Sustainability is a complex subject—stirring many impassioned and philosophical discussions—since it affects all of us. The meetings industry doesn’t have it easy when it comes to protecting the environment. Just ask the hundreds of industry professionals who have helped create the soon-to-be released Green Meetings and Events Standards developed by the Convention Industry Council Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX) and ASTM International.

Events generate significant waste, greenhouse gases, and pollution. According to MeetGreen, a company that works with organizations to integrate sustainable practices into their events, a three-day conference with 300 attendees will create the waste equivalent of the mass of 33 small cars, use water resources that could fill half of an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and create enough greenhouse gases to fill more than 25 million basketballs. Thus, meeting planners and suppliers are looking for guidance on how to create more environmentally sustainable events.

The Business Case for Sustainability

There are good reasons for seeking this guidance. Aside from leaving a cleaner world for succeeding generations, being green is good for business, according to Scott Beck, president and chief executive officer of the Salt Lake City Convention and Visitors Bureau. A member of the Convention Industry Council Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX) Green Meetings and Events Practice Panel, Beck became motivated by what environmental sustainability could do for business when he worked at the Sundance Resort in Sundance, Utah. “It’s not burdensome or inconvenient,” he says. “Once it becomes standard operating procedure, you can see the business results.”

Beck gets regular inquiries on how to measure a green meeting. “Right now, there are no standards. We need the equivalent of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, a quantifiable measure from a respected neutral third party as to ‘how green was my meeting?’”

Help is on the way. The APEX Green Meetings and Events Practice Panel developed the first round of draft standards over a period of two years. The work of the Panel continues to serve as the basis for standards being co-created by APEX and ASTM International, one of the largest voluntary standards development organizations in the world, with over 30,000 members, through a comprehensive voluntary consensus process. If the next round of balloting is successful, APEX/ASTM Sustainable Meetings Standards could be available to meeting professionals by the end of 2010.

A Little History

The process of developing green meetings standards was initiated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in discussions with the Green Meeting Industry Council. The two organizations agreed that there was a tremendous need in the meeting and event industry for a uniform measurement of environmental performance.

Back in 2007, EPA embarked on the path of developing American National Standards Institute–accredited standards to define sustainability in meetings and events as well as in the facilities in which they are held. ASTM is an ANSI-accredited organization, and, thus, was a logical body to work with on developing sustainability standards. “The government purchases a significant amount of conference space every year around the country,” notes an EPA spokesperson. “This includes accommodations used by attendees. To aid in the government’s efforts to procure ‘green’ goods and services—including conference space and lodging—we need information on the environmental performance of vendors.” The EPA wants to give government procurement officials the tools to judge a property’s level of environmental performance in order to make purchasing decisions. Meeting planners, on the other hand, can follow the management and operational practices described by the APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Meeting Standards to put on greener events.

“It was important to ensure the hospitality industry’s involvement in developing the standards, so the CIC’s APEX initiative was an obvious partner,” said Amy Spatrisano, CMP, principal of MeetGreen®, and a co-founder of GMIC. “APEX’s process mirrors the ASTM voluntary consensus process.” As the umbrella organization for the hospitality industry, the CIC was the natural place to bring together a unified industry effort.

The APEX Green Meetings Panel was chaired by Spatrisano, and was composed of nine committees that considered specific areas of the meeting planning process:

  • Accommodations
  • Audiovisual and Production
  • Communications and Marketing
  • Destinations
  • Exhibits
  • Food and Beverage
  • Meeting Venues
  • On-site Offices
  • Transportation
The panel’s work involved more 300 people across nine time zones. “Our city discussion groups garnered input from around the globe—from Japan to Europe and beyond,” notes Spatrisano. Each committee had a broad range of representation throughout the industry, from both planners and suppliers. Although EPA’s primary focus is ensuring completion of the consensus development process through participation with ASTM, EPA representatives also participated in the APEX Green Meetings Panel. Each committee’s report included 35 to 40 pages of recommendations.

“APEX did the ‘heavy lifting’ to develop the drafts for ASTM balloting,” notes Dru Meadows, AIA, CCS, FCSI, theGreenTeam Inc., and chair of ASTM Committee E60 on Sustainability.

Next Page: Onward to ASTM, Comprehensive Standards-Setting System

Previous Page: The Business Case for Sustainability

Onward to ASTMThe ASTM Committee E60 on Sustainability was created in 2008 to address a wide variety of industries and processes. Subcommittee E60.02 is developing standards for the hospitality industry, and is chaired by Sue Tinnish, CIC’s APEX/ASTM standards liaison.

ASTM brings together interested stakeholders to develop needed standards. The committees are open to anyone, from producers, to consumers, to general interest participants. This helps to ensure balance among the various parties as well as to include different points of view. “Of course, this can sometimes be a challenge, but it is also a strength. Ultimately, it helps to ensure that ASTM standards are reflective of the needs of those who use them or are affected by them,” notes Steve Mawn, who serves as the Committee E60 staff manager at ASTM.

ASTM committees can vary in size. Committee E60 has some 675 members, while Subcommittee E60.02 has 185 members. When a standard is written, it is sent out to the subcommittee members for balloting first. Eventually it is sent to the full membership. Members vote “affirmative,” “abstain,” or “negative,” with comments, if they wish. “All negatives must be addressed, and ballots typically go through several revisions,” says Tinnish.

Re-balloting may be necessary if technical changes are made as a result of the input received during balloting. The average time for standards to be developed through ASTM ranges from 16 to 18 months. The first ballot for the hospitality standards was issued on March 31, 2009. (For the “Evolution of an ASTM Standard,” see the sidebar at bottom.)

A Truly Comprehensive Standards-Setting System

“Both the APEX and ASTM processes, which depend on voluntary consensus from a wide variety of people, are strong,“ notes Lawrence Leonard, CMP, director of the CIC’s APEX initiative. “Hundreds of stakeholders are involved. In the hospitality industry, we knew we received comments and reached consensus from all the stakeholder segments. ASTM has more of a parliamentary, engineering process—with the series of ballots by the committee and subcommittee—and negative comments being addressed individually. ASTM has helped us consider standards in a whole new way. They will be stronger and more durable because we have had tremendous input from sustainability experts outside the hospitality industry, which is invaluable,” he says.

Dru Meadows, a veteran of the ASTM process, agrees that the standards will be more robust because of it. “I have been involved in the standards-setting process for more than 15 years, and I have never seen a standard that has not been improved because of the broad input from all interested parties—government, producers of the materials used, universities, general interest,” she says.

Accessing the Standards

In the ASTM standards process, all standards do not have to be released from a committee as a single package. “It’s not all or nothing,” Meadows explains. “For example, five of the nine hospitality standards groupings could be issued before the other four. Our goal is to have the ‘suite’ of standards available as close together as possible. But some standards are more complicated than others, because of the number of stakeholders involved. A tweak in one standard can change the other standards because they are interconnected. CIC, APEX, and ASTM have done an awesome job. I’m very pleased and impressed.”

APEX Director Leonard adds, “Although the nine hospitality standards are part of an integrated suite, each stands on its own. And not all meetings need or use all nine areas of an event. Planners and suppliers can start working with, learning, and understanding the standards as they are released without fear they won’t have enough information or will do something wrong because all nine are not published.”

Each standard will have four levels of achievement, with Level 4 being the highest grade for sustainability. “Both suppliers and planners can start working at the first level, and go from there. The important thing is to be involved,” Leonard notes. Standards veteran Meadows agrees. “At some point, being perfect becomes the enemy of being good. Start, learn, and move forward.” Salt Lake City’s Scott Beck concurs. “Green is not something you do once,” he says. “You reach different levels and then proceed to the next. It’s a continuous journey, year after year.”

Both suppliers and planners need to work together to accomplish the goals at each level, he notes, explaining, “we are going to have to change our operating procedures, and become partners in this process. This will be easier because of the thorough consensus process that was followed by APEX within the industry, giving suppliers and planners alike tremendous buy-in and input. The standards are strong. Using them, together, we can change the world one meeting at a time.”

Next Page: ASTM Committee E60 on Sustainability, Evolution of an ASTM Standard

Previous Page: Onward to ASTM, Comprehensive Standards-Setting System

ASTM Committee E60 on Sustainability
Each committee in voluntary standards-setting body ASTM International is composed of subcommittees that address specific segments within the general subject area covered by the main committee. The Subcommittees for Committee E60 on Sustainability are as follows:
E60.01 – Buildings and Construction
E60.02 – Hospitality
E60.80 – General Sustainability Standards
E60.90 – Executive
E60.91 – Strategic Planning
E60.95 – Student Liaison and Affairs
To learn more, visit www.astm.org.
Source: ASTM International

Evolution of an ASTM Standard
Proposal: When interested parties believe a standard should be developed that is not already covered in the scope of an existing committee, the request to develop a standard is proposed to the ASTM Development Operations Division.
Draft: A Task Group, made up of individuals with a balanced point of view on the subject, writes the draft of the standards to be considered. (In the case of the Hospitality Sustainability standards, the APEX Panel served in this role.)
Balloting: The standards are initially issued for balloting at the subcommittee level, and then eventually balloted to the full committee. It is common for a standard that has been balloted at subcommittee and then revised, to be balloted concurrently at both subcommittee and main committee.
Review: When a standard is balloted at main committee, it is also placed on a Society Review. This affords the opportunity for any of ASTM’s 30,000-plus members to review and comment on the standard, should they wish to do so.
Voting: Committee members respond in one of three ways to the ballots—affirmative, negative, and abstain. All negatives must be in writing, and members voting affirmative or abstaining may also provide comments, if they wish.
Consideration of Balloting Results: All comments and all negatives must be considered, and any negative must be resolved before a standard can be elevated to the next level. The Task Group reviews the negatives, and recommends one of the following to the subcommittee: (1) there should be a re-ballot because the negative ballot is persuasive and requires technical changes to the standard; (2) the negative is not persuasive—in other words, the group is not persuaded to make a change (a motion and a two-thirds vote is required to find a negative “not persuasive”); or (3) the negative can be resolved with discussion with the voter, who then agrees to withdraw the negative, or there can be editorial changes that satisfy the negative voter who then withdraws the negative.
Appeal: There are appeal options available to a negative voter who has been found not persuasive or not related. Any appeal must be resolved before a standard is approved. A negative voter may appeal on procedural issues only, and not on technical issues.
Re-balloting: If even one technical change is made, the standard must be submitted for re-balloting. Ballots are open for a minimum of 30 days. Several rounds of balloting are not unusual for new standards.
Birth of a Standard: A ballot is considered to be valid when 60 percent of the official voting members return their ballots. Of this 60 percent, two-thirds of the votes must be affirmative by subcommittee members and 90 percent of the votes must be affirmative by committee members. Once there is a valid ballot, with all negatives, if any, addressed and resolved, and all appeals, if any, resolved, the standard is approved by the ASTM Committee on Standards (COS). One of the main roles of the COS is to review the procedural handling of the negative votes. A standard is born!
Lest this seem like a long process, consider the words of Dru Meadows, AIA, CCS, FCSI, chair of ASTM Committee E60 on Sustainability: “The process is painstaking, and frustrating, and wonderful. From a sustainability perspective, it is uniquely democratic and inclusive. The ASTM process is what makes the standards so useful in the market.”

Author Sara Torrence, CMP, is president of Sara Torrence and Associates, a meeting and events consulting firm in Gaithersburg, Md. She has been involved in the APEX initiative since the early days, served on the Resumés and Work Orders Panel, and is the APEX Ambassador for the Society of Government Meeting Professionals. She is the author of How to Run Scientific and Technical Meetings.

Author Sara Torrence, CMP, is president of Sara Torrence and Associates, a meeting and events consulting firm in Gaithersburg, Md. She has been involved in the APEX initiative since the early days, served on the Resumés and Work Orders Panel, and is the APEX Ambassador for the Society of Government Meeting Professionals. She is the author of How to Run Scientific and Technical Meetings.