Saturday, August 25, 2012

Glass Half Full?

"What are the ethical implications of hosting a large event in a city struggling with a diminishing water supply?"

This is the question I have been asking myself lately.

I had a similar discussion with a friend who had just hosted visiting family members in her home for 10 days. She said to me, "I went through sooooo much toilet paper!" and I said, "Can you imagine how much water you used?".

I know, I know....that is a very simplistic comparison, but a valid one nonetheless. She only had an extra family in her home, what if my community (my home) hosted an event for 500, 1000 or 5000 people for three days. That equals many, many, many litres of water being consumed/wasted/flushed.  That is a lot of toilet flushing AND many, many showers. I won't even begin to discuss food waste and garbage.

Oh Judy.....why do you bother yourself with such thoughts.....


What if the community/town/municipality/city was struggling with a diminishing water supply. Would that make it worthwhile considering?

Fresh, potable water in not an endless resource.......

At what point do we have to say "No...I am sorry, we can't host your event because would be irresponsible" or because "we have a responsibility to the folks that live here and who will still be here after the large event is over ".

People, planet, profits......we try to balance the three legged stool...our benchmark for determining "am I doing the right thing?"

As Sustainable Meeting Planners have we ever said 'STOP!', I can't do this? Because even after implementing sustainability strategies, I still can't make this particular event socially responsible?" Have we ever had to walk away?

I am not normally this morose.

I do not usually focus on such negative thinking and try to remind myself of what Dr. Karl-Henrik Robert said in Portland at the 2011 GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference, "I am an realist with an optimistic heart". 

And I am realist and the fact of the matter is, reality sometimes is harsh. 

Protect that 'glass half full'......think about it each and every time you plan an event because is getting more and more difficult, more and more expensive and becoming more and more of an ethical consideration when you need to fill it.



Shawna McKinley said...

Provocative and important! Especially this summer when all we hear about are growing water shortages. I particularly worry about the more transient festivals and special events that descend on smaller, more rural communities (like yours!) for brief periods of time. You hear so much about the positive economic impact during the event, but what is the actual cost when you consider the utility burden? And what happens if the community invests in infrastructure to support festivals then due to sponsorship or other reasons the event is discontinued? So important to provide a balanced perspective of benefits and costs—especially in terms of water—and get locals involved, and voicing their preference.

The Green-Eyed Event Planner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Green-Eyed Event Planner said...

Thanks for your comment Shawna - it has been something that has been weighing on my mind for a while now and I was unsure of how to articulate it clearly.

I do not want to diminish all of the work that many have done to make better choices, create more efficient alternatives, but I do wonder at what point do we simply say "no - can't do it" specifically in terms of water and lack thereof.


Paul Salinger said...


This does raise some interesting ethical and resource questions. When we look to lower our event impacts, do we indeed (without intent) create a different set of impacts for the communities where we have events.

Take Las Vegas, a city in a desert, where water is scarce. Let's say we choose to have an event there, but would like to lower our carbon and waste stream impact, so we decide that we should only serve water that does not come from bottles transported from other places.

We've made ourselves feel better for not contributing to plastic in the waste stream, additional carbon from the production of that plastic, additional carbon from the transport of that plastic to the event destination. etc.

Now, what impact has that had on the local community. How might it have affected jobs in the destination? Did it actually have a positive or negative effect on the local community and economy?

Now, let's say we decide not to do an event in that destination (or any destination with similar challenges) - what would that mean. We might indeed reduce a lot of environmental problems, but have we not had a negative impact on the local community and economy? Would we have been better off looking at a different way to provide water - maybe even (shudder) considering bottled water as a better solution than not having that event in that destination?

This is why sustainability is so complicated and never black and white when we really take it seriously and get ourselves immersed in it.

Thank you for raising the issue. I hope our community can continue to have these conversations and look for both ethical and creative solutions to some of the moral dilemmas that come up when we want to do "the right thing".

The Green-Eyed Event Planner said...

Thank you for commenting Paul,

You are certainly correct: there is no right answer that suits each situation. The ethical implications have become increasingly complex as we find ourselves with less resources - specifically water.

I appreciate your insight