Move over, “green meeting.” Enter the “carbon-neutral event.” When you bring groups together for a meeting, you are by nature increasing greenhouse gases as people fly and drive to your event. While there, attendees will consume many megawatts of electricity and produce enormous amounts of waste. Some meeting organizers and sponsors are now offsetting those easily measurable carbon emissions by purchasing or investing in “carbon offset projects,” which are renewable energy, energy-efficiency, or reforestation projects in the U.S and developing countries.

One recent example of a carbon-neutral event was the 2007 Greening the Hospitality Industry Conference, held February 6-8, hosted by the Green Meeting Industry Council in Portland, Ore., at the Doubletree Hotel & Executive Center Portland Lloyd Center, which offset 85 metric tons of meeting-generated CO2 emissions. Coming up on March 14 is the Green Hospitality Conference at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, which is organized by Cleveland-based Lodging Hospitality magazine; Saint Charles, Mo.–based Pineapple Hospitality; and Boulder, Colo.–based Sustainable Travel International, which will sponsor offsets of all carbon emissions produced during the event through STI’s partners—Bonneville Environmental Foundation and MyClimate.

“Big business is leading the cause in this country because the government isn’t,” said Marge Anderson, associate director, Energy Center of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis., in regard to a lack of a national carbon policy in the U.S., at a recent conference. “In Canada and Europe, there are much stricter regulations on how to extract fossil fuel.”

Many large companies are now embracing sustainability as a key business strategy and have a “triple bottom line,” which includes financial, human, and environmental measurements and impacts, Anderson told a session at the Meeting Professionals International Professional Education Conference North America in late January in New Orleans.

For meeting planners, Anderson said, that means that you must “think of environmental issues and energy in market terms, such as in operational savings and leadership, not as a moral imperative.”

Anderson added that suppliers in the meetings industry, especially hotels, need to share their environmental initiatives with their customers, and that planners should include requests for green meetings in their RFPs and make those requirements contractual whenever possible. “It’s going to be hard to do that for your smaller meetings,” she said, but planners should start to demand recycling initiatives and rewarding hotels that are green with their business.

Anderson added that only 11 hotels in the U.S. are LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), issued by the U.S. Green Building Council, but dozens have received Green Seal's Environmental Standard for Lodging Properties (GS-33).

There are numerous sources for meeting organizers to research and purchase carbon offsets, including TerraPass, Sustainable Travel International, TreeHugger, and Green My Flight.

For more about green meetings, visit www.bluegreenmeetings.org or visit the meetingsnet.com archives and search for green meetings.