Creating Sustainable Meetings and Corporate Events

Sustainability has been a common buzz word in our industry for as long as I can remember. Some years “green” initiatives have received a lot of press and attention. Other years they seem to have been placed on the back burner being labeled as “more expensive’ and “more work.” Whether it’s a burning passion or a passing fancy for you personally, this is a global movement that’s here to stay. The good news is that environmental responsibility is becoming easier to implement into our meetings and events, and a little effort goes a long way.

Certified Meeting Planners will recall the Convention Industry Council (CIC) definition of a green meeting or green event as “a gathering that incorporates environmental considerations to minimize the event’s negative impact on the environment and is organized to minimize waste and promote sustainable actions.” For many people, words like green and sustainable conjure up images of recycling bins and solar panels, but that’s just the beginning. Today we are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of a holistic approach to sustainability, looking to incorporate environmental responsibility at all stages from sourcing, communicating, planning, and executing events.

Why It’s Important to Go Green (or Why It Should Be)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) named meetings and events as the second most wasteful industry after building and construction. They claimed that an average conference participant, throughout a three-day session, generates about 61lbs of waste.

The Events Industry Council reported that 1.5 billion participants attended B2B events globally in 2017. We will soon see what the numbers looked like for 2018, but it’s a pretty safe bet that they won’t be lower. That’s 1,500,000,000 people. A good number of those stayed 3+ nights in a hotel and flew or drove millions of miles to attend. Consider the reams of paper handed out in the form of welcome letters, speaker bios, and conference guides. The water used for dirty banquet dishes, bath towels, and linens. The kilowatts of energy used to light conference rooms and exhibition halls across the globe. The numbers are astronomical, and the impact almost unfathomable.

waste in meetings and eventsSelecting eco-friendly venues is one of the best ways we can minimize the carbon footprint of our events. Luckily there are several relatively painless ways we can go about this:

1. Check with hotel partners

Hoteliers have embraced the sustainability movement in a big way. A quick Google search produced thousands of results, my favorite being AccorHotel’s Planet 21 initiative (shout out to my friend Nancy McFarland) – check out their video.

All of the big brands have some sort of sustainability plan:

• Hyatt’s ambitious 2020 Sustainability Strategy

• Marriott’s Serve 360

• Hilton’s Environmental Impact Project committed to cutting their environmental footprint in half by 2030

2. Engage with organizations & resources that promote the cause

The Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC)  inspires, educates and supports leaders of all levels and disciplines who will manifest the transformation of the global meetings industry towards sustainability.

U.S. Green Building Council is committed to a sustainable, prosperous future through LEED, the leading program for green buildings and communities worldwide. There are currently 767 LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified hotels globally and the list continues to grow. Look for the logo on hotel websites.

ICAO’s Green Meetings Calculator, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), has created an app that makes it easy to discover which meeting locations will have the smallest impact on your carbon emissions. The calculator ranks the best destinations for your meeting based on information like the number of participants and the city of origin.

ASTM Sustainability Standards  ASTM International standards provide meeting and event planners and their suppliers with specific guidelines and performance measurements for creating environmentally sustainable meetings and events.

3. Update Your RFP

The more we ask the questions the more we encourage hotels partners to join the green cause. Ask if the venue is equipped with systems that conserve electricity and water, ask about waste management processes including recycling and composting policies. Add a checklist for things like:

• Water refill stations for personal use
• A towel and bed linen re-use program
• Low flow showerheads in sleeping rooms, workout and spa facilities
• Programmable thermostats allowing attendees temperature control when they are in the room and utilize less energy when they are away
• Water and condiments served in bulk rather than in single-serve containers
• The use of environmentally friendly cleaning products
• Recycle bins in sleeping rooms, meeting rooms and common areas
• Energy-efficient sleeping room lighting systems equipped with motion sensors
• A recycling program that includes paper, metal, glass, and plastic
• Procedure to shut blinds, turn out lights and turn down heat/air when rooms are vacant
• Environmentally friendly personal products such as shampoo and body wash
• Program to recycle/reduce solid waste
• Commitment to using locally produced seasonal and/or organic food and beverages when possible
• Commitment to donate left-over food to a local food bank or soup kitchen, and composts or donates table scraps to farms where possible
• Use of natural rather than chemical pest control
• Use of full-spectrum LED or compact fluorescent lighting

What should you do if the perfect venue for your meeting doesn’t have any sustainability initiatives? Ask to have the elements that you feel are most important added to your contract. Properties will make significant changes to policies, procedures, and initiatives to secure group business and the worst they can do is say no. A bit of advice, though, if they aren’t willing to work with you on small efforts toward a healthy and environmentally responsible event, there are probably many other things they won’t work with on, and you are likely better off at another venue.

One final note on your eco-friendly event, don’t hesitate to promote it!

Share with attendees how you are working to intentionally offset the carbon impact of your program. Tell them how your efforts and their participation has positively impacted the local community and environment. Add notes in the app regarding the hotel’s green credentials and print “locally sourced” on menus. Not everyone will be passionate about the cause, but no one will be negatively affected by the good you are doing, and those who do care will be very impressed!

See how your meeting budget measures up with our handy budget calculator

Be on the lookout for additional blogs on sustainable food & beverage practices and reducing waste coming soon!

Julie Blank

Author Julie Blank

Director, Strategic Accounts | Expertise is pushing for excellence and making our services and deliverables as good as they can possibly be.

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