The Hilton Bonaventure Hotel in Montréal seemed to vibrate with sustainable power when it hosted the small but mighty Green Meeting Industry Council’s annual conference last week.

And the biggest source of that power was not the recently installed energy-recovery system that transfers waste heat from the 45-year-old building to warm its outdoor pool during our Canadian winters.

A triumphant and challenging program combined case studies of successful sustainable meetings innovations with learning design tools and techniques to help organizers get better results out of every meeting. But the real power shone through in hallway discussions and unscripted moments that revealed a profound change taking root in the sustainable meetings community: After years of talking about sustainability and implementing it in small increments, participants came away with the knowledge to go deeper and the determination to settle for nothing less.

The opening keynote speaker, cleantech and green-building pioneer John Picard, pointed to rapidly emerging technologies that will help people empower themselves to clean the planet. But one of my biggest takeaways from that session came from the audience when Chris Brophy, vice president of corporate sustainability at MGM Resorts International, noted how nicely a 35 percent energy saving on a recent new development had reflected on the company’s balance sheet. The unmistakable message: Sustainability is about savings, not costs.

Much of the program pointed to the moment of opportunity in the release of the new APEX/ASTM Sustainable Event Standards, without bogging down in the standards’ technical, line-by-line minutiae. The real-world possibilities were on display in a flurry of presentations and case studies from practitioners like Microsoft, Maritz Travel, and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which recently received the coveted Platinum designation under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. And, as anticipated in last week’s column, Jill Drury of Drury Design Dynamics and Johanna Walsh of Twirl Management showed how to use the standards as a catalyst for dialogue across the meetings supply chain that can lead to big sustainability gains on site.

In the closing general session, the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Foundation hosted part one of its Ideas Auction, an innovative fundraising idea dreamed up by the irrepressibly creative foundation trustee Mariela McIlwraith of Meeting Change. At the live event, the foundation filled the screens with dozens of crowdsourced action ideas. In part two—an online auction that runs May 8–11—participants will be able to support the work of the foundation by buying full explanations of the ideas they think will be most useful to them in making their meetings and operations more sustainable.

The morning after the conference, the real, sustainable force propelling me forward came from the power rippling through the GMIC community itself, much of it in moments that were spontaneous or the result of last-minute program innovations.

I’m thinking of the five-minute Bl!nk presentations organized by Judy Kucharuk of Footprint Management Systems, where participant were invited to talk about the important, unexpected, off-the-wall insights that can pass in the blink of an eye. Or the “conference weavers” format introduced by conference co-chair Elizabeth Henderson of Meeting Change and moderated by Adrian Segar of Conferences That Work, where participant volunteers shared their biggest conference takeaways in informal presentations.

Two moments of power stand out from those sessions. One of the “weavers,” meetings strategist Geneviève Leclerc of JPdL International, showed photos of 250,000 Québécois at an Earth Day rally April 22, to underscore the advocacy and activism at the heart of the sustainable meetings mission. And the crowd really went wild for Henderson’s virtuosa performance of Ode on a Bedbug, her response to the excruciatingly drawn-out Successful Meetings top 25 list of meetings influencers that currently stands at 15 men, one bedbug, and no women.

Wikipedia describes potential energy by referring to a drawn bow and defines power as “the rate at which energy is transferred, used, or transformed.” That language comes from the world of physics, but it applies as much to human systems as to the engineering behind the Bonaventure’s waste-heat recovery system. GMIC’s wider, younger, more diverse and tech-savvy community is converting its potential to power, and it’s going to be a wild ride.

Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content, and founding chair of the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Foundation. Beer blogs at and tweets as @mitchellbeer.