I believe we can all agree that conferences are great. When most of our days are spent staring at a screen and pushing buttons on a machine to make things happen, it’s easy to forget about the world that’s outside and all the other people on it. Tech conferences give us a nice, relaxed, friendly environment where we can discuss ideas, get excited about emerging projects & technologies, and even share our problems and frustrations with people that really understand them. We frequently end up with friends for life in there (you have no idea how excited I get when I have the chance to meet, in real life, the great developers & designers I follow on Twitter!).
However, there’s one element of tech conferences that drives me up a wall. It’s the conference swag — the freebies you get when you arrive at a venue and they hand you your ID badge. You know the usual: a tote bag filled with a couple of cables, pens, stickers, notepads, USB sticks, flyers, mugs, bottles…
Please, just… Just stop.
It’s just too much. Too much plastic. Too much paper. Too much waste in a world that is already incredibly wasteful. I don’t need that. We don’t need that. I know, people love free stuff, but please. Stop it. I’ll buy my own tote bags, cables, pens, stickers, notepads, USB sticks, mugs, bottles, and all other things if I need them. Stop littering the world with useless crap. Most of the people won’t keep half of the items. I cringe when I think of all the raw materials that were used to make all of that.
I understand most of these items are provided (or pushed) by conference sponsors, as they believe (I guess?) it will increase their visibility, likability, subscribers, or overall Klout score. Believe me, it doesn’t. You can’t clean a bad rep with freebies. You can’t make me subscribe to your business plan with a free thermos. You will not succeed to impress me with an octopus charger. You know what you can actually do to make me use your service? Give me a free trial. Make the setup process a breeze. Give me the support you would like to have if you were trying out a new tool. Or even better, give tickets and grants to people that need them. Conferences are expensive; not every one can afford them. There are many groups of people who are marginalized in tech — consider offering grants to those folks (it will make your conference better for everyone). I’m pretty sure that you will have a more profound & positive effect helping the community this way than giving free bottle openers with your company’s logo on it.
We have conferences because we want to make things better. We’re trying to make a difference, to build communities, to make positive changes in our own lives (and possibly in the lives of others as well). So why are we suddenly ignoring this mission? Most likely, we’re just too used to our patterns. Broadly speaking, the purpose of conferences is to analyze the way we do things, to help us keep what’s good and beneficial, and to drop what’s wasteful and harmful. So let’s start asking these questions everywhere, not just in tech.
If you share this opinion and believe in organizing more environmentally-friendly conferences, please share this article and add the #StopTheSwag hashtag. Who knows? Maybe we’ll get through to some conference organizers, and prevent a few tons of CO₂ and garbage from being produced.