Concern about the environment, and a realization that going green makes business sense, are driving the robust trend toward green meetings. That was one of the points that came across during a recent Financial and Insurance Conference Planners webinar—“Green Meetings: Call to Action”—that looked at the growing influence of environmental sustainability issues on the meetings industry.

Moderated by Regina Baraban, editor of Financial and Insurance Meetings, the webinar’s thought-leaders included Shawna McKinley, the Green Meetings Industry Council; Michelle White, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts; and Tiffany Schermerhorn and Harry Lewis, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; all of whom have put their environmental mark on meetings.

It was clear from the conversation that the EPA is keen on taking the lead on this issue. Lewis, attorney advisor, office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, said the EPA has been focused on purchasing green goods and services since the passage of the 1990 Federal Pollution Act.

Lewis and Schermerhorn, an EPA procurement analyst, talked about a recent EPA initiative, “Environmentally Preferable Purchasing,”—under which EPA offices are encouraged to purchase environmentally preferable products and services—as well as the EPA Green Meetings and Conferences Rule, that went into effect May 1. Under this rule, Schermerhorn said, “environmental preferability is considered in every purchase [of meetings and conference services], regardless of cost dollar value.

“The rule is flexible in that how much the green factor is considered is up to the buyer,” she added. “But everyone is required to consider greenness among the factors in deciding on a meeting venue. For a small meeting with a tight budget, low price might win. But all things being equal, the green hotel wins out.”

Even though the EPA Green Meetings and Conferences Rule is limited to EPA offices and employees, there is a move to extend it to the rest of the government. During the webinar, Lewis and Schermerhorn related that Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) had proposed an amendment to the New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security, and Consumer Protection Act that would require “all federal government agencies to change their acquisitions rules for planning meetings and conferences to consider the environmentally preferable features and practices of a vendor, similar to the acquisition rules of the Environmental Protection Agency.” That amendment was accepted and incorporated into the bill passed by the House of Representatives August 4.

While there has been increasing acceptance among planners—and suppliers—that being environmentally conscious makes both environmental and business sense, Shawna McKinley, executive director of the Green Meetings Industry Council, acknowledged that “there is some skepticism” out there on if, and how much, going green adds value to meetings.

McKinley pointed to some examples demonstrating that there is a business case to be made for green meetings. For instance, several years ago the Green Build International Conference and Expo implemented a number of water conservation measures, including a decision to provide large containers of drinking water rather than individual plastic bottles. “They saved $25,000 by getting away from bottled water and all that plastic,” said McKinley.

From a supplier’s perspective, Michelle White, manager for environmental affairs, Fairmont Hotels, said that it’s clear consumers want to stay in hotels with green programs. She pointed to recent surveys that found that 60 percent of Canadians prefer to stay in green hotels, and that 43 million American travelers describe themselves as “environmentally conscious.”

This concern with the environment is extending to meetings. White said Fairmont, long an industry leader when it comes to green programming and policies, has seen requests for environmental information become an increasingly important part of the request-for-proposal process for planners over the past 18 months. “People want to know about our [green] policies and programs in the venue selection process,” White said.