FSC certified paper.
Phone/Blackberry Application - We’re trying to cut back on printed materials at WEC and to help in the transiation we’re providing conference materials in real-time with the free WEC iPhone/Blackberry app. Easy to navigate, the app offers a searchable conference agenda, speaker information and profiles, access to the MPI Twitter feed and Facebook page, an attendee list and a direct connect to social networking site Pathable.
Paper"less" yes....paper"free" no
Omnipress has posted a couple of great blog entries about the decision to limit handouts and has even offered to do the printing at the next MPI WEC in Orlando. The comments on his blog entry are great and I highly recommend you to read them - some great information.
My thoughts are as follows. The word "paperless" conference has been used and abused so much that even green meeting planners like myself are struggling to define it. In frustration, I have quit using it, relegating it to the shelf with other words and phrases I dislike like "carbon neutral" meetings or "zero footprint" meetings.
If I have learned nothing else in the past few years as a green meeting planner it is that utilizing all or nothing strategies leads to failure. Using terminology like "paperless" leads the attendees and organizers to assume that the strategy is to be paperfree when in fact the very word is paperLESS, not paperNONE. Simply stated...use less paper.
The comments surrounding the MPI WEC decision to limit handouts, limit printing of programs, etc. has created so many terrific conversations about alternatives that it was worth the price of registration just to hear them all.