Towards A Better BlogHer

August 15th, 2010

As someone who blogged last year about SwagHer, decrying Blogher ‘09’s excessive  swag and pushy promotions, I feel compelled to report on the atmosphere at BlogHer ’10.

What a difference a year makes.

It’s to BlogHer’s credit that they actually practice what they preach – they listened to the community’s feedback and implemented changes that vastly improved the feel of the conference and resulted in some noticeably greener changes.

Was it perfect? No. But as I told those who complained to me, BlogHer is not a green conference.

Here are just some of the improvements at BlogHer ’10:

Pur Waterphoto

1. The water stations were clearly visible (much more so than last year), as were the water bottles. (Thanks, P&G).

I especially liked the bathroom rugs that the organizers placed under the water jugs to absorb the water overflow. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had discussions with event organizers about how to handle the “drip” problem. Bathroom rugs? That’s a cheap, simple, green solution that anyone can implement.  Now we just need P&G to figure out how to recycle those water filters, like Brita does — (thanks to the Take Back the Filter action campaign led by blogger Fake Plastic Fish!)

2. Sponsors were barred from accosting approaching conference attendees to ask, “Would you like my swag wonderful sample of ….?” “Can I interview you about how much you love my wonderful brand and how we will change the world?”

Playskool

Of course, in the expo center, that kind of thing still went on at BlogHer ’10. But if you choose to step foot in the exhibit hall, you need to expect that the exhibitors will approach you and try to entice you with swag, giveaways, contests, etc. That’s the deal. If you don’t like it, don’t go to the exhibit hall.

3. A Swag recycling station (sponsored by P&G) was a big hit.

swagexchange

Even more swag could have been exchanged if it had stayed open a bit later (or if attendees had been warned that it would close up late Saturday afternoon).

4. I’m not sure if it was the conference lay-out or the way rooms were assigned, but there seemed to be far less of the “swag trick or treating” atmosphere that prevailed last year.

And as I’ve previously posted, I had a great time at BlogHer ’10. I’m looking forward to returning to next summer’s BlogHer ’11 in San Diego. But I hope to see some further “greening” of the conference.

What improvements would I like to see at BlogHer ‘11?

1. I had a hard time swallowing the “BlogHer Goes Green” slogan when there was no effort made to offset the carbon footprint of the conference. Many (most) conferences I attend offer carbon offsets,  and it’s something BlogHer could easily explore and probably even find a sponsor to cover for the attendees. In fact, last year  Michelin offset the travel for the attendees at the green session.

2. I’d like to see a diverse committee of BlogHer attendees offer a “swag vetting” service for BlogHer sponsors. (And yes, these women should be compensated for their time – not expected to volunteer).  Through a swag vetting service, sponsors could get early feedback that a proposed  giveaway would be a dud. Think of the time, money, and resources saved, as well as the improved blogger relations that would come from gifting a truly appreciated token rather than a spurned offering.   Does the Salvation Army really need all those leftover Jimmy Dean alarm clocks? (But believe it or not, I brought mine home for my son to replace his broken Thomas alarm clock!)

3. On the same note, BlogHer should re-evaluate the all-conference giveaway bag. Frankly, that’s where most of the discarded waste bound for some hapless homeless people came from!

4. BlogHer sponsors could run more experiential programs with attendees rather than offer gifts.  Some sponsors excelled at this, notably Liberty Mutual Insurance and their PR agency Ketchum, which offered a media training program for bloggers; Ecco Shoes, which pampered attendees with free pedicures; and P&G with their hair styling and make-overs.

makeoversP&G

But there’s still room for more creative experiential marketing programs with bloggers.    How about a leisurely brunch for the late owls who could never make the 10 a.m. breakfast cut-off (including yours truly?) What about some fresh fruit or veggies at the Recharge Lounge?   Or a goodbye brunch? How about  keeping the dance floor pounding all night long? I didn’t want Sparklecorn’s dance floor to close at 11 p.m. – did you?

5. Sponsors would profit from exploring more sustainable gifts. There is an enormous variety of creative, upcycled, recycled and fair trade gifts which would be unique and appreciated by the conference attendees.

6. I’m hopeful that next year, with the conference in California, we’ll see organic food and local, sustainable wines for conference goers to enjoy.

7. BlogHer could encourage sponsors to offer women an option of swag or donations to a crowd-sourced social change project or pet cause.Imagine the real impact of BlogHer if we were able to opt out of swag and reallocate those dollars to The Afghan Women’s Project, Tutus for Tanner, The American Cancer Society or Breast Cancer Fund, Bloganthropy, or another cause dear to the BlogHer community?  With 3500 attendees projected for Blogher ’11, and an estimated $100 per person spent on swag (my own  arguably conservative WAG), we could take funds otherwise spent on “sponsor gifts” and donate $350,000 to causes that make a real difference to our community.

After all – wasn’t that the real message of the keynote? Did you not hear what Gloria Feldt and Marie Wilson said? Women have power. We have economic power. And our voices matter. So what are we doing with that power? Mr. Potato Head or a Crowd-Sourced Cause Donation? Think about it.

And for those who say it can’t be all or nothing, fine. How about letting attendees opt in or opt out of swag from specific brands? That way those bloggers who take samples for review purposes are happy, brands’ products continue to get exposed to new audiences, so they’re happy, and we should all be happy because perhaps we could get to a near-zero waste conference – where we’re not expending resources to ship leftover  notebooks, plastic cups, alarm clocks, and paper – oh, the paper! -  to the Salvation Army.

NoNestlephoto

There was a lot of controversy about the Nestle sponsorship. It led to the boycotting of the conference by some speakers and attendees, and to silent action coordinated by PhDinParenting, who through her blogging, increased  BlogHer community awareness of Nestle’s violations of the WHO’s  International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.   I proudly wore one of the #NoNestle stickers that Crunchy Domestic Goddess handed me.

crunchydomesticgoddess

But to hold BlogHer’s founders to that same standard is not realistic. BlogHer is not a private endeavor. It’s not a B-Corporation. On the contrary, BlogHer is a rare example of a successful venture-capital funded start-up led by a female management team still comprised of the original founders. Jory des Jardins, Elisa Camahort Page and Lisa Stone don’t air their business issues in public, but take it from me – someone who worked for venture backed tech start-ups for years – these gals must be under intense pressure to grow revenue and show profit. They can’t turn away the big bucks that a company like Nestle offers to the conference.

Instead, BlogHer took Nestle’s money and paid for incredible speakers and a wide range of progressive programming. But BlogHer’s not a green or progressive conference, per se. And that’s not all bad. Because while I admire my deep green blogging buddies, I don’t want to spend my time preaching to the choir. I want to move people along the spectrum from light green to a deeper shade of green – and that’s best done by mixing at a conference like BlogHer, which appeals to a very diverse group of women from across the spectrum of ideologies, income levels, religions, and races.

What did you think about BlogHer? Leave a comment and share!

– Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2010

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22 Responses to “Towards A Better BlogHer”

  1. Anna on August 15, 2010 9:03 pm

    Well stated Lynn. Your suggestions are easily do’able. It seems like each year Blogher steps up the rung more and more. It all about education and each day a better day.

    Oh, keep the laugh. I love it.

  2. Tweets that mention Organic and Green Mom Blog | Towards A Better BlogHer at Organic Mania -- Topsy.com on August 15, 2010 9:10 pm

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Green Moms Carnival, christopher russell. christopher russell said: RT @Greenmoms: Towards A Better BlogHer: As someone who blogged last year about SwagHer, decrying Blogher ‘09’s excessive  swag a… http://bit.ly/8Xhjrk [...]

  3. Miss Britt on August 16, 2010 6:05 am

    And thank you. Because I’m not in the choir, but people being willing to mingle with me, to talk about small steps on a regular basis, are making a difference for people like me and my family.

    You really, really are.
    .-= Miss Britt´s last blog ..And This Comes Next =-.

  4. Diane MacEachern on August 16, 2010 6:11 am

    I’m delighted to hear that the swag at BlogHer was more restrained this year than last. And I endorse most of the suggestions you make for improving the conference next year. But I take issue with the suggestion that BlogHer should be let off the hook for the many wasteful products it still allows companies to promote at its conferences. I don’t think BlogHer or any other conference should be given a “pass” because it is not, as you put it, a “green” conference. That message marginalizes “green” rather than legitimizes it. (You would not 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: to perpetuate the same patterns of wasteful consumption that have wreaked havoc on the environment heretofore. I often say that 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 rather than the purified water they drank. True, those product give-aways make conference attendance cheap. But is cheap always better?

    BlogHer has the potential to be a truly revolutionary force for good, but not because it offers purified water at its conference. In this day and age, that’s a no-brainer. What would put BlogHer on the map would be to create 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.

    Would the number of corporate sponsors shrink initially? Perhaps. Or perhaps BlogHer’s vision would inspire companies to new heights of environmental responsibility. I wager the latter is the case. Most companies exhibiting at BlogHer and underwriting their 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 consumers across the U.S. and increasingly, around the world. It’s time for that megaphone to be green, inside and out.

  5. LInda Anderson on August 16, 2010 7:08 am

    I really like number 7. Donating to a worthy cause as an alternative action to swag is such a great idea. I hope you send it to Blogher. Great post!

  6. Lynn on August 16, 2010 9:48 am

    Diane, Thanks for your thoughtful comment. After reading it, I re-read my post several times to consider your point of view (and then re-read your comment as well).

    It was not my intention to let BlogHer “off the hook for the many wasteful products it still allows companies to promote at its conferences.” In fact, in my post, I pointed out that BlogHer is far from “green” as others have blogged. Perhaps it was confusing, but what I meant by BlogHer not being a “green conference per se” – like GreenFest, to whose site I linked –is that unlike Greenfest, BlogHer’s sole purpose is not sustainability.

    When I attend GreenFest (where I’ll be speaking this year, incidentally), I leave the expo floor exhilarated by all the possibilities before us – but GreenFest is the best of the best, the “Harvard” of green expos, if you will. I don’t think it’s fair to hold BlogHer to that same standard – so instead I praised BlogHer first for four notable improvements I saw over BlogHer ’09, and then suggested seven other ways that the conference could continue its journey toward sustainability. To me, “GreenFest” is nirvana – perfection – and it’s unrealistic to expect BlogHer to do the same. But can it do better? Yes! I made suggestions that I hope are taken seriously by the conference organizers, particularly the proposals to offset conference travel and to more seriously tackle the leftover swag/waste issue.

    And I’ve just thought of another: If BlogHer really wants to green it up, they could hire a green expo service like Seven Star Events (which manages GreenFest and other major sustainability conferences) to manage the conference operations.

    And I think BlogHer needs to reevaluate how it uses its green team. BlogHer did not accept all of the offers of help from bloggers who wanted to join the Green Team. How can BlogHer turn down volunteer help when it had so far to go after BlogHer ’09? And how much can realistically be accomplished by a Green Team that only meets four or so times in a few months leading up to the conference – by which time many of the key decisions that impact sustainability (the venue, among them) have already been chosen? I would be interested in a post from you about what your experience was as someone who served on the BlogHer Green Team two years in a row. I know many in the green community who have reached out to help the organizers are now frustrated – and that’s not good for either side – nor good for all of us if we are to move forward to tackle these sustainability issues.

    I agree and celebrate your notion that “BlogHer has the potential to be a truly revolutionary force for good, but not because it offers purified water at its conference. In this day and age, that’s a no-brainer. What would put BlogHer on the map would be to create 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.”

    But what would those criteria be? And who would meet them?

    Instead of imposing restrictions (the stick approach), I prefer the “carrot” approach. What about if the Green Moms Carnival members at BlogHer, or the wider Green Blogging Community at BlogHer, gave awards to companies that met that criteria? Or how about we just keep calling out those who don’t? I think that works better. At just about every conference I’ve attended, someone from a Fortune 500 company has come up to me quietly to thank me for the work I’m doing – the work all of the green bloggers are doing – to hold corporations accountable. I’m sure that P&G corporate didn’t appreciate Beth’s call-out in her session to push PUR to recycle their filters, but I bet that somewhere in P&G there’s a research scientist, product design engineer, corporate sustainability expert, or other concerned employee who is cheering Beth on. Because when we make noise like that, I’ve been told, it helps the many good people within those Fortune 500s who are doing battle with issues of “do the right thing” vs. “cost” and “profit” vs. “corporate reputation” and “sustainability benchmarks.”

    I’m curious to see how BlogHer’s founders will respond to this feedback. It would delight me if they issued the type of benchmarks you’re calling for, but as I posted, I don’t think they can afford to let the conference shrink, as you propose. It’s just not realistic given the type of organization BlogHer is – one that is beholden to its investors.

  7. Lynn on August 16, 2010 9:54 am

    Thanks, Linda! I’m hoping other people pick up on this idea and we can make it happen. I know BlogHer reads these posts and considers community feedback very carefully. I can’t imagine why we couldn’t make this happen! And I missed seeing you there this year!

  8. Lynn on August 16, 2010 11:03 am

    Thank YOU, Miss Britt! I think that comment just made my day!

  9. Diane MacEachern on August 16, 2010 12:43 pm

    Lynn, As always, I appreciate the opportunity to have a lively and provocative discussion with you. Why don’t we pull together a list of recommendations to formally present to the BlogHer staff so they can plan a better BlogHer next year? Ultimately, I think that is a goal we both share.

  10. Lynn on August 16, 2010 1:24 pm

    Good idea, Diane – we could do that – (and spend our time doing it) – or wager that they are taking note of all this discussion.

    It might make sense to formalize it, as you suggest, or perhaps even more sense to have the Green Team (+ other interested parties) make an official report/recommendation back to the conference organizers.

  11. Mindful Momma on August 16, 2010 2:45 pm

    Lynn – I love your ‘carrot’ approach and think the idea of green awards or some type of ‘green level’ for sponsors is a great one!
    .-= Mindful Momma´s last blog ..Mindful Momma Giveaway- Healthy Snacks To Go eBook =-.

  12. Lynn on August 16, 2010 4:07 pm

    Yes! Companies fall all over themselves for awards….Here in DC, we have the Greater Washington Board of Trade Green Awards coming up and the Bethesda Green Awards Gala….both will be HUGE.

  13. Condo Blues on August 16, 2010 5:14 pm

    I like the carrot approach. I’m unsure of having any swag vetting committee because the community is so diverse. Just like last year there are people who’s useful swag item is anther’s useless swag item. The solution other than refusing it, was the swag recycling room. I believe that all of the items donated to the Salvation Army will be sold in their thrift stores. You may argue that it’s still useless but I’ve seen some people buy some pretty strange things at thrift stores/freecycle/yard sales and put them to use. Also wouldn’t a vetting system potentially open them up to liability issues?

  14. Corrin on August 16, 2010 7:37 pm

    Wonderful suggestions. I’d like to see even more companies follow up via email next year. The amount of paper waste was incredible and I’d prefer a PDF any day.

  15. Lynn on August 16, 2010 8:07 pm

    Lisa, I hear you re the diversity of the community – but as far as swag vetting goes, that goes on now internally at all of these companies. I guess you could say I used to be a “swag vetter” when I had control of the marketing budget. And I’m happy to say that even before I was “green,” I intuitively didn’t want to pay for swag (known in the trade as promotional items, premiums, or giveaways) that would not be appreciated. I used to give away chocolate with our corporate logo (it wasn’t fair trade – I had no idea what that even meant!).

    What I am really suggesting for BlogHer is that people could pre-select which sponsors they’re interested in receiving swag from when they register. That way there would not be so much waste.

    And really, I think the best idea would be to get some of these companies on board with the giving idea – and instead of spending hundreds of thousands on loads of little trinkets for everyone, we could save the trinkets for those who want them and use the money as a crowd-sourced gift to causes we all care about. Think about the impact!

  16. Lynn on August 16, 2010 8:09 pm

    Good point, Corrin! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

  17. BlogHer 2010 Worth the Investment | Green and Clean Mom ™ on August 18, 2010 2:56 pm

    [...] Swag recycling. There are always varied views on what BlogHer can do, are doing,  should do and how they have improved. Will they ever make everyone [...]

  18. Amy {giftofgreen} on August 22, 2010 11:53 am

    Wow! Thanks for the BlogHer recap! I have had similar experiences when I’ve attended conferences that are for a broader audience. I wonder why this isn’t so or that isn’t so and then I remember that it’s not a conference or meeting focusing solely on the issues I’m interested in. A great time to educate and to toot our own horn! Glad you were there to represent! Hope this comment makes sense! :)

  19. Brenna on August 23, 2010 2:56 pm

    I know I am chiming in a little late, but it was such an interesting read! I did not attend BlogHer this year (or any other year), but am seriously considering it for next year. I love seeing your perspective and my biggest question was if this would be presented to the organizers for next year. I do hope you and Diane (and anyone else that can contribute) would do so. I think it would go a long way to both attracting new, greener bloggers to the conference and changing minds of those that already attend about what it means to be powerful and green.
    .-= Brenna´s last blog ..Make it Monday- blueberry picking and blueberry pizza =-.

  20. Beth @ Fake Plastic Fish on August 24, 2010 8:05 pm

    Like Diane, I also have a problem with “green” being marginalized or treated like just another life choice. The planet is dependent on us to wake up and make substantive changes not just to the products that are sold but the way we think of commerce in the first place. Whether or not there is swag exchanging at BlogHer is kind of beside the point to me because the problem with the BlogHer sponsors is not just about the consumption that happens at the conference itself but what the sponsors hope will happen after the bloggers go home: that they will provide a cheap platform for those companies’ messages. To me, the green measures at the conference are cosmetic when you consider the deeper issue.

    That said, those measures do send a message that green matters. And I think the sponsoring companies can see that. And I am glad for many of the green changes this year, as I mentioned in my blog post. I really had a good time with you all this year. My experience was factastic, despite how it was paid for.

    But 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 should be attending an event whose luxury I can’t really afford.

    Perhaps instead of looking for more and more sponsorships from big brands, BlogHer should look at ways to reduce costs. And I’m sure bloggers in less-traveled cities would appreciate the conference coming to their hometowns for once, especially if travel costs have kept them from attending in the past.

    Oh, and yeah, about companies actually behing glad for our actions behind the scenes. When I think about the Brita campaign, I don’t think of me vs. Brita but me helping Brita to see what their customers want. I totally hear you on that one.

    Diane, I love the idea of presenting a list to the conference organizers. But if it’s to be effective, it has to address the core philosophy behind the organization and conference in the first place. BlogHer, to me, feels like it’s got a split personality right now.
    .-= Beth @ Fake Plastic Fish´s last blog ..BlogHer10 Conference Recap- Keeping It Real =-.

  21. Lynn on August 25, 2010 9:53 am

    Amy, Brenna and Beth,

    Thanks for your comments. It is clear there are many passionate discussions going on online about BlogHer. I have no doubt that BlogHer is evaluating all of this feedback very carefully. As I pointed out in my post, they did a great job of addressing much of the feedback from last year’s conference.

    Lynn

  22. Beth @ Fake Plastic Fish on August 25, 2010 3:33 pm

    Lynn, absolutely! In fact, I forwarded my post to Elisa, and she sent me back a very thoughtful reply. They are absolutely monitoring the comments.

    Beth
    .-= Beth @ Fake Plastic Fish´s last blog ..Say No To Singles =-.

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