Move over, green meetings. There's a new kid in town: the carbon-neutral event. If you are congregating a number of people for a conference or convention, you are, by definition, increasing greenhouse gases as people fly and drive to your event. And, while they're at your meeting, attendees will consume many megawatts of electricity and produce enormous amounts of waste.

The good news is that meeting organizers and sponsors can now offset those easily measurable carbon emissions by purchasing or investing in carbon-offset projects. These include renewable energy, energy-efficiency, or reforestation projects in the U.S. and developing countries.

One recent example of carbon-neutral events is the 2007 Greening the Hospitality Industry Conference, hosted by the Green Meeting Industry Council (www.greenmeetings.info) in Portland, Ore., at the Doubletree Hotel & Executive Center Portland Lloyd Center, which offset 85 metric tons of meeting-generated CO2 emissions in February.

Another example is the Green Hospitality Conference, held March 14 at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. That conference, organized by Cleveland-based Lodging Hospitality magazine, St. Charles, Mo.-based Pineapple Hospitality, and Boulder, Colo.-based Sustainable Travel International, sponsored offsets of all carbon emissions produced during the event through STI's partners Bonneville Environmental Foundation and MyClimate.

The Big Business Behind Green

“Big business is leading the [environmental] cause in this country because the government isn't,” said Marge Anderson, associate director, Energy Center of Wisconsin, Madison, at a session at the Meeting Professionals International Professional Education Conference North America in late January in New Orleans.

While the U.S. has yet to establish a national carbon policy, she said, other countries have paved the way. “In Canada and Europe, there are much stricter regulations on how to extract fossil fuel,” she said.

Many large companies are embracing sustainability as a key business strategy. At the core of that strategy is a “triple bottom line,” which includes financial, human, and environmental measurements and impacts, said Anderson at the meeting.

For meeting planners, Anderson said, environmental issues need to be addressed as part of the overall business strategy. That means thinking of “environmental issues and energy in market terms, such as in operational savings and leadership, not as a moral imperative,” she said.

Anderson added that suppliers in the meetings industry, especially hotels, need to share their environmental initiatives with their customers. Planners can do their part, too, by including requests for green meetings in their requests for proposal and making those requests contractual requirements whenever possible. “It's going to be hard to do that for your smaller meetings,” she acknowledged, but meeting planners should start to demand recycling initiatives and to reward hotels that have green initiatives with their business.

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

There are a number of sources for meeting organizers to research and purchase carbon offsets, including TerraPass, terrapass.com; Sustainable Travel International, www.sustainabletravelinternational.org; TreeHugger, treehugger.com; and Green My Flight, www.greenmyflight.com.

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

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