The challenge with being at the forefront of a movement is that you're mapping the way, and you can only hope that others will follow. As I write this from the 2008 Greening the Hospitality Industry Conference in Vancouver, B.C., I'm surrounded by a passionate group of about 140 “early adopters,” people who are leading the way with their green products and practices. But it's clear that there's a chasm between this group and the rest of the industry. And as much as we want to do the right thing, it's not easy or inexpensive.
Take Nick Jones of Nexus Collections, Church Stretton, U.K., who left his job to sell conference bags made in countries with fair trade practices and that have no impact on the environment. The bags are created from jute and coconut shells with no petroleum-based products, and sell for $6 to $8 each. I admire what he's done, and I hope that when planners make that hurried decision to purchase bags, they seek out someone like him and are willing to spend the money. But it's a lot to ask. Planners aren't used to considering the life cycle of a product — where it's made, what it's made of, the carbon used for transportation — but we need to start.
I also met Guy Bigwood, MCI Group, Barcelona, who spoke about measuring the carbon footprint of your meeting, right down to the aircraft your attendees fly on. (Certain airlines pollute worse than others because of the age of their fleets and maintenance practices.) He spoke about purchasing carbon offsets to cover attendees' air travel, as well as powering your event with solar or wind energy that can be purchased and injected into the power grid.
It would be wonderful if planners would take these steps, but at this point, I've met few who are even looking into carbon offsets, let alone expecting attendees or companies to pay for them. Bigwood also spoke of one company that was rethinking its international meetings entirely, and holding them every other year. But that was one company. We should all start thinking like Guy, because every time we fly attendees across the country for a three-day meeting, it takes 70,000 trees 20 years to repair the damage to the environment.
We need to takebeyond reusable water bottles and online agendas — there's so much more to do. New standards being developed by the Convention Industry Council's Accepted Practices Exchange and ASTM International will help make it easier, but those are at least a year off. Eventually, the prices of green products and services will come down. But we need to start closing the gap between the green advocates and the rest of our industry now.
More On / Meetingsnet.com
For more on green meetings, including a downloadable version of the green meetings policy from the National Recycling Coalition, visit http://meetingsnet.com/green_meetings/index.html.