Authors and college students, Michelle Anne Wong, left, and Paulina Sanchez Munoz
Opening with a series of tricks and illusions by master magician Bob Higa, the Green Meeting Industry Council’s 2013 Sustainable Meetings Conference lived up to its theme, "Creating Sparks." As college students studying Sustainability and Event Operations, we were fortunate to have attended this event for the first time through the generosity of the GMIC SMC Foundation/Nancy Zavada Scholarship fund.The opportunity allowed us to understand what it actually means to spark innovation, imagination, and inspiration and how it all plays into the ever-changing world of managing sustainable events.
Here are our top five takeaways from the conference:
1. Best of Both Worlds: From Students to Future Leaders
The conference turned our knowledge of theories and methodologies into real-life case studies. Comprehensive discussions on event issues were examined and debated during the breakout sessions, including
· Waste management of exhibit displays
· Measurement of hotel carbon footprint
· Financial considerations of sustainable alternatives
· Social and ethical responsibilities of meeting professionals
These discussion yielded insights we would have never learned in school. It’s important for event planners to share intelligence. It’s also valuable when information comes from speakers who are not from the meeting industry. They are stakeholders who identify challenges from a different perspective.
2. Walk the Talk: The GMIC Conference as an Experimental Platform
Although GMIC leads the way in advocating for greener events, the nonprofit organization recognizes that "there is always room for improvement," even at its own event. What's so interesting is that the event's critics are no less than the organization's own members. Since all members and supporters are key stakeholders, we all take pride in increasing the sustainability of GMIC SMC and sharing ideas that might lead us to a more sustainable event.The implementation of sustainability practices can never be perfect; it can only keep progressing as it adapts to the need of our changing environment.
3. Method: Snowball's Chance
Keynote speaker Eric Ryan, one of two brainparents of Method, a brand of environmentally friendly cleaning and personal care products, inspired industry leaders on how his startup company took its littlest chance in the market (competing against household products giants Procter & Gamble and Colgate Palmolive) and just went for it. He voiced unconventional approaches that have created a culture to sustain an innovative idea. Through experience, he understood that his market did not need another “green preacher.” His company’s mantra, “People Against Dirty,” implies that there is a kinder, gentler way to keep things clean without the toxic chemicals that make up many household detergents. By believing in his brand and by selling a philosophy instead of a product, he made his company a true success story.
4. With Great Ethical Responsibility Comes Great Power
The exhibit floor included some of the most powerful and effective companies in the green market. Companies such as Helping Hand Rewards, Eco Promotional Products Inc., and DoubleTree by Hilton not only boast the use of sustainable materials in their products and practice green initiatives, but they also stress fair-trade employment and training of individuals who are in most need of work (those who are blind, homeless, or otherwise disadvantaged).
The tradeshow floor also served as the networking hub of the conference. Amid the constant conversations, everyone seemed to be educating someone. As Brian Hunt of the GMIC board said, "To keep the spark going, we must share shamelessly.”
5. Chicago: A Green City Gets Greener
The opportunity to see the world is one of the perks of being a meeting planner. With its highly accessible transit system, well-thought-out recycling operations, and impressive energy-saving architectures, Chicago is aiming to be dubbed the “first city” of sustainable innovation. The city has launched one-of-a-kind green art installations called Plant Green Ideas Chicago 2013 in some of the city’s main visitor attractions, including Michigan Avenue, McCormick Place, and Navy Pier. Chicago's action plan parallels GMIC's goals of waste reduction and diversion from landfillsthrough education and awareness, making it a perfect seeting for this year’s conference.
Michelle Anne Wong attends the British Columbia Institute of Technology and Paulina Sanchez Munoz attends Arizona State University. They describe themselves as “event planners, future leaders, and sustainability ambassadors.”