"There has been a dramatic change in the hotel industry during the past five years, with a lot of voluntary initiatives to become more environmentally responsible," observes Tedd Saunders, president of Boston-based EcoLogical Solutions, Inc. "Every hotel company today has some properties that focus on environmental issues. In the next five to ten years, we'll see this happening company-wide, and the hotel that has not undertaken a substantial environmental program will be the exception."

Basically, hotels are looking to minimize waste, conserve energy and water, improve air quality, and eliminate hazardous chemicals from cleaning supplies, Saunders explains--all the while keeping guest comfort a top priority. He has worked for the past ten years with The Lenox and Copley Square Hotels in Boston to "shift the paradigm about luxury and comfort not having to mean excess and waste." This might mean an elegant-looking amenity dispenser for soaps and shampoos instead of disposable bottles, for example. Back in 1992, there was one dispenser on the market. Now, says Saunders, there are at least six dispenser companies and a dozen all-natural products to choose from.

Meetings and convention organizers are more behind the curve. While some environmentally conscious associations and companies make sure that their meetings follow a green path, many others don't. Prior to compiling its recently-published green meetings report, the Meeting Professionals International Green Meetings Task Force surveyed a small sample of MPI members about green practices. Only 25 percent of the respondents said they had policies for producing environmentally responsible meetings. Subsequently, MPI did not adapt the report as policy but posted on it on its Web site for meeting executives to use as a guide.

"My research indicates that most of the environmental initiatives are being generated by suppliers, not by meeting organizers," reports Helena Miele, a New Milford, N.J.-based consultant who just received her CITE designation from the Society of Incentive Travel Executives for her work on the greening of incentive travel. Results from a questionnaire that Miele distributed to members of SITE's corporate advisory council and to attendees at The Incentive Travel & Meetings Executives Show (IT&ME) last year found that while 55 percent of the respondents "asked about the hotel's environmental policies during site visits," only 27 percent "would place environmentally friendly qualities of a hotel or venue above cost savings," and a mere 18 percent "actively looked for green destinations."

But environmental awareness is growing among meeting organizers, believes Miele, who is also president of Earth Mother, a meeting, incentive travel, and environmentally friendly merchandise company. "Even if a program doesn't say it is green, there are usually components of a green meeting, like locally-crafted pillow gifts that help sustain the local economy," she notes. "This is very different from five years ago."

Questions to Ask The first question to ask any supplier is, according to Saunders, "Do you have an environmental program? If so, what does that program entail?" Beyond that, there are many specific questions that meeting organizers can ask hotels to help identify environmentally aware properties:

* Guest rooms--Can guests choose not to have towels or sheets changed daily? Are there waste containers for recyclable materials? Does the bathroom have low-flow shower heads and amenity dispensers with 100 percent natural soap and shampoo?

* Recycling--Do you regularly purchase recycled products or products that can be recycled? Is there an in-house recycling program? If yes, what materials are included? Will you provide recycling bins and commit to seeing that the items are actually recycled?

* Food and Beverage--Can we avoid using disposables such as Styrofoam, plastic, and individual creamer and sugar packets for F&B events? Do you purchase and serve beverages in returnable, refillable containers? Do you donate leftover food to a local organization?

* Back-of-House Practices--Do you employ solid waste minimization and/or energy reduction programs? Have you upgraded to energy-efficient lighting? Do you generate any energy from alternative sources? Are you doing anything to conserve water? Are you doing anything to reduce dry cleaning and laundry chemicals? How do you minimize chemical treatments and energy use in swimming pools and water features?

* Landscaping--Do you use pest management practices to minimize chemical use and/or water management practices to minimize irrigation? Do you use native plant species in landscaping? Do you use composting practices to enrich soils?

* Conference Services--Will you distribute leftover meeting materials to a local charity? Do you offer double-sided copying?

* Outreach--Do you offer programs or proposals for attendees to leave a positive legacy of their stay in the local community?

Green Meetings Resources There are many sources to help you identify environmentally aware properties and suppliers, or that provide useful information about green meetings. Among them are:

EcoLogical Solutions, Inc.:

(617) 425-0900; fax, (617) 425-0901; ecosolv@aol.com. EcoLogical Solutions is one of the hospitality industry's leading environmental management consulting firms. Among its offerings are a series of talks and facilitated workshops on going green, and a checklist for meeting planners on environmentally sound meetings.

Eco Services Division of HVS International: (516) 248-8828; fax, (516) 742-3059; cbalfe@hvsinternational.com; www.hvsinternational.com. Eco Services is an environmental consulting firm dedicated to the lodging industry. Its ECOTEL certification program identifies hotels that meet high environmental standards of commitment, solid waste management, energy efficiency, water conservation and preservation, and employee education and community involvement. The Web site includes a database of environmentally friendly vendors.

The EIBTM Directory of Natural Meetings & Incentives: fax, 44-127-374-9539; eibtm@reedexpo.co.uk. This free green directory published by the European Incentive & Business Travel & Meetings Exhibition lists green associations, organizations, airlines, car rental companies, convention centers, CVBs, cruise lines, destination management companies, hotels, and national and regional tourist organizations. The EIBTM exhibition includes a Green Clinic set up on the show floor, and an awards program that honors the most environmentally conscious company in each category.

The Green Hotels Association: (713)789-8889; fax, (713) 789-9786; green@greenhotels.com; www.greenhotels.com. The Green Hotels Association encourages, supports, and promotes the greening of the lodging industry. Among the free information it provides: a 36-question Meeting Planners Questionnaire for Green Lodging Establishments, a list of member hotels, and a catalog of environmental products.

Green Globe 21: 44-207-730-4428; fax, 44-207-730-5515; info@green globe21.com; www.greenglobe.org. Green Globe was launched in 1994 to help the worldwide travel and tourism industry develop in sustainable ways. Its certification program identifies suppliers and destinations that have achieved environmental standards in such areas as waste reduction, energy efficiency, and environmentally sensitive purchasing. The organization's annual Green Globe Environmental Achievement Awards are given in March.

The International Hotels Environment Initiative (IHEI): 44-171-467-3620; fax, 44-171-467-3629; ihei@pwblf.org.uk. IHEA, a subgroup of the Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum, is an international network of top hotel executives who are dedicated to promoting high environmental standards in hotels around the world. IHEA publishes The Green Hotelier magazine, and offers hotel-specific environmental training materials as well as a directory of global environmental resources.

MPI Green Meetings Guide: www.mpiweb.org/GreenMeetings/summary.htm. This comprehensive report offers many practical suggestions about how to hold environmentally conscious meetings. www.mpiweb.org/GreenMeetings/summary.htm. This comprehensive report offers many practical suggestions about how to hold environmentally conscious meetings.

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