Like the British cycling team, I’m a fan of marginal gains: small changes that combine to create a greater impact.

One example can be found on the top of every drinks can. For a long time these used ring pulls with a pull-tab design, where opening the tab separated it from the can. This resulted in litter and could cause injury if a tab accidentally fell into the can and was later swallowed. These were later replaced by the stay-on-tab, a design in which the tab remains attached and is used as a lever to depress the scored section, and such incidents disappeared.

Likewise, I often wonder what changes could be enacted to negate the need for staples and windowed envelopes; supplanting these would certainly make recycling junk mail easier1, at least.

A Greener Conference Badge, Part Two

A few years ago I advocated the use of conference badges that didn’t need plastic wallets. While some conferences continue using them, many now use the ‘book on a hook’ concept to great effect.

Yet this is only half the story. What about the lanyard, the piece of fabric that allows a badge to hang from your neck? For most conferences, these have a lifespan of only a few hours. I tend to keep conference badges as keep sakes, but would happily throw away the lanyards if I didn’t feel so guilty about doing so.

This got me thinking: how can we decrease the use of lanyards or increase their lifespan? Here are a few options that I’ve thought of so far:


Conference organisers wishing to purchase new lanyards can pick ones made from recycled – and recyclable – materials. A number of companies now offer lanyards made of recycled PET drink bottles for example.

Attendees may want to donate used lanyards to a good cause. Right now, James Macaulay is collecting lanyards and donating 50p to the Alzheimer’s Society for each one he receives. Others may be attempting similar feats; the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of lanyards stands at 3,260 and is held by Christian Gferer. You might even find new uses for old lanyards, although useful examples escape me. Beyond that, it seems hanging them up or hiding them away in a box somewhere is the only means of avoiding their disposal.


Perhaps we should focus on encouraging their reuse. Conference organisers could advertise a ‘bring your own lanyard’ policy for example. While that might work to a degree, not every attendee will have a lanyard, or (more likely) remember to bring one. What if, like plastic shopping bags, you had to pay for a new lanyard? An unpopular option, surely.

Organisers of multiple events could collect lanyards at the end of each event they hold. Collection boxes next to the exits manned by volunteers would surely encourage their return – plain, unbranded lanyards would help also.

This is the one aspect of the recent Edge conference I liked. Warning: I am about to praise Facebook, who hosted the event. They provided organisers with a set of lanyards (colour coded to indicate building access) with plastic wallets into which custom name badges were inserted. At the end of the event, security guards collected the lanyards from attendees as they exited the building. Slightly draconian maybe, but excusable given the underlying purpose.

What’s not so clear is how organisers of one-off conferences could run such a scheme, unless there were companies (or other conferences) willing to loan out their lanyards.


If I’m to take this post to its natural conclusion I should ask: do we need lanyards at all? There are alternative ways of attaching badges, although they do have their downsides: safety pins can damage clothing while stickers are only really useful for one-day events.

But wait, do we need name badges either? Although a small, grassroots event, Responsive Day Out worked perfectly well by having ticketed attendees wear only a small sticker with the Clearleft logo on it.

These are just a few ideas. Having researched this post, I’ll probably donate my old lanyards to James, but that won’t stop the burden of responsibility I’ll feel the next time I’m handed a badge attached to a lanyard.

Have you been to any conferences that were lanyard free? Do any conferences operate a policy of attendees bringing their own lanyards? Or are there any other ideas I might have missed? Please let me know in the comments.

  1. Short of ridding ourselves of junk mail of course, which could be the subject of an entirely separate post.

(Photograph modified from an original by Simon Collison)