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.
Each year, UUA requires that partner hotels and event venues offset the carbon associated with General Assembly. In the past, GA has encouraged attendees to voluntarily do the same, peaking in 2010 with 63% of attendees voluntarily offsetting their carbon. In 2015, carbon offsets were included in each attendee’s registration, allowing for 100% of attendee carbon to be offset. Contributions to offset the emissions produced by air travel, hotel stays, etc. 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.
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 we as Unitarian Universalists (UUs) can do at General Assembly to reduce our 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. 20-25 volunteers provide approximately 500 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
Every year 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 is not on hand to help. Employing UU volunteers to assist, 62% of waste was recovered in 2015. 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
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 that 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 Planning 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 should they exist. For example: 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 an email, guestroom 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 are new to 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.
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 while minimizing the environmental impact. 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 62 metric tons of carbon emissions in 2014.