The first thing attendees heard as they took their seats during Sunday’s opening general session at Meeting Professionals International Professional Education Conference-North America was the sound of drumming. The music and the moves of Texas Southern University’s Ocean of Soul marching band kicked off the conference--and Superbowl Sunday--with some true Texas charm.

As the marching band exited, MPI president and CEO Bruce MacMillan, CA, welcomed the more than 2,000 attendees to Houston, urging them to “think outside the booth” and incorporate this year’s conference theme, “Meet Different” into their own programs and meetings. “Now is the time to act,” he said, “whether that is reprogramming your entire meeting or introducing a sustainability initiative.”

In keeping with its theme, MPI announced its collaboration with The Masie Center and Learning Consortium, and the opportunity for PEC-NA attendees to participate in a think-tank session during the conference to discuss the future of meetings. In addition, students from Champlain College in Burlington, Vt., were onsite at the conference to design and develop an online game that will teach users how to make meetings more sustainable.

Other first-time offerings at PEC-NA included “connection spots” on the trade show floor, intended to foster better collaboration between planners and suppliers; an open-space format on the second day of the program, allowing attendees to participate in free-form conversations on the topic of their choice; and the Technology Playground, giving technology providers and attendees the opportunity to engage in discussions and demos.

The topic of corporate social responsibility was also a running theme throughout the general session, and it was the topic of keynote speaker Tim Sanders’ speech. Sanders, author of the upcoming book, How to Save the World at Work, (available September 2008) spoke about the “Responsibility Revolution” and the need for corporations to embrace CSR in order to attract young talent and succeed. He also shared examples of how meetings, and those responsible for planning them, have changed companies’ organizational cultures and, in some cases, the world.

In keeping with its own CSR initiative, MPI also announced it has created a task force of CSR experts (consisting of both members and nonmembers) to guide the association in its efforts to build a more socially active organization. As such, many socially responsible efforts were apparent at the conference including:

  • A partnership with Continental Airlines and Sustainable Travel International, allowing attendees to calculate their carbon footprint and purchase carbon offsets online;
  • Renewable Energy Credits purchased in MPI’s name by the City of Houston for energy consumed during the event;
  • Event registration bags and lanyards made from organic cotton;
  • Houston police officers on horses rather than in patrol cars;
  • Reusable water bottles distributed to all attendees;
  • Recycling receptacles for paper, plastic, and aluminum located throughout the convention center;
  • Conference marketing materials printed using vegetable-based ink;
  • Digital signage used to reduce the use of paper and cardboard;
  • Donation to a local Houston charity of unwanted registration bags; and
  • Conference shuttle buses featuring ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel.
  • Finally, current MPI chairwoman Angie Pfiefer, CMM, along with MPI chairman-elect, Larry Luteran, vice president, group sales and industry relations, Hilton Hotels Corp., announced the winners of this year’s Chapter of the Year Awards.