The Green Meeting Industry Council, an association dedicated to sustainability for meetings and events, has a challenge for the industry: Divert, recycle, or compost a million tons of trash between Earth Day, April 22, and the end of 2009.

GMIC issued the challenge during its recent Greening the Hospitality Industry 2009 Conference in Pittsburgh, where nearly 200 green meetings devotees gathered at the end of February to address the theme of Action = Sustainability.

The Million Tons of Trash Challenge grew out of the new Leaders' Track. “The participants wanted to create an action for the industry to engage in that had relevance and was measurable,” said Amy Spatrisano, CMP, GMIC board president and president of Meeting Strategies Worldwide, Portland, Ore., on the last day of the conference.

The challenge is intended as “a fun, competitive way to inspire meetings, festivals, and other live events to measure and reduce the waste they produce, cut their carbon emissions, and save money along the way,” said Spatrisano. The average meeting produces 20 pounds of waste per person, per day, according to GMIC.

Meeting planners, venues, and hotels around the world are invited to measure the waste they recycle or compost and enter the total weight in an online system where GMIC will tabulate a running total. Those with the best recycling and waste diversion rates will be recognized, and the results of the challenge will serve as a best practices guide for the entire industry.

The challenge is supported by GMIC members from companies and associations all over the world, including MCI Group, Meeting Strategies Worldwide, American Express Travel, and Oracle Corp. “As a member of GMIC and the Leaders' Track, Oracle is excited to participate in this global challenge,” said Paul Salinger, vice president of marketing and green-event champion at Oracle. “Our goal is to run Oracle OpenWorld, the world's largest conference for business software, as a completely sustainable event. In 2009, we'd like to reduce or divert 100 tons of waste, which would be a substantial increase from the 67 tons of waste diverted in 2008.”

GMIC did its part to reduce its carbon footprint during the February meeting by beaming in its keynote speaker, Hunter Lovins, president of a nonprofit organization called Natural Capitalism Solutions, from her offices in Eldorado Springs, Colo. Lovins said that by giving the keynote as a teleconference rather than flying in, more than a ton of carbon emissions was prevented.

In other GMIC news, Spatrisano announced that 16 cities or regions around the globe have expressed an interest in forming chapters, adding to its three chapters-in-formation, Atlanta, Chicago, and South Florida/Caribbean. The association also announced that it is launching the Green Meetings Portal, an online knowledge center that will bring together information and breaking news from a variety of face-to-face meetings.

“With the whole rationale for meetings under serious attack, the Green Meetings Portal reinforces the incredible value participants receive when they gather for face-to-face learning and discussion,” said Spatrisano. “At the same time, the site will demonstrate a method of using online resources and communities to extend the life and multiply the impact of live events.” The portal is a partnership between GMIC and The Conference Publishers Inc. of Ottawa.

The GMIC meeting was held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, a gold LEED-certified building. Pittsburgh has 23 green certified buildings, making it one of the top-five cities in the United States for green-certified building space. Next year's conference will be in Denver.

For more information on how to join or sponsor the Million Tons of Trash Challenge, visit www.greenmeetings.info.