WHY DO SO FEW COMPANIES have green policies in place for their meetings and site selection? I've been asking that question since I joined this industry 10 years ago. The good news: There definitely has been a shift in awareness as of late.

Thanks to years of work by pioneers such as Tedd Saunders of EcoLogical Solutions Inc., hotels now routinely use low-voltage lighting, install energy-efficient windows, compost food in their kitchens, and donate leftover food from functions to food banks.

The Convention Industry Council's Green Meetings Task Force recently released ambitious guidelines for meeting organizers and suppliers. The guidelines state that — at a minimum — planners should choose hotels with recycling programs, where lights and air conditioning are turned down (not up!) when rooms are vacant, bathroom amenities come in dispensers rather than disposable containers, and other such practices.

This summer, thanks to the promotional efforts of the well-organized Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Conventions, the news is out about the importance of environmentally responsible practices at large conventions. At both the Democratic and Republican National conventions, CERC has been working with the organizers to adopt green habits, from convincing the convention's main contractor to re-use the building materials from the stage and media center once they were dismantled to organizing volunteers from Walk Boston, a local group, to encourage visitors to walk around town rather than use taxis or buses.

I wish I could say all these moves were being made out of conviction. In some cases, they are. What has happened is that decision-makers are finally starting to realize that green practices save money. On the small scale, it's just as easy for meeting planners to order reinforced paper cups as it is to buy Styrofoam. Not only are they biodegradable, they're also cheaper. On the large scale, with garbage collection prices through the roof, “it's in the best interest of properties here to keep as much out of compactors as we can,” says Jo Licata, who spearheads a recycling program at the Hilton San Francisco. His efforts keep 5,600 pounds of cardboard and 5,000 pounds of glass, plastic, and metal out of landfills each week and have cut the hotel's garbage collection — and collection costs — in half.

Let's finally face it: That's a lot of garbage — and a lot of money. Check out “Going Green,” on page 18.
Barbara Scofidio

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