Friday, December 30, 2011

The Correction Line

(photo courtesy of site)

Do you know what a “Correction Line” is? Don’t feel badly if you don’t….it is an obscure land survey term that is used when a slight correction is needed. You can actually see a correction line when you are driving down the road. For example…you may be driving north in a boring straight line and then seemingly out of the blue, you will come to a sharp corner that will perhaps take you east for maybe 500 metres, followed by another sharp corner that will take you north again, returning you to the original direction of travel. That is a correction line. You might have seen these and said to yourself… “was the road builder medicated at the time?” or “Did someone make a mistake?”. Correction lines are not mistakes, they are necessary to compensate for the curvature of the earth’s surface. If we didn’t have correction lines appearing every now and then, we would have chaos (yes, I will admit that was a bit over dramatic).

Okay…so now let’s go on a wee bit of a journey. Are you willing? What about taking the same principle and applying it your life direction? Instead of the same old, same old resolutions like losing weight, quitting smoking, exercising more (all very valid, meaningful resolutions)….instead of making traditional resolutions…why not resolve to create a Correction Line in your life direction. No rules, no one will judge you – this is a gimme. You can take a short diversion to get your life back on track.

What will you do with your “correction”?

Use it for education: Let’s face it….the world seems to be going to hell in a hand basket. If I see one more commercial showing a momma polar bear separated by her babies on an ice flow, I don’t know what I am going to do. During your correction, you could begin educating yourself about the world in which you live. You could educate yourself about global warming and how it has and will continue to impact your life.

Use it to see/look/become aware: Take some time to become aware of the world around you. WARNING! This will involve removing your head from the sand (we are all guilty of this from time to time)

Use it to advocate: Advocate for others less fortunate, who do not have a voice.

Use it to give back: Make your community a better place.

Use it to make a plan: Are you making the most out of that thing called “life”?

So what do you think? Do you want to try it with me? Tell me what you would do with the opportunity?


Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Bonus Sandwich

I was watching my hubby make some tuna sandwiches the other day. He mixed the tuna with some Miracle Whip (not mayonnaise), added some chopped onions and then combined it until it was just perfect (I prefer dill pickles in mine). Then…he removed four slices of bread from the bag and buttered them thoroughly. Finally he began to transfer the tuna onto the buttered bread, methodically spreading the tuna out to all of the edges of the crust. After he had made the two sandwiches, he realized that he had enough remaining tuna for a third, albeit smaller, sandwich. A tiny smile tugged at the corner of my mouth......I said to him, “You are lucky! You are getting a “bonus” sandwich!”

I began to think…..why can’t we look at our lives like it is the unexpected “bonus” sandwich? Would we greet the day differently if we did? If we got up each morning and said to ourselves, “I am going to live today as if it was a bonus….given to me unexpectedly. I am going to appreciate that I am healthy, that I live in a free country, that my children have clean water to drink, that we have enough food to eat. I am not going to look at my life through the eyes of a cynic…I am going to appreciate every beautiful nuance of today because tomorrow it could change.

It struck me that when we lack appreciation for the wonders which surround us and never take a moment to express or acknowledge our pleasure of simply being alive, we are shortchanging ourselves.

So…look at today and all of your tomorrow’s as your ‘bonus” sandwich. Unexpected…. and appreciated.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Table Topics

Tis the season for a myriad of social interactions, both professional and personal: Office parties, large family gatherings, and even the random chit chat with folks that you bump into at the mall while shopping. Do these events make you nervous? Are you concerned that you will forget a name or commit a social faux pas?

Imagine you are spending your very first holiday season with your in-laws, surrounded by people you probably met only once (at the wedding). You meet Uncle Joe who drinks a bit too much which results in the occasional wandering hand; Auntie June who is a “close talker” and tends to spit a bit and, to wrap up this gaggle of fun, you have been seated for dinner next to Margaret who has recently experienced an unusual “awakening” while on sabbatical from her University teaching job. This “awakening” now precludes her from bathing regularly, leaving her smelling like stale tomato soup.

Tongue tied due to nerves, and on edge because of the group dynamics, you are hesitant to join in on the conversation.

There is an art to making great conversation, but many of us fall a wee bit short. That is okay because if we were all extroverted wordsmiths who love to hear the sound of our own voices… would be painful and probably mean that we were on Parliament Hill (wink).

Here are some tips to get you through the holiday season. DISCLAIMER – I took some (cough) artistic licence with these tips and they should be taken with a grain of salt:

Remembering Names: Face association and repetition can be helpful tools in remembering names. When you meet someone, repeat their name a few times (do this in your head – not out loud please) and associate their face with the name. It doesn’t always work, especially if you are meeting many people for the first time. If you are in a work setting and are exchanging business cards, try to take a moment to jot down something specific about the individual on the back of their card. It will be a useful reminder for when you return home, and need to begin putting faces to names.

If you have forgotten someone’s name, sometimes it is best to ‘fess up and say, “I’m sorry, what was your name again?”.

If all else fails….Listen!: Becoming a good listener is definitely a gift that many do not have. A good listener is both attentive, and reflective and focuses their full attention on those talking and being open to the conversation. Do not sit with your arms crossed, instead, lean in slightly, making eye contact (except when you are speaking with Uncle Joe or Auntie June). “Reflect” back which means to occasionally repeat back some of what they are saying so that they know you are listening, and that you have understood what they are saying.

Awkward Conversations: There are times when people want to over-share. Oftentimes this will occur in direct relationship to the amount of alcohol which has been consumed. If you feel you are going to become the conversation target of “TMI” (too much information), disengage yourself from the individual and walk away. If the TMI is a result of alcohol over-indulgence, you are doing them a favour by not staying to listen to all of the personal detailed information and sparing them potential embarrassment.

The Seating Chart: If you have been seated next to an Auntie June, Uncle Joe or a Margaret, you do not have a lot of choices available to you with the exception of jumping up to offer the hostess your assistance in the kitchen. You will be remembered as being “such a helpful” guest and no one will know that you had an ulterior motive.

The Safe Word: Lastly, if you are going to a social event and want to be able to signal your friend or partner that it is time to go, or if you need rescue…come up with a “safe” word before you arrive. Interjecting the safe word into the conversation will allow you to remove yourself from conversations or situations where you feel uncomfortable. Reminder!!! Unacceptable safe words are: Fire! Bomb! Gun! Rat! Bee! and finally, Spider!

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

SS Event Camp

Are you missing Event Camp Vancouver already? If you have the urge to revisit the theme you go!


Written by: Judy Kucharuk & Shawna McKinley

sung to: The Gilligans Island Theme Song

Just sit right back

And you'll hear a tale

A tale about a really neat game,

An App created by QuickMobile

“Get Your Green On” is it’s name

"Get Your Green On" is it's name

The mates were green meeting keeners,

The Skipper smart and sure,

They wanted to create something fun,

For the three day tour,

The three day tour.

The first mates and the Skipper too

Know that Get Your Green On is a test

Of how we can help you all know the difference

Between good, better and best

Good, Better and Best

Throughout the next few days my friends,

You will network and be inspired

But don’t forget to play the game

Sustainable actions are desired

Sustainable actions are desired

So play along with us dear friends

We hope the game is fun

With check in cooooodes

And photo opsssssss


And Acts of Greeeeeen

So grab your phone,

download the app, sign on to play

Get Your Green on has begunnnnnnnn!


Monday, November 7, 2011

Are you a Dreamer?

Have you ever been asked to work on a project with people whom you have never met? Or…..perhaps you have met them, but have never worked with them?

Such is the case with a committee driven event made up of volunteers (freely contributing time, effort and resources). At times, these committees are made up of “Doers”…..those individuals who always get the job done. But! Sometimes, the groups are made up of only “Dreamers” who, unfortunately, may not have the skill set to execute the task at hand. The perfect committee is made up of both “Doers” and “Dreamers”. Let me explain.

Dreamers are those individuals who always think yes before no. They do not see limits, only opportunities. Doers sometimes get frustrated with Dreamers because they are turning left when the Doer is turning right. They think differently and it challenges the mindset of the Doer. In essence…..they can make the project exciting!

Can someone be a Doer and a Dreamer? Yes, most definitely – but they are few and far between. If you have one on your team I suggest you treat them like a rare find. They are a little like a double rainbow or a Unicorn.

In the real world, a great collaboration needs the following:

1. You need a mix of both “Doers” and “Dreamers”

2. You need a “Dream Wrangler”: someone who can draw out the ideas from the Dreamers, keep them on track.

3. You need a leader: As much as you might be a committee, everyone needs a leader. You need a point of contact, someone to make decisions, give final approval. Committee’s can become very passive aggressive and leadership is integral to a successful outcome.

4. You need to create an environment of trust.

5. There needs to be an articulated goal that all parties understand.

Finally, it is important to know what your “Doers” and “Dreamers” need so that you can feed them. What I am saying is, that everyone participates in collaborative projects for different reasons and if you can identify what those reasons are from the beginning, you will better able to position them in the project so that they get what they need out of it.

Recently, the planets aligned for me in such a way that I was able to become a part of a unique collaborative process. I was asked by Dream Wrangler Tahira Endean to participate in the EventCamp Vancouver planning experience. Tahira is a "double rainbow" - she is both a Doer and a Dreamer and artfully worked her magic throughout the planning process. She assembled a unique group of both Dreamers and Doers from near and far. It was truly an amazing experience that is sending ripples exponentially throughout the network of those who attended.

So…..the next time you are working on a collaborative event, think about this process. Appreciate your Dreamers, because without them you wouldn’t push boundaries, stretch your imagination. Acknowledge your Doers because without them – it would just be a page filled with ideas.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A "green" Party Trick

I thought I would share a couple of green event "party tricks" with you. One of my green event strategies is to save the coffee grounds from events/conferences/meetings for use as compost. I have a network of friends who are happy to receive the coffee grounds. Note: You can divide them up amongst a number of people. If I am working on an event out of town, I try to partner with a local organization and arrange for them to take the grounds (horticultural society, community garden, etc.)

It isn't a difficult strategy to just need to arrange with your caterer to save the grounds and provide something for them to put the grounds in. I generally line a bin with a strong garbage bag (the wet grounds get heavy) and the caterer positions it beside the coffee maker. Believe me.....when you are serving coffee to 650 attendees, the grounds add up!

It occurred to me that my attendees didn't know what was happening behind the scenes. They didn't know that we were saving the coffee grounds. For some events I began posting a sign by the coffee station that informed the attendees that we were saving coffee grounds and what the grounds were going to be used for (use pictures to help to illustrate, perhaps a photo of a vegetable garden that received some of the rich compost).

You can take this one step further by having a chalk board or white board beside the coffee station where you can record daily, the weight of the coffee grounds going to compost. If your event is only a one day event, you can still do this.....simply post the results from the morning coffee and then the results from the afternoon coffee break. For multi-day events, you can share the impressive numbers via email in an "eco-daily". An "eco-daily" is an newsletter that informs the attendees of what has been accomplished each day.

If you don't inform your attendees, you can't influence them. Share the message, share the strategies, share the successes.

I believe that your attendee's have an inherent wish to "do good" and when you share with them that they are actually playing a part in something positive, they will respond positively.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Gone Fishin'

As a Green Meeting planner, I tend to focus on the question, “what strategies can I implement during my event that will minimize the footprint while balancing the delicate equation considering people, planet and profits”. I admit it….I consider(ed) my actions (the action of the planner) to be omnipotent to the overall success of greening the event.

Recently, I had a gut check which resulted in an epiphany of sorts (don’t worry folks… wasn’t physically painful, just mildly embarrassing). While collaborating with Shawna McKinley, Director of Sustainability with MeetGreen on the gaming component of Event Camp Vancouver, I was tasked with developing the first draft of green action items. I had to consider these actions from an attendee’s point of view. At first, I struggled…..I was a bit discombobulated with the exercise. I am embarrassed to admit it, but as a planner, I never thought of it that way. In the past, it was always about me (my husband will agree with this). Me! Me! Me! What choices can “I” make that will lessen the overall footprint of the event? I was making these choices on behalf of the attendee. I mean….it made sense right…..?


During this exercise, I quickly realized that I need to get over myself (once again, my husband will agree). I need to recognize the tremendous impact of the individual personal actions of my attendees. It is wonderful if everyone uses the refillable water bottle that I have planned for and provided during my events, but it will be even better if they take the bottle home and use it everyday. It is called building a sustainable event “legacy of actions” (not an official term, but catchy nonetheless).

Oopsey daisy….there goes the light bulb and I find myself having an Oprah “ah ha” moment. Maybe I should sit down.

I realized that (in the past) I was not giving my attendee’s the power, the knowledge or the tools necessary to contribute personally to the overall footprint of the event. When they are at the event, I have made the choices for them, but am I negating the impact/importance of their personal choices?

· Travel

· Hotel Accommodation

· Transit

· Meals

The event might last two days, but if I really want to be a change agent, I have to find ways to influence long term behaviour…..daily actions at home and on the road; at work; at play.

How do I do this?

Realize that control and influence are two separate things. Control is what you have (wish you had in some cases) while planning the event. You are in the driver’s seat; you are the one negotiating with vendors, you are making choices. Influence is what you have with your attendee. You have the ability to influence behaviour through education and awareness. They are a captive audience…..don’t miss the opportunity.

Whew…..that was some heavy stuff; maybe I should lay down.

During Event Camp Vancouver, we are trying to influence the behaviour/actions of our attendees by reinforcing that behavior through the game application. We are making a case for a much more holistic approach to sustainable event planning, but trying to do so in a fun and interactive manner.

There is a famous quote by an unknown author that says, “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”. Well…….we are going fishing folks!

See you at EventCamp!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why event planning sometimes feels like a bad/good/horrible first date…….

Now… all are saying to yourself, “how is she going to make this comparison work?”, or “honestly….what some people will do to get attention on their blog”. But, I have been thinking about this for quite some time and there are some very real comparisons to be made between a first date and the relationship that a planner may have with a first time client.

The “Hugger”:

You all know what I mean……many of us have had experiences with a hugger. Generally, you get a sense of this during your first meeting when the client envelopes you in a great big bear hug, crushing her moon beads (her necklace….get your minds out of the gutter) into your chest. She is just “certain that you are going to do a great job”, because she is “sensing great energy” in the room. It actually was the hum of the air conditioner, but you don’t want to ruin her moment. Do not confuse the “Hugger” with ……

The “Cuddler”:

The cuddler is the client who seems really normal before and during the event, but afterwards, just wants to “cuddle”. And by cuddling, I mean they won’t leave you alone. They call you to go for coffee on a daily basis, they invite you to dinner, they text you with things like, “seems like just yesterday we were picking out menus together (insert happy face emoticon here)”. They want the relationship to continue, aka “lets be friends”. They cross the client/planner boundary. Unfortunately, you can never work for them again, because they probably will expect you to give them the “friends” rate. Don’t get me wrong, we all have clients who become friends, but the “cuddler” becomes a creepy friend.

“I just called to say I love you……”:

Kind of like the “hugger” and “cuddler” rolled into one. Terrifying….simply terrifying.

The stalker:

Not to be confused with the micro manager. The stalker is always watching or having someone else watch and report back to them. They don't want to be perceived as micro managing, so they delegate someone else to do it.

I’m not laughing at you, I am laughing with you:

The client who never takes anything seriously.

It’s not you…it’s me and by that I mean that it actually is you:

You just didn’t click, therefore you won’t be making event magic together today or well….ever.

The “quickie”:

This is the out of town client who contacts you via your website, you only ever speak with them on the phone, you only meet them in person the day of the event and then never hear from them again.

We just don’t share the same values….:

Your client is balloon arches and plastic table skirting and you are LED lighting and sustainable centerpieces.

The Daredevil:

“What do you mean we need a back up plan?”

The Passive Aggressive :

“Here you go (hands the planner a daily planner/notebook), I thought you might need a nice notebook, I notice you never write anything down”.

I welcome any other examples…..I am certain there are more out there.

Being an event planner is a constant test of communication skills. Not everyone will like you and you will not like everyone. That is life. However, you do need to get along with many different personality types and be able to switch up your communication strategies as new situations/personalities emerge. Planning an event is stressful for clients, many of whom look upon the success or failure of the event as a personal reflection of themselves. Stressful situations can bring out the best and worst in people, it is our job to (as Tim Gunn from Project Runway says) “Make it work”.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

As Canadian as Rex Murphy

I am Canadian. I am a proud Canadian. But......sometimes I forget just how wonderful it feels to be born and live our lives in this great country. I was reminded of that this week after having the distinct pleasure of hearing a keynote presentation by National Post columnist and CBC Radio Host, Rex Murphy. Rex was speaking at the 2011 BC Oil & Gas Conference in Fort Nelson, a conference which I had coordinated.

Murphy has a unique manner of drawing you in close to him while he is speaking. He tells stories of his life as a Newfoundlander and of the triumphs and the struggles of his fellow Newfoundlanders. He makes you laugh and he also can render a room silent in reflective thought. He reminds us that life can change in a heartbeat (vanishing cod fishery) and how having compassion for our fellow man is life changing.

Murphy is a wordsmith on a level that I had not seen before. He doesn't throw them around at random, he doesn't waste a word...instead he carefully selects each word he uses, artfully and intelligently weaving it into the presentation.

I am Canadian, but after hearing Rex Murphy remind us of how wonderful our country is, I hold my head up high as a proud Canadian.

If you ever have the opportunity to book Rex Murphy as a not walk, but RUN to your telephone and contact the National Speaker's Bureau. He is simply that good.


Friday, August 26, 2011

The Last Password Standing....

“Please choose a new password”. As my eyes skimmed the five words, I felt sickened…..almost light headed with the realization that today might just become THAT day….the day I had known would come eventually, but that I had feared with an unhealthy fear… would become the day that I end up using, “the last password”.

How did this happen? How did we get here….now…today? What led up to this moment (insert 60’s psychedelic swirls here)?

We are all born with a certain number of things; the obvious are arms, legs, fingers, toes….brain cells, ovum, etc. But…I also believe that the human body contains a limited supply of computer passwords. Yes….that is correct. It is a little known fact that we are born with a limited supply of these word/number/uppercase/lowercase combinations and that when you run out – you ARE out. Sure, you can go back and begin reusing something that you used in the late 1990’s but honestly, you are sacrificing your online security.

A good password is like an old friend. It roles off your fingers onto the computer keyboard with nary a backward glance. A bad password makes you stumble, trips you up. We all do the unacceptable with our password selection. A good password with good “security strength” contains a magical combination of uppercase and lowercase letters with a few numbers thrown in for good measure. It shouldn’t be your wedding anniversary date with the initials of your children thrown in; it shouldn’t be the name of your first boyfriend/girlfriend. It is supposed to be completely random and hard to remember because if it is hard for YOU to remember, then it certainly should be difficult for a hacker to hack.

My point is….we all have had good passwords in our lives and bad passwords. A good password is comforting like a warm blanket, a bad password irritates you every time you use it.

Which brings me to now…today, the day that I might have to break out my last good password. Why is it my last? I honestly don’t think I have another really great one in me. I always thought that I would be in my 60’s or even 70’s before I used my last really good password, but between the online banking, itunes, facebook and now google+, I have used up my passwords like the U.S. government has used up stimulus funds. And now it is time to pay the piper.

Walking out to the yard with the shovel, a rush of emotion washes over me and I prepare to dig up the canister that contains my last, perfect, password. I have secured it much in the same way as the cold war launch sequence codes or the Cadbury secret. As I began to dig one hole, then two, then three I realized that perhaps I should have told someone where I had buried my hidden treasure.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bits & Bytes

For any of us who travel for work regularly and stay in hotels, access to the Internet is a not an added benefit, it is a necessary amenity. I don’t even like to refer to it as an amenity (a useful or pleasant facility or service), because to me, an amenity is the little shampoo’s in the room or the strange little shoe shine foams. No…. Internet access for me is a requirement and I compare it to having access to a telephone in the room, or sheets on the bed.

I have stayed in hotels where the internet access costs me ten dollars a day, isn’t wireless and the cord they provide is 4 ½ inches long ensuring that my comfort is compromised. I have stayed in hotels where the access is “wireless” which is code for only having two bars of signal strength. My favourite marketing ploy by a hotel is the signs that state, “free internet” and then they limit how much I can use it OR the server that they are using limits how many guests can be online at any given moment. They installed the server in 2001 when the hotel had only 40 rooms and since then have gone through an expansion and now have 120 rooms but the server hasn’t been upgraded to accommodate the additional potential users. As a consequence, you can only get online at weird times like 3:45 a.m. or 2:00 p.m.

Strangely enough, the best Internet access service I have received is at a smaller, privately owned hotel. It is at these establishments where I have access to free WiFi with great signal strength and I can work well into the late evening or begin early in the morning. No 4 ½ inch cords, no limiting bits and bytes.

These are some “fun” experiences I have had with Internet use while traveling:

Pay me once, pay me twice – You log onto the hotel Internet and it informs you, “There will be a $10 charge per day for Internet access – please check the box if you agree”. So you check the box and proceed. You go to check out the next morning and you see a $20 charge on your bill for Internet access. Mistakes occur, make sure you check your bill carefully.

I am not a geek – so don’t baffle me with terminology. All I want to do is check my email, send and receive some information and perhaps check my facebook.

Don’t lie to me Argentina – When I can’t get on the Internet and you tell me it is because I have exceeded my free bits and bytes amount…I call steer manure on that one. Do you know how I know? I know that I didn’t exceed my free bits and bytes because I HAVEN’T BEEN ABLE TO ACCESS THE INTERNET SINCE I ARRIVED!!! (sorry, I will use my inside voice from now on). So, don’t try to sell me a package upgrade – just provide me with what you promised when I checked in.

I am not Lounging in the Lounge – (In response to your suggestion to solve my broken internet access in my room) No, I don’t want to go into the lounge where you offer free WiFi….unless of course, I can go down there in my pajama pants.

Is there a moral to this story? No, not really….did writing it make me feel better? You bet!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Are you a fast talker?

Have you ever sat through a power point presentation, bored to death, eyes barely able to focus on the power point slide because it is filled with numbers and lines…..the guy/gal presenting is speaking in a monotone voice with no highs and lows to their pitch, filled with “um’s and ah’s”. Have you begun counting ceiling tiles or light fixtures or maybe even have begun pulling on a wayward thread on your sweater, hoping that somehow it will make the presentation go a bit faster? You begin thinking about spontaneous combustion and wondering if it could really happen and if it did, could it happen here, in this room, with these people, now…..during the presentation. You drift off and are startled awake by limp applause and the sudden realization that you were drooling and probably mouth breathing.

I have been to these presentations. They can certainly be a challenge to sit through. What if the challenge was the other way around? What if the challenge rested on the presenters’ shoulders? What am I talking about? I am talking about Ignite presentations; 5 minute powerhouse presentations on any subject with a power point presentation set to auto advance the slide every 15 seconds. Keep up with the slides or risk embarrassment.

Now you are interested…..right? No matter how boring the subject matter, you are going to be watching and listening and waiting to see if the presenter can get his/her point across in the 5 minute time limit. Bring on the popcorn! You will now be leaning forward in your seat, no longer pondering such things as spontaneous combustion.

Introducing the Ignite session. 20 slides, but only 15 seconds per slide before the slide auto advances. Now that is a challenge! The tagline of the Ignite session is “Enlighten us but make it quick”. It originated in Seattle in 2006 with Brady Forrest and Bre Pettis of O’Reilly Media. It took off and over 200 Ignite Sessions have been held since.

I have scheduled an Ignite session into a conference I am currently planning. We sent out a call for presentations with a couple of caveats. The first being that topics were provided; community, leadership, change or social responsibility, and the second was that they needed to name a local charity in their proposal. Why the local charity? We threw a bit of a twist into the session. We are going to have the audience vote on the best presentation and the winner will receive $1000 to pass along to their favourite local charity. It is a win win!

How did it all turn out? Well, ask me in about a month after the conference is over. I will either have a big toothy smile and a bounce in my step, or I will be seen walking along with my toes dragging, shoulders slumped and a nervous tick.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Java "Script"

Do you ever get confused by the labels on coffee? Fair Trade, Bird Friendly, Shade Grown, Organic, Rainforest Alliance……and so on. It can be frustrating to wade through all of them in a quest to be more “socially responsible”. You almost need to bring along a dictionary when shopping to figure out what everything means.

Then….once you have determined what kind of coffee to buy, you have to consider what kind of cup you are going to drink it in. Are you going to use a china mug, or a TO-GO cup and is that TO-GO cup plastic? And if so, is it BPA free? And what the heck is BPA and why should I care about it?

Advertisers know this and they also know how to wordsmith themselves into your shopping cart. Which brings me to a conversation I had recently with a 20 something young lady with a tight budget. Disclaimer alert***Please bear in mind that while the premise of this story is real, the other part is made up to make it funnier and/or to protect the innocent :)

Melissa was shopping at Rostco (the uber wholesale store) and was on a tight budget. She desperately needed to restock her coffee supply and had been standing in front of the coffee selection for the past ten minutes, unable to make up her mind.

Normally Melissa purchased Fair Trade coffee beans and then ground them at home. On this particular day, she was struggling with the price difference between the Fair Trade coffee beans and the remaining brands on the shelf and unfortunately was going to have to purchase a “non” Fair Trade brand of coffee until her bank account recovered sufficiently. Normally the two or three dollar difference didn’t weigh that heavily on her decision making process, but after watching a television marathon of “Til Debt Do Us Part”, Melissa had been bitten by frugal bug and her grocery “money jar” contained a limited supply of purchasing power.

Not willing to completely abandon her sense of social responsibility, she was carefully weighing the choices before she made her decision. There were two different types of coffee and each indicated that, while they weren’t Fair Trade, they did give a portion of their profits to children. Hmmmmmmm…..Melissa was perplexed. Does she buy the coffee that supports children in sports? Or does she buy the coffee that supports children in the Arts? Relieved that she had brought along her iphone, Melissa quickly Google searched each coffee company prepared to compare “apples to apples” or actually, “coffee to coffee”.

Each company extolled the virtues of their corporate social responsibility and generously listed all of their community accomplishments. Satisfied that she had done her due diligence, Melissa decided to purchase the coffee from the company that supported the children in the Arts and reached for a bag. It was at this point, that out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a ribbon on the corner of the other coffee package. After pausing to examine the ribbon more closely, is appeared to be cream coloured with a gold edge. The presence of a ribbon on one of the bags certainly trumps the sports versus arts comparison. “What does a cream ribbon with gold edging support?” Melissa wondered aloud, getting more frustrated and confused by each passing moment. All she wanted was a bag of coffee – but all of a sudden that simple bag of coffee was becoming a personal and political statement.

Once again taking out her iphone she Google searched “what does a cream ribbon with gold edging stand for?” and watched the search icon blink…..and blink….and blink. The answer? Ribbon status: pending.

To make a long story short, unable to make an informed decision that would enable her to sleep at night, Melissa left Rostco without purchasing any coffee.

Like I said, I took the liberty to change a few things in the story, but the premise remains the same. Advertisers like to baffle us with steer manure in an attempt to gain our purchasing power. Melissa was an informed individual willing to research her way towards a coffee purchase and even she was left confused.

I should have something eloquent to say now to wrap this up. A famous quote about choices, a comment about sustainability…..but I have nothing.

Making decisions in the 21st century is exhausting and stressful. Make the right one and you send a child to school; make the wrong one and you have supported child labour or denied a worker an honest, living wage. Such pressure, but oh so much power!

And you thought you were just buying coffee….

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day 101

Father’s Day is right around the corner and it has me stymied. What to get for my dad? I know he doesn’t really need anything, but when they say, “I don’t really need anything” that usually means that they secretly wish you would surprise them with a Prince Rupert fishing trip or something else really cool.

There are definitely Do’s and Don’ts to Father’s Day gifting. I thought I would go over them briefly in advance of the special day.

The phone call – For those kids who are off to college or living away from home, there is an unwritten code which states, “if you are going to give your Father the gift of your precious voice for Father’s Day, that phone call must be made before noon (that is when both hands are pointing straight up kids). That phone call should be made with enthusiasm and love. The phone call should not be made in that post-drunk whisper (you know, the one where the sound of your own voice makes your head hurt). Please refrain from imbibing too heavily the night before.

The homemade card – Oh yes….the homemade card. The homemade card is honestly one of the most wonderful gifts a small child can give her daddy. But…when the child is 19, and the ink is still wet because they “created” it 15 minutes earlier with a Sharpie after remembering it was Father’s Day……it isn’t quite as “special”.

The “IOU” card – Once again, the IOU card or the card that is crafted that states, “this is good for breakfast in bed” is charming when it comes from your 10 year old twins. When it comes from your 30-year child who still lives in your basement because he/she can’t hold down a job, it loses its luster.

The gift of time – “Hey Dad…’s steak night at the golf course, lets go!”, which is code for “I would like to go golfing, but I have no money right now….if I offer to go with you, you will probably pay”.

The Imaginary Gift – The imaginary gift is the gift that is best explained by, “I was going to get you this cool *insert something extravagant/priceless/cool/hard to get*, but they were all sold out”. The imaginary gift is given when the child can see a sibling give an actual gift to their father and feels guilt ridden.

The last minute gift – normally something from the local convenience store, i.e. Sen-Sen packets, snowbrush and Mentos

The “ask” – The “ask” is when the child comes to mom for a loan because they want this to be the “best Father’s Day ever” for dear old dad.

The Dad’s that say they don’t want anything – these guys are the hardest to shop for. They only say they don’t want anything because they have been burned before….when they were hoping for some recognition on Father’s Day, but it never came through. Now they use the “I don’t want anything” phrase as a defense mechanism. These are the guys that you have to go a little overboard on, spend that little bit extra.

I hope these made you smile - Happy Father’s Day!

Thursday, June 2, 2011


“Squrrel!”, a word that became part of our vernacular following the release of the movie “Up” when Doug, the dog couldn’t focus on one thing for very long.

Do you use the “Squirrel” approach to your green meeting planning? Let’s face it…..there are so many products and services in the market place to support sustainable event planning that it can be easy to abandon the boring “less flashy” strategies from days of yore (that word has been sitting on my desktop BEGGING for a place to use it).

Badges made out of corn plastic, lanyards made from pop bottles, plates made from wood fiber, biodegradable pens, eco friendly bags and totes, bird friendly, fair trade, rapidly renewable, energy star……so many choices out there. Don’t get me wrong. I think it is wonderful that industry is recognizing that there is a market for these products and that the market itself is driving industry to come up with better alternatives. What I am concerned with, is that some will abandon their decision making process (good, better, best) because they are distracted by shiny things (aka the next big thing) “Squirrel”!

How can you continue to focus when everything is moving so quickly around you?

Here are some tips:

Keep a portfolio of products you trust – When you find a great product or service and you have taken the time to research it thoroughly, put it in a portfolio. These products and services are now in the “Circle of trust” (Meet the Focker's movie reference). You have done your homework and can call upon these products and/or services at a moments notice.

Proceed with caution – When a colleague sends you a link to the next best/greenest thing… your homework and check it out thoroughly.

Embrace the boring stuff – All the newest and greatest products in the world won’t green your event or label it “sustainable”. It is the decision making process up to the point of the purchase that helps to minimize the environmental impact that you are making. You need to employ the same process as you always have:

· ReDUCE our willy-nilly purchase of unnecessary “stuff” – will it enhance the attendee experience?

· ReUSE all the “stuff” that we got before we didn’t know we could live without it

· ReCYCLE as much as we can and if we can’t recycle it – know that we probably shouldn’t have purchased it

· ReTHINK everything that we use which includes our suppliers


Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Girl Named Sue

What do you think of when you hear the term “social responsibility”? Social responsibility, the theory that an organization or individual has an obligation to benefit society at large, is interpreted by each of us differently. Many of us do it passively, meaning we avoid participating in socially harmful acts. How many of us are actively engaging in social responsibility?

Which brings me to a Ninja, actually a “Super Ninja” and her name is Sue.

For Sue, a trip to Central America became a journey of self-discovery and appreciation for the world in which she lives. The story really began when her friend Debbie, tragically lost her daughter in Afghanistan. In 2008 Shirley Case, a small town British Columbia girl from 100 Mile House, along with two other aide workers, was gunned down by Taliban insurgents. Shirley was only 30 years old and had dedicated her life to helping people. Fast forward to 2010. In partnership with SchoolBOX, a Canadian grassroots charity, Shirley's families and friends celebrate Shirley’s life by building a school for over 100 children in Monte Olivo, Nicaragua creating a living testament to this amazing woman. It was an opportunity for the Case family to have a connection to the kind of life that their daughter lived. When Sue finds out that Debbie and her husband Alec are about to embark on a trip to Monte Olivo, she volunteered herself and her sister Karen.

This past Easter, after a four-hour flight from Houston, Sue and Karen arrived in Managua, Nicaragua. They joined ten others, forever known as Shirley’s Super Ninja’s, to help begin building a four-room school in the community of Monte Olivo.

For six days, traveling for over an hour each day to the school site, the group worked in the scorching heat, digging trenches, laying rebar, mixing concrete. “It was the hardest I worked, but the most fun I ever had” said Sue. They also had a daily connection with the locals, especially the children who would get to attend the new school. “It was seeing the children and how hard they worked for something that we take for granted that had a profound affect”. When I asked Sue what was her “awesome”, meaning what was something that she will remember forever she said, “working side by side with a seven year old boy shoveling dirt and knowing I couldn’t quit him and he wouldn’t quit me”.

The trip changed Sue’s life and much like someone who has had a life changing experience, she is reflective about how she has lived in the past and how she can see things differently. “I am much more thankful than before. When I watch programs like World Vision I get emotional because it is real to me in a way that was different before ”.

Sue will be the first person to admit that you don’t have to travel across the world to make a difference; but for her, getting out of her comfort zone, getting the dirtiest she has ever been, crying tears of joy and tears of sadness, working so hard she felt sick, was very rewarding.

For more information about the project in which Sue participated, check out

I loved hearing about the trip to Central America. But let’s face it, the majority of us will not get to Central America to build a school; we won’t get to Japan to help rebuild after the tsunami and we won’t even get to Slave Lake to assist them in rebuilding their community after the devastating fire. Nevertheless, we can be active socially responsible citizens in our own community. We don’t have to belong to a group to get something done. Personal actions can have a profound impact. Simple actions may include keeping our community clean and free of hazards, ensuring that our children have a full tummy when they go to school, and assisting our seniors.

Shirley Case was known to have said to each person she met, “Be the change you want to see in the world” Mahatma Ghandi.

Are you the change?

Monday, May 2, 2011

The day I ran away from home

White Space. Graphic designers describe white space as the “absence of content”. We live in a world with very little white space. We brand ourselves as “accessible” and the fact is that we pack our smart phones EVERYWHERE and are available 24/7. How healthy is that? Where are our boundaries? Where is our personal “white space”?

We are scheduled and programmed to the extent that spontaneity is no longer possible. If I were to ask you, “when was the last time you did something crazy and impulsive?” what would be your answer?

Today I ran away from home. I will be back tomorrow, but for today I am a runaway. I chose to drive 5 hours to a meeting instead of flying. I chose to sit in a car for 5 hours with no cell phone, no computer, and no one else to talk to. I created 5 hours of “white space”.

I set my cruise control for 110 kph, put the “Devil Wears Prada” book on cd in the player and drove. It was heavenly.

Tomorrow I get to drive the 5 hours home. I can’t wait

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Recipe for Earth Day 2011

April 22nd will mark Earth Day, the largest environmental event worldwide. It began as an environmental awareness event in the U.S. and has grown to an event celebrated or acknowledged by over 170 countries.

What is Earth Day? Earth Day is a day that is intended to spread awareness and appreciation for the world we live in. It should be a catalyst for change and provides an opportunity for positive actions and results. Some examples of celebrations include garbage pickup, eco festivals, river valley clean up, energy fasts, etc.

I have had the following idea in my head for years (scary) and have always felt that it would be an appropriate way to spend Earth Day. It is a recipe for success because you are combining the act of giving with fellowship = magic. Please….enjoy and yes, you may steal my idea!

Find a project - call around to non-profit organizations, etc. and identify a "project" that you participate in. Perhaps it is painting a clubhouse for the soccer association, or cleaning out the flowerbeds of the local seniors home. The important thing to remember is that the project must be designed to be completed that day. A project that can be started and finished in one day fosters a feeling of accomplishment.

Now that you have identified a project you need to.....

Come up with a guest list - write down a list of individuals whom you could invite to participate in this project. Make sure you will have enough to complete the project as promised.

Send out the "invitations" - Go to the local Home Depot or hardware store and purchase work gloves. These will become your invitations for the event. Hand deliver only one glove to each invitee. Write on the palm of the glove, the details of the event, i.e. time, date, etc. You can explain that they will receive the other glove when they show up that morning.

"Lend a hand to celebrate Earth Day"

April 22nd




When everyone arrives at the project site, hand out the second glove to participants. Arrange to have a member of the organization that you are supporting be there to explain the project and what the contribution means.

Post Project Picnic (love alliteration!) - You can either have a post project picnic at the site, or you can invite the participants over to your home for a barbeque. If you give them an hour to freshen up with the promise of a cold beer or glass of wine, they will be sure to attend. Psst....try to make it local beer or wine

Pictures!! Make sure that you take lots of pictures during the project. A group photo is really important because you will want to send each participant one as a great keepsake and thank you!

I hope you have a wonderful Earth Day!