Green leaders leverage the collective buying power of meetings.
Amy Spatrisano and Nancy Wilson, who have been in the vanguard of themovement since the early 1990s, are working on their latest Big Idea. The co-founders of MeetGreen, the environmentally focused event company formerly known as Meeting Strategies Worldwide, have a vision of Eco-Event Zones, where multiple organizations planning meetings in the same city can band together to encourage green initiatives.
The idea is to tap the collective buying power of green meeting professionals — through groups such as the Green Meeting Industry Council — to advocate for needed community services, such as composting, municipal recycling, and green hotel programs.
One meeting site where this is already happening is Salt Lake City. MeetGreen brought together the Unitarian Universalist Association, holding its general assembly there in late June, and Meeting Professionals International, hosting its World Education Congress there in July. Both organizations were challenged to secure full composting services at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
“We were thrilled to find the convention center recycled, had switched to compostable disposables, and was providing limited prep-food composting. However, the city didn't have the infrastructure to compost meat, oil, or disposables, which accounts for about 15 to 20 percent of our waste,” says Janiece Sneegas, PhD, director, General Assembly & Conference Services, UUA, Boston. “We wanted to find a way to advocate for this, but were one voice and one event.”
MeetGreen connected UUA to MPI's Elizabeth Henderson, CMM, CMP, director of corporate social responsibility. “When the Eco-Event Zone concept was proposed, we knew it was a natural fit.”
The three organizations have issued their support to the city to research and develop a commercial composting service accessible to the meetings industry. While the center's vegetable prep waste and coffee grounds are sent to a small composting facility, investment is needed to create a facility that can handle compostable disposables, like cups and food containers, from an operation the size of the convention center, says Kate Whitbeck of Momentum Recycling in Salt Lake City. “The volumes of waste from hospitality are what we need to help make operations viable,” she says.
“Even though [UUA and MPI] will have come and gone from Salt Lake City by the time commercial composting is implemented, our city departments understand this is a desired service and one that is a site-selection factor for meeting planners,” adds Scott Beck, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Green Meeting Industry Council has issued a challenge for the meetings industry: Divert, recycle, or compost a million tons of trash before the end of 2009. GMIC launched the Million Tons of Trash Challenge in April, and is asking meeting planners, venues, and hotels to measure the waste they recycle or compost and enter the total weight in an online system. Those with the best recycling and waste diversion rates will be recognized, and the results will serve as a best-practices guide for the industry. Visit www.greenmeetings.info.
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