PAINT A PICTURE IN YOUR MIND of 5,000 pounds of glass, plastic, and metal. That's what is recycled each week at the Hilton San Francisco.
Now imagine if it weren't.
Or 50 tons of food, which is the average amount wasted each year at your typical 200-room hotel. Then multiply that by all the 200-room hotels in the world.
Or 2,500 pounds of cardboard boxes. That's the trash from just the packing material from exhibitors at Rite Aid's Health and Beauty Expo at Pittsburgh's new David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Fortunately, this meeting was held at a convention center that has become a model for its green practices — the cardboard was recycled.
The waste that meetings and conventions create is far from being at the top of the minds of most planners. But it's hard to think about images such as these and deny that it somehow needs to become a priority.
Green Means Savings
For one thing, environmentally sound meeting practices can translate into savings for a company.
“If you take a look at afloor after the attendees are gone, you see the tremendous amount of waste left behind — brochures and collateral material, tchotchkes that people take and toss, signage, and food and beverage,” says Kathleen M. Ratcliffe, president, Jacksonville & The Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Look at those as hard dollars littering the floor.”
At a meeting organized by Meeting Strategies Worldwide Inc., event planners took the simple step of replacing bottled water with thermos-type containers and bulk dispensers. Conservatively estimating one bottle a day per attendee, the planner saved the client $12,187 — not counting the plastic that wasn't consumed.
“It's easy to afford the two extra hours of labor required to handle serviceware instead of disposables if [a group] has saved thousands of dollars by serving water in bulk dispensers,” says Nancy J. Wilson, CMP, partner, Meeting Strategies Worldwide Inc.
Companies can learn from organizations with sustainability policies, such as the Ecological Society of America, that are at the forefront of green meeting practices. The 3,000-plus attendees at the ESA's annual meeting are very conscious of recycling and “green” linen policies. “They insist we hold meetings in ‘green cities,’” says Ellen R. Cardwell, meetings manager, “and they are very vocal about the priority they place on resource conservation and wise use practices.”
In the spotlight these days is the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Conventions, a group that was founded two years ago to promote green practices at large conventions, beginning with this summer's Democratic and Republic National conventions. Made up of almost 70 environmental, community, and religious groups and businesses, CERC is working with the organizers to adopt green habits at these highly visible events, as well as to publicize their recycling efforts. For example, at the DNC, CERC arranged for renewable energy certificates (tradable units of energy, some of which comes from renewable sources) to power the event; got a commitment from the convention's main contractor to re-use the building materials from the stage and media center once they were dismantled; and organized volunteers from Walk Boston, a local group, to encourage visitors to walk around town rather than use taxis or buses.
Practice What You Preach
Aveda Corp. is one company that is a model for environmental sustainability, from its mission statement to its meetings. The goal of its recently established “green meeting team,” which includes in-house meeting and show planners and environmental sustainability staff, is to “green” every Aveda event — from large industry shows to corporate training programs, global sales seminars, and task-force meetings at its headquarters near Minneapolis. A core objective is to create a central resource of suppliers, such as a company that makes binders from post-consumer waste and pencils produced with sustainably harvested wood.
At its most recent biennial Aveda Congress, the company arranged for all the hair cut by salon professionals on stage, in prep rooms, and in training sessions to be swept into compost containers. It hired recycling haulers, and encouraged the facility to work beyond its current processes. “We were firm, and the facility was a little unwilling at first,” says Tara Wesely, outreach and education program manager, environmental sustainability for Aveda. “But we saw it through end-to-end, and the facility is more willing to work with us on this in the future.” Similarly, Aveda walked the host hotels through the company's and attendees' expectations of green linen and other environmental policies. Some hotels went above and beyond these practices, even changing types of toiletries.
Trying to do the right thing hasn't been trouble-free. On the first day of a recent Aveda sales meeting, a new caterer prepared box lunches using clamshell and interior packaging rather than Aveda's preferred “low” packaging (brown paper bag). Well aware of the company's strong convictions about environmental sustainability, salon owners and distributors “had a fit,” Wesely says. On day two, the lunch food was served banquet-style — a decision that cost Aveda $2,000 more in extra staff and reusable china and serviceware.
Aveda also has struggled with water service at events. “It's a tricky thing,” says Wesely. “You're not sending the right message if you provide multiple plastic bottles.” Instead, “very expensive” polypropylene bottles were set out, along with places for recycling them. However, the best solution, she believes, is giving attendees larger water bottles and providing resource stations with filtered water in meeting rooms, which is being planned for the next congress.
Where to Start
What to do about waste at meetings can be overwhelming for a meeting planner. A good place to explore options is the recently released recommended guidelines produced by the Convention Industry Council. (See “Green Links,” at left.) This online resource provides a baseline measure and business proposition for planners and suppliers.
“States like California and cities like Portland, Ore., have passed laws requiring buildings to be sustainable, but without defining what that means. It could be difficult to live with the new laws if the industry didn't help define sustainability,” says Mary E. Power, CIC president, explaining the genesis of the project. “What's doable and practical? It's better for more planners and venues to do something green rather than a few to do a lot.”
She offers examples from the guidelines: “It's just as easy for meeting planners to order reinforced paper cups, rather than Styrofoam, when one is biodegradable and cheaper and the other isn't. And if you do box lunches, where half of the attendees will walk just across a hallway to eat, why not put food out on trays? It's less intrusive on the environment and less labor-intensive.”
Meeting industry organizations are trying to lead by example. Meeting Professionals International posted its “How Green Are You?” guide online, and included a session onat its 2004 World Education Congress.
As for assistance with donation of excess food, planners for years have turned to Network for the Needy, an initiative of the Professional Convention Management Association. The recent merging of CharityDirect into Network for the Needy expands the food program to include excess goods.
Planners can also take their first step to reduce the environmental impact of their meetings with their RFPs. A clause can outline standard preferences for sites that have a comprehensive sustainability plan, programs to recycle and reduce solid waste, programs that conserve energy and water, environmentally responsible systems that treat solid and liquid wastes, and environmental initiatives above and beyond those listed.
RFPs can also ask facilities and destinations for newly emerging certifications, such as Green Globe 21. This worldwide program recognizes environmentally and socially sustainable performance by travel and tourism entities through independent auditing and benchmarking measurement. Similarly, the Green Hotels Association designates properties that institute programs to save water and energy and reduce solid waste while saving money. These range from adding “drinking water served on request only” to menus to installing new HVAC systems.
Learn from Hotels
Hotels have been onto the savings that environmentally sound practices can realize for several years. For these reasons, linen reuse, compact fluorescent light bulbs, and low-flow showerheads and toilets are making their way into more properties.
“Many things are extremely cost-effective for hotels, but they need the impetus from the customer,” adds Tedd Saunders, president, EcoLogical Solutions Inc., and executive vice president, environmental affairs, The Saunders Hotel Group.
Also, corporate management and an active team within the hotel or convention facility must be committed to a recycling, reuse, or reduced consumption program in order to make it successful. That has been the case for the Hilton San Francisco, which is now in its ninth year of recycling discarded supplies on the hotel loading dock. Through the San Francisco Hotels/Nonprofit Collaborative, hundreds of thousands of tons are harvested annually and redirected from the landfill to the surrounding community.
“It is in the best interest of properties here to keep as much out of compactors as we can, especially with garbage collection being so expensive,” says Jo Licata, community projects manager for the initiative. “Every convention that comes in knows we will take anything they don't want to ship home. At least 10 percent of groups take some action, and I see more every year.”
Advocates of green meeting practices such as these believe that each small step has a positive effect in an industry as large as meetings and travel.
“Tourism is about to become the world's largest industry, and it will attract the same intense media scrutiny as mining and forestry,” says Rick Antonson, Tourism Vancouver president and CEO. “We will be held accountable for environmental behavior as leaders, meeting-goers, and travelers. If we're not responsive, others will force us into best practices that make political sense, not business sense.”
Maxine Golding has been writing and reporting about meetings and conventions for more than 20 years.
BEST PRACTICES FOR GREEN MEETINGS were recently formulated by a Convention Industry Council task force. Minimum and “strongly recommended” best practices are outlined separately for planners and suppliers. Find them and links to other green meeting resources at www.conventionindustry.org.
GREEN MEETINGS POLICY, developed and adopted by the National Recycling Coalition in 2001, presents guidelines on including recycling and waste prevention in RFPs, plus a www.nrc-recycle.org/resources/resources.htm or www.bluegreenmeetings.org.addendum on green meeting policies. Go to
THE GREEN MEETINGS INDUSTRY COUNCIL (www.greenmeetings.info), still in development, aims to provide a single base of information to help planners source their reduction, reuse, and recycling needs, and to develop a certification process for planners, meetings, and suppliers.
The nonprofit OCEANS BLUE FOUNDATION promotes initiatives for environmentally responsible tourism and hosts www.bluegreenmeetings.org. The site features tips on getting started, an assessment tool, resources, and links for planners and suppliers, plus case studies on successful initiatives. Its activities are temporarily on hold because of the departure of its president, but the Web site is still active.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY'S GREEN MEETINGS/CONFERENCE INITIATIVE was developed and is supported by the agency's Pollution Prevention Division. Access www.epa.gov/oppt/greenmeetings for a checklist for minimizing the environmental effects of meetings, contract language for obtaining “greener” conference planning/support services, and links to related initiatives. Among EPA's 26 Partnership Programs (www.epa.gov/partners2/comments.htm), the most applicable to the meeting industry are Energy Start, Green Lights, Green Power, Waste Wise, and Water Efficiency.
“HOW GREEN ARE YOU?” is a resource and reference guide produced in January 2000 by Meeting Professionals International. It outlines activities that support green meetings, 10 easy ways to be green, and recommendations for accommodations, transportation, F&B, facilities, and exhibitions (www.mpiweb.org/village/greenmeetings/).
GREEN HOTELS ASSOCIATION brings together hotels that are interested in environmental issues and instituting programs to save water and energy and reduce solid waste. Its 110-page “Guidelines and Ideas” helps members to identify how to reduce bills and the property's effect on the destination (www.greenhotels.com).
GREEN SEAL (www.greenseal.org/greeninglodge.htm) promotes environmentally responsible products and practices within lodging properties. It has developed a purchasing and operations guide, “Greening Your Property,” and initiated a certification program to help travelers and planners identify environmentally responsible lodging properties (www.greenseal.org/certproducts.htm#lodging).
GREEN GLOBE 21. Launched a decade ago by the World Travel & Tourism Council, this membership and commitment-based program was expanded in 1999 with the introduction of a standard and independent auditing. It now includes measurement of environmental improvements through annual benchmarking. Participants are based in 50 countries (www.greenglobe.org).
THE COALITION FOR ENVIRONMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE CONVENTIONS was formed to promote environmental best practices at the 2004 political conventions. Find “5 Easy Steps to Making Your Hotel Greener” and “The Green Events Guide” for properties and event hosts at www.cerc04.org.
EPA Speaks Out on Meetings
RUSSELL CLARK, a specialist with the Environmental Protection Agency, works closely with the meeting industry on environmentally responsible initiatives, participating most recently with the Convention Industry Council in developing best practices.
CMI: How did the EPA target the meeting industry to become more environmentally responsible about the waste produced at events?
CLARK: We realized that an incredible amount of energy, products, and resources goes into a meeting, from beginning to end. With a factory or car, you see the pollution; it's hidden behind the scenes at meetings.
CMI: What are the objectives of the EPA's Green Meetings/Conference Initiative?
CLARK: The initial hope was to consolidate information about recycling and energy- and water-saving at meetings in one place online (www.epa.gov/oppt/greenmeetings). Fortunately, we came across Meeting Professionals International's white paper and started collaborating. Rather than organizing material by environmental issue, it made far more sense to divide information by destination selection, lodging, meeting space selection, and food and beverage. Now, I think the newly created Green Meetings Council, a collaborative industry group, will become the one-stop shop.
CMI: What areas of meeting management can benefit from reduced consumption, reuse, and recycling?
CLARK: Although a trade show or exhibition may not be a component of all meetings, it is one of the most overwhelming examples of extreme waste. While a lot of materials are packaged up and taken away, live trees, plants, carpeting, and one-time-use items go into the trash.
CMI: What is the thorniest issue?
CLARK: The lack of standardization of any kind. For example, what does it mean to be a green hotel? CIC's best practices are pushing things in that direction. In Canada, in the absence of accepted national standards, Green Seal is playing that role. But many people don't understand that actual procedures and processes need to be followed to gain credibility and national or international acceptance. Since we're hung up sometimes on the term green, maybe we should call them “smart” meetings.
7 Small Steps Bring Big Results
Request basic recycling (paper, plastic, glass, and cans) and visible bins at hotels and convention centers.
Require a linen and towel reuse program at contracted hotels, and encourage attendees to use it.
Curb energy use by asking facilities to moderate air conditioning and heat and to turn down lighting.
Plan to use china and serviceware, not disposables, at your food functions.
Don't overprint paper and meeting materials, and make sure that they are properly shredded and disposed of.
Arrange for beverages and condiments to be served in bulk dispensers during food breaks, minimizing individual servings.
Consider including foods that will keep longer or that can be donated as excess.