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Attendee Participation in Greening General Assembly

Many General Assembly (GA) attendees “jump in” onsite to support sustainability efforts. In addition to complying with GA Planning Committee programs, attendees often make spontaneous efforts to reduce our meeting’s environmental impact.

Carbon Offsets

As part of the registration process, GA attendees are encouraged donate $6 to reduce carbon emissions. Donations go to Carbonfund.org, a non-profit organization that educates the public about climate change and works with individuals, businesses and civic groups on CO2 reduction programs. Last year, a total of 753 metric tons of carbon emissions were offset; representing 54% participation.

Reusable Water Bottles and Filling Stations

Did you know that it takes as much water to make your water bottle as it does to fill it? One of the simplest things Unitarian Universalists (UUs) can do at General Assembly to reduce your environmental footprint is to bring and reuse a water bottle. Organizers take special effort to ensure that water fountains and refill stations are available, so take advantage of them and save a bit of money, and a lot of planet.

Better yet, if you're coming with a group, think about bringing your own unique water bottles that identify you as a community while you're at GA. Looking for a fun congregational activity before you come to GA? Think about getting reusable tumblers that you can get together and decorate before you come.

Staff and Volunteers

Staff and volunteers help to educate attendees about how to reduce waste and keep materials out of landfill at GA. 15-20 volunteers provide approximately 400 hours of education at GA every year. Please take time to thank volunteers for their efforts. And let us know if you’d like to join our event green team! If you have a question or suggestion for our event greening program you are welcome to email MeetGreen®. MeetGreen® is also able to help with questions you might have about how to integrate sustainability into events and ministries you may be involved with at GA.

Recycling Stations

Every year the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) tries to improve our onsite recycling stations, through better signage and convenient, accessible bins. This helps prevent some of the confusion about how to recycle, which attendees report in their evaluations, particularly if a volunteer may not be on hand to help. Employing UU volunteers to assist, 78% of waste was recovered in 2013. 

While this is a great improvement in typical diversion for the venue, we can always do better by reducing event discards overall. This means reducing the potential for any kind of waste at source by adopting a “pack it in, pack it out” strategy. The UUA takes steps to reuse many materials, such as signs, carpet and kiosks. A mobile event application is also provided to enable reduced paper use by those who are able to use a handheld device at the event. While many attendees appreciate the effort to reduce paper use, an equal number would like more access to printed publications, making this a delicate balance.

Green Practices at GA Hotels

The UUA contracts with hotels to provide minimum green practices in guest rooms. This includes things like ensuring recycling options are available, polystyrene is not used and linen reuse is standard. We verify practices are in place through in-person visits pre-event, but it is difficult to guarantee 100% compliance in every guest room. For this reason we involve volunteers, staff and the Program Committee in auditing their guest room experiences. Every year we get 15-25 audit reports that lead us to follow up with hotels to correct inconsistencies during GA. Such as those times when housekeepers remove your towels, even when you hang them up! If you notice a hotel that is doing a good job, or could improve let us know at the Green Booth onsite.

Hotels are required to communicate green practices and choices to you. Look in your room for information. Sometimes it will be provided via a letter, guest room card, voicemail message or on your television. Information is also typically available at the front desk. So if you don’t see what you’re looking for ask for it, and let us know so we can follow up.

Bear in mind that in many cases UUA’s requested green practices may be new for many hotels. We encourage you to be patient as they train staff in what are often new procedures and encourage UUs to support the effort through positive reinforcement that appreciates the steps being taken.

Air Conditioning at General Assembly

Every year the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) receives feedback about the room temperature at General Assembly. Some people find it too cold. Others complain it can be uncomfortably hot. Unfortunately, it's difficult to find the ideal temperature all the time. We want you to know we hear your concerns on both sides, and try to find the best temperature to ensure a good experience.

Convention centers typically have standard temperature set points that are programmed for rooms based on size and anticipated occupancy. That means sometimes when you first arrive it seems cold. As more people fill up a room temperatures can increase dramatically and the room becomes more comfortable, but hopefully not so hot as to provide strain on those unable to tolerate excessive heat.

To make sure you're most comfortable all the time, we encourage you to bring a light sweater or shawl.

Virtual Attendance

Some participants opt to tune in to GA virtually. Providing a hybrid event format—one that allows remote and in-person attendance—not only helps foster a more inclusive environment for those unable to travel, it also allows GA to grow attendance through lower environmental impact means. Remote attendees obviously consume power by tuning in and participating online. However their preference to stay home avoids the carbon footprint inherent in traveling. By making the decision to attend online, remote attendees avoided 67.5 metric tons of carbon emissions in 2013.

For more information contact generalassembly@uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Wednesday, October 2, 2013.

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