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    It's Time for BlogHer to be Green - Inside and Out.

     BlogHer is the world's largest network of women bloggers. As such, it commands substantial financial sponsorships from multi-national conglomerates, many of whom jump at the chance to peddle their wares to the thousands of attendees who throng BlogHer's annual conferences. After all, these women are bloggers: their online presence functions like a Megaphone giant megaphone to the rest of the world. What company wouldn't want to promote its products to so many potential free advertisers?

    How "green" the BlogHer conferences are has become increasingly controversial over the past few years. Last year, an uproar ensued when the group's conference seemed to have been commandeered by Pepsi and other companies that for three days bombarded conference-goers with trashy swag. I was on BlogHer's "Green Team"; the victory we thought we'd won convincing Pepsi not to hand out bottled water was undercut by all the soda bottles and other junk companies peddled right and left throughout the event.

    This year, I did not attend the conference. But by all reports, the swag was much more restrained. Still, the confab was sponsored by a bevy of companies promoting the kind of throwaway "stuff" Annie Leonard shined such a bright spotlight on in her searing online documentary, The Story of Stuff. To wit, not only did the companies give away a lot of junk - they also sponsored a suite where conference goers could throw it away (or "recycle" it to places like homeless shelters, begging the question: if you don't want it, why do you think a homeless person does?).

    There are a lot of important questions that need to be asked around the dynamics of an event like the BlogHer conference. What is the responsibility of any conference to make its event "green"? Should a conference use the real clout it has to pressure its partners to attain the highest possible level of responsibility? Should organizations and individuals hold companies responsible for their actions by withholding access to their members - and their money?

    I take issue with the suggestion that BlogHer should be let off the hook for the many wasteful products it  allows companies to promote at its conferences. I don't think BlogHer or any other conference should be given a "pass" just because, as Lynn Miller notes at Organicmania, it is not a "green" conference. That message  marginalizes "green" rather than legitimizes it. Would anyone condone sexism at a conference because the event was not a "woman's" conference?

    But there is a more important point to be made. Companies that promote their products at BlogHer do so with only one goal in mind: to  perpetuate the same patterns of wasteful consumption that have wreaked havoc on the environment heretofore. I often say that we women, who spend $.85 of every dollar in the marketplace, have the power to change the world by changing the way we spend our money. But honestly, the world wouldn't be in the shape it's in if women hadn't been buying so much junk to begin with. I'd wager that more women who attended BlogHer will be blogging about the cute little toy or other product they got for free than the purified water they drank.

    Conference organizers argue that corporate sponsorships (and those product give-aways) make conference attendance fees cheap. But is cheap always better?

    Cheap If you need to think about your answer, read Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by investigative reporter Ellen Ruppel Shell. Says Shell, "America has been transformed by its relentless fixation on bargains. This pervasive yet little-examined obsession is arguably the most powerful and devastating market force of our time. It has fueled an excess of consumerism that blights our landscapes, raises personal debt, lowers our standard of living, and even skews our concept of time."

    BlogHer has the potential to be a truly revolutionary force for good, but not because it offers purified water at its conferences, or puts its program online instead of printing it on paper. In this day and age, actions like these should be a no-brainer. What would put BlogHer on the map would be to adhere to a list of socially and environmentally responsible criteria that its corporate sponsors must meet in order to be affiliated with the world's largest network of women bloggers. (NOTE: Green  America is extremely selective about who it allows to exhibit at its events - and it draws many more thousands of people  to the multiple events it stages in several cities every year than does BlogHer.)

    Would the number of corporate sponsors shrink initially if BlogHer set a true green threshold for conference underwriting? Perhaps. Or perhaps BlogHer's vision would inspire companies to new heights of environmental responsibility. I'd put my money on the latter. There's certainly precedent for throwing down the gauntlet: remember the Sullivan Principles? Apartheid ended, in part, because so many consumers called for its demise - and threatened to boycot companies unless they did, too.   

    Most companies exhibiting at BlogHer and underwriting the group's programs have 'green' products in the works, if not already on store shelves. But they're marginalizing them the same way BlogHer is, and making them the exception, not the rule.

    BlogHer is a megaphone to women across the U.S. and increasingly, around the world. It's time for that megaphone to be green, inside and out.

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    Comments

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    Lynn from OrganicMania.com

    Diane, I’m disappointed that you read my post and walked away with the impression that I was giving Blogher “a pass because it is not a green conference.”

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear, so let me explain here (as I did on my own blog in my lengthy response to your comments).

    Green conferences – a la GreenFest – are the best of the best. They operate according to different principles than the BlogHer conference, and they set the standard for sustainability. I love GreenFest (in fact, I’m speaking there this year). I considered challenging BlogHer’s sponsors and organizers to visit Greenfest just to see where they could push themselves to go, but I thought my post was getting too long. (I’m sure they’ll see it now, given all the debate about BlogHer and green).

    Instead, I commended BlogHer for four notable improvements made since BlogHer ’09, and then laid out seven challenges – since amended to eight in the comments – that would take BlogHer even further on the path to sustainability.

    Contrary to BlogHer’s promotion of “BlogHer Goes Green,” I didn’t view BlogHer as a green conference, and I said so. I don’t see how you could read my post and think I was giving them a pass.

    On the contrary, we need to keep pushing, so that in a few years, all conference are operating much more like GreenFest does.

    Diane MacEachern

    Lynn, Thanks for adding these points. I support many of the ideas you raise in your blog about ways the conference could be improved. This blog wasn't about you or any one blogger - it's about BlogHer and, in my opinion, the bigger picture. I hope they take to heart the recommendations all of us our making about they can play a more positive role in the future.

    Diane MacEachern

    Lynn, I also want to say that, as ever, I appreciate the opportunity to debate the issues with you, share our different perspectives, and see things through the eyes of someone for whom I have enormous respect. Thanks for the dialogue.

    Lynn from OrganicMania.com

    Well, this was actually kind of different - since we usually AGREE on everything! I'm curious which of my recommendations you don't support...but let's talk about that offline over (organic, fair trade) coffee!

    Thanks for your kind words, Diane.

    Kim from getgreenbewell.com

    Very interesting post!

    It's refreshing to see the point of view of someone who is on the "green" team for BlogHer and still sees the improvements that need to be made. With all of the promotion of the green private parties and events going on at this year's conference (I didn't go), I assumed that BlogHer was greener than most. Maybe that wasn't so, but I really commend the individuals and corporations that managed to get the green theme out there, even if it wasn't for the entire conference.

    I'll be at BlogHer 2011 - already signed up! - so I'm interested to see how things go. Conferences in general are wasteful, regardless of who they are aimed at and what the message is. But it's a great opportunity to start changing the way that things work - and I'm excited to be a part of it and hope I can do some good work.

    Kim from getgreenbewell.com

    I've been to many travel writing conferences where reams of paper and pamphlets are the norm, and every single writer walks away with sore shoulders and a sad face about the waste that they have to carry.

    This year, I'm happy to report that many of the bureaus have switched to handing out flash drives with the info (which can be reused), or just having you go to their online press kit. MUCH better! There is a change in the works - we just have to encourage it!

    Mary Hunt

    I share Diane's stronger viewpoint, there are thousands of green products out there now and if BlogHer took a stand to promote only products on their way to becoming fully sustainable--well--stand back and watch the market turn back-flips to be included. NO ONE will want to be outside of that circle.

    Diane, I have an idea that would make everyone happy... be back soon.

    Diane MacEachern

    Kim, Thanks for your observations; I hope we'll met at BlogHer next year.

    Mary, you've intrigued me. Please tell me more!

    Sharon Alvandi

    Thanks for keeping it real on the blogosphere. I often feel disappointed that bloggers don't address the larger advertising paradigm and social revolution that they are a part of. The BlogHer network is a phenomenal tool for consumers and companies everywhere, but everyone needs constructive criticism. I am glad that you can be so honest.

    Beth @ Fake Plastic Fish

    Lisa Nelson-Woods just left a comment on my blog that BlogHer is offering a self-sponsored ticket for 2011. It's $598, as opposed to the $198 sponsored rate. I guess that's their way of showing what the true cost would be without the sponsorships. But this raises another question for me: why do the BlogHer conferences need to be held at the Hiltons and the Sheratons in huge cities? If what BlogHer has to offer is so great (which a lot of it is) then wouldn't people come to Oklahoma (Lisa Sharp!) or Arkansas?

    The $598 price is actually making me rethink whether I actually should be attending an event whose luxury I can't really afford.

    Diane MacEachern

    Beth, You make me think of another point. What if BlogHer were to sponsor its conference at a University, where people could stay in dorm rooms,for example? Here in Washington, D.C., there is tons of excess dorm capacity in the summer, when BlogHer normally holds its events. There's also a 4H center which is a great conference facility. Thanks for sharing the info about the self-sponsored cost.

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