Suffering from green fatigue? You’re not alone. “Sustainability,” once a buzzword, is quickly losing its buzz. Ditto other verused erms such as “LEED-certified”, “eco-friendly,” “environmentally conscious” and, of course, “green.”
The sustainable drumbeat has been so loud for so long, the industry is starting to go deaf.
But here’s the thing: Meetings still produce a ton of waste. It’s been a few years since the EPA deemed the meetings and events industry the second most wasteful in the U.S., and major strides have been made since then, but to say the industry is anywhere close to being where it should be is dangerously naive—and moving forward is going to take a whole lot more than putting out recycling bins or banishing plastic water bottles.
The most recent EPA statistics, from 2010, reveal that Americans generated about 250 million tons of trash but recycled and composted only about 85 million tons of it—just a 34.1% recycling rate. Of the primary waste generators, many, including aluminum soda cans and glass containers, are everywhere at most conferences and meetings. In 2011, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations revealed equally startling statistics about food waste, also common at F&B-heavy meetings; for instance, per-capita waste by consumers is between 209 and 254 pounds a year in North America. Add in the energy-sucking impact of guest and meeting space lighting and A/V generation—not to mention all the transportation to get to and around the conference—and it’s not a pretty picture.
In other words, the industry may be going deaf, but there’s still plenty of reason to listen.
The good news is this: Even as indifference creeps in, an army of CVBs, hotels and meeting planners are making important strides to thwart meetings from generating epic waste. “We’re so tired of having another conversation about going green. We don’t have time. We need to fast-forward and move forward,” says Karen Solomon, CEO and founder of Opportunity Green, an annual sustainable- business conference in Los Angeles that draws 850–1,000 attendees from around the world and recently became the first U.S. meeting to earn official third-party sustainability verification from the Global Reporting Initiative.
Those on the fast-forward track are dreaming up truly groundbreaking ideas. We’re not talking linen reuse and composting here, helpful as those are, but energy-generating treadmills, tours through waste facilities, solarpowered DJ booths, front desk uniforms made of recycled bottles and other outside-the-box concepts. These ideas, some of which are listed below, provide the inspiration the industry needs to keep moving forward.
1. Tours of trash sites
Want an engaging team-building activity that inspires attendees to get serious about reducing waste? A tour through the steaming, stinking world of waste management should do the trick. Both Oahu and Maui offer free Tour de Trash tours that reveal the inner workings of garbage control.
Oahu’s selections include a wastewater management tour, with pit stops to see how sewer pipes are serviced and sewage sludge is processed into fertilizer pellets, and a recycling and waste processors tour to view a waste-toenergy plant and the mechanizations of curbside mixed recycling processing (got that?). Maui’s tour includes stops at a composting plant, recycling centers and—perhaps most memorably—Pacific Biodiesel, the first biodiesel plant in the nation, where recycled cooking oil provided by 60% of Maui restaurants and 50% of Oahu restaurants is converted into clean energy for vehicles.
2. Music spun by a solar-powered DJ
Music at the Opportunity Green conference last year came from a 100% sustainable, solar-powered sound system featuring energy-efficient LED lighting. The company behind the concept was Focus Entertainment EcoBoom RV, whose clients also include restaurants, clubs and hotels in the L.A. area.
3. Sustainable flowers in sustainable vases
The Opportunity Green conference also integrated flowers certified by Veriflora, a leader in horticulture eco-certification. The sustainable foliage was placed inside recycled and repurposed wine, coke, beer and liquor bottles, including ones for Absolut vodka, Jagermeister and Bombay gin, produced by the innovative company Bottlehood.
4. Pillow-recycling vacuum
They may seem innocuous, but pillows can add significantly to the waste stream. Enter Pillow-Vac, developed by Harris Pillow Supply of Beaufort, S.C. When pillow stuffing inevitably loses its necessary bounce, Pillow-Vac is used to sift out dust, clean the filling and restore fluffiness. Recycle the pillowcases as well, and old pillows no longer need to be dumped.
Meeting-friendly hotels that use this nifty eco-friendly system include Hilton Concord, about 30 miles outside San Francisco; The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo.; the Beverly Hills Hotel in California; and Hyatt Regency Dallas.
5. Electricity generation + burned calories
Want to feel good about your body and the environment? Then jump on one of a growing number of hotel treadmills that generate electricity as you work out. The Hotel Grand Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia, offers electricity-generating stationary bikes and elliptical machines in its gym. And Element Hotels, located throughout the U.S. and Canada, have introduced stationary bikes that can recharge personal electronic devices. The bikes were unveiled this March at the grand opening of the Element Miami International Airport.
6. Wine that’s even greener than organic
The concept of biodynamic agriculture began with Australian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who advocated for a holistic approach to agricultural production back in 1924—long before organic became trendy. With the arrival of the green movement, an increasing number of North American wineries have started adopting his commonsense principles, not only by producing wine that’s completely free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, but by taking such additional steps as producing their own compost.
The leading barometer for biodynamic production is certification from Demeter Association Inc., which assesses the sustainability of such elements as cleaning agents, packaging and pest control. Meeting-friendly wineries that are certified include Benziger Family Winery in Glen Ellen, Calif.; Summerhill Pyramid Winery in British Columbia, Canada; and Famous Fossil Vineyard & Winery in Freeport, Ill. Go to demeter-usa.org for more information.
7. Full-time greenologists
At this point, most hotels and CVBs have staff members well-versed in sustainability measures. But some have upped the ante by hiring full-time employees singularly devoted to all things green.
Last November, the Shore Hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., made headlines when it introduced a green concierge who provides information on the nearest farmers markets, available hybrid taxi services and other local green services.
Prior to that, Embassy Suites Lake Tahoe Hotel & Ski Resort hired David Hansen as director of engineering, a role devoted to significant back-of-thehouse green measures. Within seven months, by introducing such initiatives as a web-based energy management system and an ozone laundry technique, he cut electricity usage by 30% and fuel by 50%, all while saving the hotel $322,000. (For an interview with Hansen, see Smart Talk in our October 2011 issue.)
The latest news comes courtesy of Tourism Vancouver. In April, the bureau hired a full-time Tourism Energy Specialist, believed to be the first position of its kind in the world. The bureau’s hire, Gwendal Castellan, has worked as a residential energy adviser and completed an intensive one-year program in energy management at the BC Institute of Technology.
In this new role, Castellan says, “I’ll be working directly with the roughly 1,000 members of Tourism Vancouver and approaching them with a value proposition to reduce their energy consumption by working with me.” To help, he will assist members with everything from energy analysis to navigating the complex world of energy incentives.
8. Slot machine air conditioners
At CityCenter’s Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, slot machines were designed with ventilation systems at their bases. Because they cool gamblers from the ground up, the casino doesn’t have to provide cooling from the ceiling, a process that wastes energy on empty space.
9. Save the turtles! They’re adorable
According to the World Wildlife Federation, six of the seven species of marine turtles are endangered or critically endangered—dire news that has spurred the hospitality industry to action. As part of a $9 million greenification project, the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa in Destin, Fla., recently installed turtle-friendly LED lighting designed to minimize disturbances to nesting turtles. And in Los Cabos, Mexico, Sheraton Hacienda Del Mar Golf & Spa Resort and The Westin Resort & Spa, Los Cabos train emPloyees on how to monitor and release baby Olive Ridley turtles. Groups can participate in the process, too.
10. Ink-free printers
Most handouts at events only need to last the duration of a session. Instead of dumping used handouts, why not collect them and put them through the ingenious PrePeat printer, which can erase and reprint material on specially made plastic sheets up to 1,000 times?
While this printer is as of now available only in Japan, it will likely make its way over to the U.S. In the meantime, you can rely on Zink, a full-color printing system that eliminates the need for ink cartridges and ribbons; instead, specially designed crystalline molecules create color when exposed to heat. The company’s innovative ink and paper are used in Polaroid products including the Pandigital Portable Photo Printer and PoGo Instant Digital Camera.
11. Simple but effective: a case for white roofs
It may seem boring, but the beauty of the white roof lies in its utter simplicity.As everyone who’s ever lived in hot weather knows, black attracts heat and white deflects it. Install a white roof, and sunlight is naturally diverted, bringing electricity usage down. Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii And Holiday Inn Express & Suites Saint-Hyacinthe in Quebec, Canada are among a handful of hotels that have caught on to this idea.
12. You can recycle that?
Pretty much everyone in the industry recycles these days, but not everyone recycles in really cool ways. Here are some that do:
–At Pan Pacific Hotel Seattle, front desk staff members wear uniforms made of recycled bottles. Also nifty: The hotel’s guest room keys are biodegradable.
–The driveway at Nylo Providence/Warwick Hotel (pictured) in Rhode Island is made of 70-year-old cobblestones recycled from an old railroad station in nearby Massachusetts.
–Crowne Plaza Hanalei San Diego has earned numerous city awards for its efforts in recycling everything from wire hangers to cooking oil.
–Tubohotel in Tepoztlan, about an hour south of Mexico City, features stacked guest rooms made of recycled concrete tubing.
–At the Opportunity Green conference, Boxman Studios set up sponsor venues and a VIP lounge using repurposed shipping containers. The conference also relied on AdVinylize to provide swag bags (courtesy of the BMW Group) made from recycled billboard vinyl.
13. Another use for social media: green advocacy
The easiest way to incite discussion and action among the masses is social media—and now, more are using it to promote change in the world of green hospitality. “Social media is holding people accountable,” says Nancy Zavada, principal of MeetGreen and cofounder of the Green Meeting Industry Council, the industry’s premier sustainability organization. “People can put their voice out there through blogging, Twitter and Facebook. Things have become much more transparent. Companies are doing bad things, and there’s a way to share that with other committed people.”
Oren Wool, who organizes the annual Sustainable Enterprise Conference (see sidebar), says he’s started using social media to reveal when, for example, an exhibitor leaves a giant stack of PR material behind. “It’s not about dissing those who support us,” he says, “but about education.”
14. The electric and hybrid car revolution
Hotels are amassing electric-car changing stations at an incredible pace. A few of the big meeting-friendly ones: Sheraton Waikiki in Hawaii; The Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa, Calif.; Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Wisconsin; and The Fairmont Empress in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Marriott Hotels has made the biggest push on a brand level, introducing stations at (as of press time) no fewer than 18 of its North American properties.
Other hotels, meanwhile, have started offering hybrid and electric vehicles to transport guests and meeting-goers. The Lenox Hotel in Boston, for instance, offers a hybrid Lexus SUV drop-off service. And CityCenter in Las Vegas, servicing Aria Resort and Vdara Hotel and Spa, has a collection of 26 Lincoln Town Cars powered by compressed natural gas, a product significantly easier on the environment than traditional gasoline.
Watch videos of a solar-powered DJ and the Pillow-Vac in action.
Joanna Walsh, CMP, an eco-event planner and CEO of Twirlit Management, assesses sustainability myths:
1. Bottled water is bad: TRUE
Six times as much water is used to create a bottle of water as is in the actual bottle, and a scant 5% of bottles in the U.S. are recycled.
2. No one should print anymore: FALSE
There are lots of responsible practices that make printing OK, such as printing double-sided or providing donation opportunities.
3. Biodegradable = Compostable: FALSE
Compostable is a term defining certified materials and standards. Biodegradable is a generic term that refers to items that won’t break down for 40 years.
4. Organic and local food menus are more expensive: TRUE
This isn’t always the case, but often is. However, that can be balanced against savings in other areas, such as eliminating bottled water.
It’s safe to assume people who oversee conferences devoted to sustainability know a thing or two about green planning. Based on this reasoning, we sought advice from Oren Wool, co-organizer of the Sustainable Enterprise Conference in California’s North Bay; Katie Maynard, event manager for the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference (CHESC); and Karen Solomon, CEO and founder of Opportunity Green. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate
The most tried-and-true of planner skills can also come in handy when trying to go green. “Some service providers will automatically add a 10 to 20% premium if you ask for sustainable options only because it is new and different,” Maynard says. “We have been able to minimize these premiums through negotiation and dialogue, but it is a constant conversation. For instance, in catering, we can usually ask which food items make it most expensive. Then we start looking for alternatives, for instance by using organic apples instead of organic strawberries since the premium on organic strawberries is usually greater.”
2. Prove the profitability of going green
At this point, most people are aware that going green has an economic upside-but it can’t hurt to emphasize that fact as much as possible. Throughout the Sustainable Enterprise Conference, Wool posts signs showing exactly how local businesses have profited from adopting green initiatives.
3. Track everything
Maynard calls tracking “one of the first things we started to do but also the hardest.” For CHESC, she and her team complete a full waste audit; track what transportation modes each registrant uses to travel to the conference; and complete an assessment of food purchases. “This is very valuable data but it takes time and some skill building,” Maynard notes. The Opportunity Green conference also relies heavily on nitty-gritty reporting. After each annual conference, a report is issued that delves into the sustainability of the event, data that’s being compiled for research purposes.
4. Banish polystyrene
Of all the materials at an event, polystyrene (found most commonly in Styrofoam) is one of the greatest offenders; it doesn’t biodegrade for hundreds of years and is a major contributor to ocean pollution. It’s so bad for the environment, San Francisco banished it from city restaurants back in 2007. Yet the product still pops up at meetings and conferences. “If companies take just one action, it should be to eliminate Styrofoam,” Solomon says. “I can’t believe how many meetings I go to and still see it.”
The Greenification Long Haul
There’s immediate appeal to fun, snappy green initiatives like the ones on our list. But often, sustainability is decidedly unglamorous. Here are three cities that have launched ambitious, multiyear plans to turn their destinations into green-friendly locales. The process is a long slog, but in the world of sustainability, that’s often what it takes.
1. San Jose, Calif.
Back in October 2007, San Jose initiated its Green Vision plan, devoted to meeting 10 goals related to everything from green-tech jobs to the planting of new trees. The city has been keeping steady track of its benchmarks since then, gauging its progress in achieving all goals by 2022. So far, it has made the biggest strides in diverting trash from landfills (71% of goal), connecting its city trails to encourage biking or walking (53.7%) and introducing alternative-fuel vehicles (40%).
2. Columbus, Ohio
The city launched its GetGreen Columbus initiative in 2005 and is still working hard to improve its overall sustainability. Key initiatives cover such issues as green buildings, renewable energy and transportation. Each year officials issue a progress report detailing what the city has accomplished. Among its more recent efforts is the construction of Hilton Columbus Downtown, slated to open this fall and aiming for LEED and Green Seal certifications.
3. Mexico City
In 2007, with the help of $200 million in funding from the Clinton Global Initiative, Mexico City launc ;hedits 15-year Plan Verde (Green Plan). It aims to, among other initiatives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb traffic congestion. So far, the city has achieved 22 of its 76 goals and 31 others by at least 50%. It has also reduced C02 emissions by 5.8 metric tons.