February 2009

How Green Is APA?

By W. Paul Farmer, FAICP
Executive Director and CEO

Recently, a few APA members have asked why we continue to print our preliminary conference program. Shouldn't it be web-only? Doesn't APA claim to be going green? As you might expect, the answers are complicated and not just about green versus not green.

Let's consider the preliminary conference program. APA sends the preliminary program to thousands of non-members as well as members and as a result, our National Planning Conference is our single best source of new members each year. We buy prospect lists from other organizations but because most, like APA, don't sell e-mail addresses, we have to use the U.S. Postal Service.

Also, although 6,000 APA members attend the national conference, almost 40,000 members do not. The preliminary program is our way of showing them the quality and breadth of this major APA activity. Even if they aren't able to attend this year's conference, they are reminded of a major member benefit and its value. Perhaps they will attend in the future. But even if they are never able to attend, they may take pride in their association's conference — by far the biggest, and arguably the best, such annual event in the world.

Finally, the printed preliminary program, just like Planning magazine, reaches even more individuals than we mail to via "pass-along" readership.

However, we use our website more and more to market the conference and have enriched both the content and functionality of the conference website. For several years, we've used a web-based session proposal and review process. Last year we added the searchable database of sessions. This year, we're adding substantial multi-media content — videos, podcasts, an interactive map, and more — and promoting it daily on our home page, in targeted e-mails, and in APA Interact. Next month, we'll send out special conference issues of APA Interact and ask members to forward them to friends and colleagues. (We don't require a member login to access web material linked from conference issues.)

The members who contacted us about the preliminary program didn't mention these online efforts and it would be interesting to know if they had noticed them. If not, it would reinforce the continued importance of print marketing.

There's a reason that catalogs, magazines, credit card offerings, brochures, and conference programs still show up in our mailboxes. Direct mail marketing works! It works for APA. It especially works when the product we are marketing—like a five-day conference with hundreds of educational, social, and networking events or a book service that sells hundreds of titles on myriad planning topics — is big and complex. We monitor our sales and have found that print marketing still outperforms electronic marketing. We can't discontinue marketing techniques that have succeeded for years until we're sure that replacement techniques will be equally — or more — successful.

Marketing isn't just about sales. Fundamentally, it's about serving you — APA's members and customers. So at this point, we use a combination of print and online media, trying to find the best mix.

Nonetheless, we definitely are reducing our use of paper. Although we're not ready yet to eliminate the printed final program, members who attend the 2009 conference in Minneapolis will find a printed program that is considerably smaller than 2008's, For example, it will not list ticketed events (such as mobile workshops) because we think almost everyone who's interested will have purchased their tickets already. Instead, we will post lists online and at key locations throughout the convention center, such as the boarding area for the mobile workshops. We'll see how attendees react.

The preliminary program for the 2010 National Planning Conference in New Orleans will be far smaller than this year's. Although we're still in the planning stages, I can tell you that we will, at least, substantially reduce the size (and, therefore, the cost) of the printed program. Will we ever eliminate it entirely? It's likely, but probably not as soon as next year.

Many APA products and services began as — and remain — web-only: APA Interact, including the annual report issue; our legislative update, APA Advocate; The New Planner for student members; and online enhancements to Planning & Environmental Law and the Planning Advisory Service. Others have moved from print to the web in whole or in part: Job Mart became Jobs Online; and Practicing Planner and our events calendar, APA Advance, are now web-only. In the very near future, we will begin selling electronic-only as well as print subscriptions to the Journal of the American Planning Association. We also market our China Study Tours and at least one event series — Tuesdays at APA — exclusively by e-mail and on our website.

Yet, we still publish print editions of PEL, Zoning Practice, JAPA, The Commissioner, and Planning. Why? Like all 21st century publishers, we are continually seeking the right balance between print and digital formats. We are able to track the number of members who open any electronic document versus those who don't, and it's still a minority who open electronic documents.

But that doesn't mean we can't publish in print more sustainably. Have you noticed that we started using different paper in the January issue of Planning? Have a look at the new table of contents page, where we now proudly display the Forest Stewardship Council's emblem, certifying that the paper, ink, and production processes used to produce Planning meet FSC standards. It costs more but we believe that it's the correct thing to do. We will seek FSC certification for more of our printed materials — both editorial and marketing.

APA's green efforts aren't limited to printing, and they occur in ways you might not think about. For example, you can register online for any APA event (and an increasing number of chapter events) that requires registration and receive an e-mail confirmation. No paper required. In fact, for some events — like our national conference — we encourage online registration by applying a surcharge for processing a mailed or faxed registration. More and more customers of APA's PlanningBooks.com order online as well, even if they initially identify the book or CD-ROM they want in a printed catalog.

Our annual series of audio/web conferences provides thousands of members and others with many hours of high-quality training without requiring them to travel any farther than their conference rooms. The many CD-ROM packages we produce also offer planners and local officials outstanding, repeatable, in-house training on a variety of planning topics. Other APA distance learning opportunities include podcasts and what will soon be a series of online courses.

We've also been greening the national conference itself for many years. All conference hotels are within walking distance to the convention center, restaurants, and entertainment. We strongly encourage presenters to post their materials on our website and forego paper handouts. We recycle and reuse materials whenever possible. There are more bicycling, running, and walking workshops and fewer that require motor coaches.

I hope that you have read the articles in APA Interact about our staff Green Team. Last year the Green Team initiated comprehensive energy conservation and recycling programs in both APA offices and continues to lead staff toward adopting greener and more sustainable work practices. A Green Team member reports on those efforts and offers sustainability and conservation tips at each monthly all-staff briefing.

APA also has been recognized for its leadership in recycling obsolete computers, peripherals, and other electronic devices. In this issue of APA Interact, APA's Manager of Information Technology tells members how our IT department used virtualization software to substantially reduce the amount of energy consumed by our network servers.

Members can help to make APA greener, too. The most useful thing you can do is keep your APA member profile — including your e-mail address — up-to-date. That way we can send important communications to you electronically, which is almost always our first choice. For example, we will notify you by e-mail when your APA membership is about to expire. If you respond to that initial e-mail by reviewing and confirming your profile information, your printed invoice will be correct the first time. In fact, if you renew your membership online at first notice, we'll never have to print and mail you a paper invoice at all! You can add, change, or renew division memberships and subscriptions online at the same time. If you have any questions about paying your invoice online, contact APA customer service.

Thanks for reading this update on APA's green efforts. There will be more in the months to come and I'll keep you posted. As always, please feel free to contact me any time with your comments, questions, or concerns.