The Convention Industry Council recently announced that eight of the nine sustainable meeting standards will be published before the end of the month, a huge milestone for a project that has been full-steam ahead for four years.

The completed voluntary standards, co-created by CIC’s APEX Green Meetings and Events Panel and the ASTM International, cover green meeting practices for communications and marketing materials, destinations, exhibitors, meeting venues, audiovisual, transportation, on-site office, and food and beverage. Standards for the accommodations sector are still in development.

Amy Spatrisano, principal at MeetGreen, a sustainable meeting consultancy, and Jan Sneegas, director of general assembly and conference services for the Unitarian Universalist Association, have been part of the development of the standards since the first meeting on October 31, 2007, which brought together the Green Meeting Industry Council, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and ASTM. Spatrisano is chair of the APEX Green Meetings and Event Panel, and Sneegas is a panel member.

As the landmark publication approaches, we asked Spatrisano and Sneegas to share their views on the process moving forward.

MeetingsNet: What are the next steps for GMIC and ASTM in terms of marketing and adoption?
Spatrisano: These standards are not the end all, be all. They are a first generation. Only after people use them and provide feedback about how to improve them will they become increasingly useful and universally adopted. We recognize that they are likely to be overwhelming at first, and achieving Level 1 of the standards may not be immediately attainable. However, using each of the standards to a) assess your current sustainable meeting efforts, and b) determine where you need to go, will provide an important road map for moving further along the sustainable path.

For help getting started, contact the Green Meetings Industry Council. It’s been at the forefront of developing this body of work and has already created a training course for the standards.

Sneegas: Since these standards aren’t mandatory, key players from both the planner and supplier side will need to adopt them before they are seen as an expected industry practice. There are four levels to the standards (with level 4 being the highest) and both planner and supplier must meet the standards at a particular level before the meeting is designated a green meeting at that level. Planners will therefore need to make the standards a basic expectation of performance in their requests for proposal and contracts to educate and engage suppliers. Suppliers will need to educate their planner clients who may not be familiar with the standards to ensure the supplier is able to maintain their participation in green meetings at the desired level. This is what makes the standards so powerful: They require both planner and supplier participation.

Spatrisano: An important next step is for CIC or GMIC to create a Web site for collecting feedback on the standards, allowing users to identify challenges with a given standard and recommend improvements. Such a portal would provide a convenient way for users to share their experiences and to assist in the revision process. It’s much easier to revise an existing standard than it is to launch one!

MeetingsNet: How will you measure the success of these sustainable meeting standards?
Sneegas: I think the ultimate test is whether or not they really help move the industry towards a more sustainable model for meetings. The first level of success is whether or not people engage with them.

Spatrisano: We can measure success by tracking how many planners and suppliers are buying the standards and how many people are signing up for training through GMIC and other organizations. If, for example, industry associations such as Meeting Professionals International and the Professional Convention Management Association offer standards training as part of their meeting curriculum, we can track how many attend those sessions. We will also be able to measure success through the information we get on the feedback portal. For example, asking about why they have or haven’t adopted various aspects of the standards will be enlightening.

MeetingsNet: Why is it important for organizations to use this sustainable meeting framework rather than coming up with a process on their own?

Spatrisano: In order to move the meetings industry toward sustainability, it is important for everyone to have a common vocabulary and common practices. Everyone needs to be on the same page. The standards allow for a more robust conversation about sustainability across the industry, by allowing us to compare apples to apples.

Sneegas: The standards were developed through a rigorous consensus-based process employing experts in the meetings industry, environmental science, government agencies, and a number of non-industry related groups who are members of ASTM. These standards represent a well vetted, valid body of work.

Regretfully, the delay in completing the APEX/ASTM standards has caused other organizations to create their own, adding confusion in the marketplace about what makes a meeting green, and what are acceptable practices.

MeetingsNet: The standards around meeting accommodations are still being developed. What makes this area so difficult to pin down?

Sneegas: The accommodations standards have taken longer because it is a broad area to cover and represents the largest supplier base of stakeholders. Among the complexities is ensuring the standards don’t address a building’s physical plant (LEED certification), but focus on how it is operated for meetings.

Spatrisano: These standards are about how a meeting or event is planned, executed, and reported on by both the planner and the supplier. As people embark on standards-based sustainability efforts, we’re not asking that they eat the whole pie at one sitting. Approach it as you would a piece of pie—one bite at a time.

We are thrilled there is now a foundation for a common language and a place to reference sustainable practices for the meeting industry. This is a starting point that provides validity and credibility to sustainable meeting practices. If the majority of the industry was operating at Level 1 it would be a game changer.