ASHE incorporates sustainable and decarbonizing practices into the 2023 PDC Summit.

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A difficult lesson to learn, but one that we all do at some point in our lives is this: Choices are determined by circumstance, and choices are trade-offs. Choosing is an affirming action that implicates the chooser by highlighting not only the chosen path but also the one disregarded. 

The circumstances in which we make our choices in this day and age include the fact that the assumptions we have collectively made about the infiniteness of our resources are increasingly difficult to maintain. This has led us to make new choices about which models make economic and moral sense.  

What it means to be sustainable and what sustainable means 

At the core of the word “sustainability” is the “sustain,” derived from the 13th century Middle English word “sustenen,” which means to "provide the necessities of life.” It is from this space of necessity that organizations in multiple industries across continents are reexamining their choices as they relate to the production of their goods and services. 

Throughout the planning for this year’s PDC Summit, we have examined choices that the health care planning, design and construction industries have made to be more sustainable in the creation of the health care physical environment. It is in this spirit that I’d like to share about the choices ASHE makes on its path toward more sustainable choices in its event production practices. 

I’m excited to tell you about sustainable choices we’ve made confidently, but I’d like to first start with the story about a box of flyers, because I think it well illustrates the complex and sometimes contradictory circumstances in which we all navigate choices about sustainable best practices. 

Making a choice to ship a box of flyers

This past February, the invaluable Barbara Bahde from ASHE’s Member Engagement Team came to the Education Team’s amazing Melissa Binotti Heim with a question: Should we ship a box of membership flyers to the upcoming PDC Summit in light of our event sustainability activities? Barb’s seemingly simple question led to a multistakeholder discussion among staff in the ASHE office in Chicago and with ASHE’s Sustainability Committee leaders at the committee’s meeting in Seattle.  

On the one hand, the flyers were printed back in 2020. Resources had already been used to produce the flyers, and if we chose not to use them eventually, we would make the choice to throw them out because they were not recyclable. On the other hand, we were trying to cut down on paper-based product handouts to lower the potential waste produced on-site. And while it was one box, it still added weight to our shipment to Phoenix. Some percentage of fuel was going to be used getting this box of flyers to its destination. On yet another hand, ASHE helps to lead the community and industry by example as it relates to sustainability. 

Would handing out paper-based flyers dilute the message we want to send? One box of flyers led to four conversations between seven people at three different organizations. We ultimately decided to bring the flyers and make them available to hand out, but not display them in order to cut down on the action many of us perform at conferences where we take promotional material in the moment but then reconsider our need for that item when it comes time to pack our bags to head home.  

This may seem like a small, inconsequential action in the grand scheme of things. This one box of membership flyers is not going to significantly increase or decrease the waste or carbon footprint of the PDC Summit. But this one action adds up when it is included with the thousands of other similar choices being made by all of us participating in this year’s PDC Summit. And the thousands of choices we collectively make impact the choices made by the Phoenix Convention Center, the city and state where it resides, our country and the globe. Our choices matter because the choices we make individually become the circumstances of our collective future and the platform from which we each will have to make our next set of choices. 

ASHE’s vision for a successful and sustainable conference experience 

ASHE is proud of its leadership in advocating for health care facilities to embrace sustainability practices in their activities to optimize health care physical environments. In an effort to model this behavior in our own practices, ASHE is actively working to employ sustainable practices in the production of its in-person conferences and exhibitions. 

Over the next three years, ASHE is committing to improve its practices around the “dirty dozen” areas of waste within the in-person conference production space: food, food packaging and service ware, coffee cups, vinyl banners, tabletops, plastic foam, plastic sheeting, shrink wrap, name badges, adhesive decals, carpet and A/V waste. In 2023, the ASHE Event Team will focus on implementing sustainable practices related to food, food packaging and service ware, and name badges.  

During the PDC Summit, we are employing the Phoenix Convention Center’s sustainable food and beverage program, which includes:  

  • Local Fresh. Through a partnership with local farmers, Aventura Catering buys locally grown fresh organic produce when possible to provide clients with environmentally friendly vegetarian meal selections.  
  • Monterey Bay sustainable seafood. Aventura is a proud participant in the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, a sustainable seafood initiative, supporting ocean-friendly practices.  

Food packaging

  • Reusable cutlery/biodegradable materials.  To reduce waste, Aventura uses reusable cutlery, dishware, linens and decorations. When disposables are required, products made of recycled and biodegradable materials are used, such as bamboo plates.  
  • Waste-not partnership. Leftover food is donated to a local food bank or soup kitchen when possible.   

Service ware

  • ASHE will also offer attendees reusable water bottles and water refill stations to avoid the use of plastic cups and disposable plastic water bottles. ASHE encourages conference attendees to utilize these reusable water bottles or bring their own to the event.    
  • For hot beverages, ASHE will offer 12-ounce eco-choice ripple cups, eliminating the need for cup wrappers. ASHE encourages conference attendees to utilize these eco-choice cups or bring their own reusable coffee tumblers to the event. 

Name badges

  • ASHE will be utilizing recyclable name badges for the event.

And more

  • In 2023, ASHE is also focused on reducing the paper it utilizes for its in-person events, and will be providing information on its products and services at its events through its mobile app, access to content through the use of QR codes, and follow-up information on resources enabled by badge scanning and post-event communications.  
  • Finally, ASHE continues to partner with The Expo Group in the production of its in-person events. The Expo Group is a signatory along with over 120 other partners of the Net Zero Carbon Events Pledge, which is focused on fighting climate change with the ultimate goal of eliminating the event production industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

Sustainable choices as an act of service

We are sharing our lives together in this intricate, bewildering time. Humans have never been more aware of how their own actions impact those near to and far from them. We all have a choice, a trade-off, a decision to make every day about our actions and their potential outcomes. ASHE, its staff, and its community of volunteers and members are making choices to lead the industry in making the optimization of the health care physical environment more sustainable.

We do this as an act of service for the patients, the staff and the communities in which those health care physical environments exist.  We do this as an act of service for those here now, and those in the future. We do this both through individual choices and collective action. We ask you, too, to consider what individual choices and collective action you can contribute to these efforts. Even something as seemingly inconsequential as the choice of whether to pack or not pack a box of flyers.