Getting to know the Green Meetings Industry Council

Green Meetings

With all the talk about green meetings floating around the Internet, planners may feel overwhelmed by all the buzz words and initiatives. But how do they keep everything straight—from LEED certifications to green seal products to carbon offsets and composting? Recently we came across the Green Meetings Industry Council, an organization focused on the meetings industry and its green initiatives. To learn more about this pioneering organization we spoke with Executive Director Tamara Kennedy-Hill. She says, “Typically, conferences are five times more wasteful than what people do at home. How can we make our industry be more responsible?” We hope her organization (and you) will help accomplish this goal.

Q: How did the GMIC get started?
A: The organization was founded in 2003. The founders worked with clients in the meetings industry for a number of years at Meetings Strategies Worldwide, and [they noticed] that there was a different level in interest of the marketplace. There was an opportunity to do things better. It was founded to become a kind of think-tank, but now it’s more focused on memberships. We incorporate green meeting practices; we focus on education through our annual conference [next conference is Feb. 9-11, 2010 in Denver]; we are active in global standards in the marketplace through APEX; and we offer business exposure for those that have made sustainable advances. We are a virtual organization, with headquarters in Mississippi, and I am based in Portland.

Q: How many members to you have?
A: We currently have 420 members, and our goal is to have 1,000 members by June 30, 2010. We have a balance of planners and suppliers, and we have increased our membership over 250 percent over the past year.

Q: What are some of the objectives of the GMIC?
A: We have a 100 percent focus on sustainability. Our goal is to go into certifying. There are two different standards—APEX (Accepted Practices Exchange) standards that the Convention Industry Council partnered with, and the EPA standard, which is a metrics-based standard. But how does a planner and supplier work together for the baseline score for a green hotel with site management, environmental ratings and scores? [At this point] it is a voluntary industry project. There are some great standards out there, but [we need] a standard created by the industry for the industry.

We aim to create an easy checklist for planners to go through—GMIC is anticipating that this will be done this fall. I think we can get there because there is a lot of energy to make this happen.

Q: How did you get involved in green event planning?
A: I worked for Travel Portland in the environmental sector. I worked there for seven years and saw the struggle that planners had to integrate green practices into their companies.  

Q: Why does it seem so hard to be green?
A: There is a gap between the thoughts [and the deed]—it’s just a way of thinking. We need to integrate greening into our normal business practices. You get more buy-in for what you are doing. Start with a couple things and start tracking those for both costs savings and environmental savings. It’s a matter of changing the mindset. The public expects companies to be responsible. [People often start with] reducing, reusing and recycling, but the first step is rethinking.

Q: You have a trash challenge featured on your website. Tell me a little bit more about the Trash Challenge?
A: At our most recent conference in February we discussed how the meetings industry is the second most wasteful industry after construction. We just wanted to raise a global awareness and create a campaign. If the meetings industry reduced its trash output by 10 percent, than we would divert 1-million tons of waste from our landfills. We are challenging planners and suppliers to submit their data and contribute to this reduction goal. A lot of people don’t know what the first steps are, how you start measuring your impact. We are seeking out case studies with people who are doing this.

Q: What would you like planners to know about your website?
A: We also launched a Sustainable Meetings Portal, which covers content from our last conference based on topics. We also have a Green Meetings Directory so our suppliers can tell planners about their products. It has a searchable feature to find out who is doing what out there in the marketplace.

Q: How can planners get involved in the GMIC and greener meetings?
A: We are in the process of launching regional chapters. We have chapters in Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, Northern and Southern California, Oregon and Florida, and we are soon launching D.C. and New York as well as Mexico and Europe.

It isn’t so difficult. We have an opportunity to be part of the solution. We hear so much that green meetings are so expensive. There are a lot of strategies that can enhance overall meetings’ success. We have many resources and third-party planners to get those planners who would like to plan more green started.