…and trade-show providers for eco-friendly practices within the meetings and conventions industry.

Meeting planners are increasingly going green, and it has nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day. An increased awareness of the need to protect the earth’s environment has turned into a groundswell of support from planners, hotels, convention centers and trade-show providers for eco-friendly practices within the meetings and conventions industry.


Planners who once embraced the throwaway culture now find themselves in a position to make an impact in a big way.         


Contrary to popular opinion, adding eco-friendly features doesn’t necessarily mean more work, says Nancy Wilson, co-founder of Portland, Ore.-based Meeting Strategies Worldwide. “It’s doing the same things you always do (but) including environmental guidelines in your RFP,” she says.


Wilson, whose consulting company helps corporations and associations produce sustainable, green programs, says it’s easy to demonstrate the cost savings of staging green meetings—and that helps sell the concept to executives. “You can save $12,000 or more just by not using plastic water bottles,” Wilson says.


Beyond the cost savings, incorporating eco-friendly practices lets executives know the meeting planner is knowledgeable about current trends. “It lets planners be state-of-the-art and demonstrate to stakeholders how they can save money and make the organization look good at the same time,” she says.

 Green programs range from the simple to the complex. Some event organizers provide exhibitor information on CDs or online instead of on paper, while facilities are incorporating design features that allow more natural light, better ventilation and energy-efficient systems.  The explosion of green programs has generated a plethora of standards from various states and organizations that sometimes can be confusing. The most commonly used standard for buildings is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System from the U.S. Green Building Council. It offers a voluntary compliance in the areas of sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy initiatives, materials used and indoor environmental quality. Facilities earn points toward Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum levels and can obtain bonus points for innovating above and beyond minimum requirements.  

The bigger challenge is to get planners and attendees alike to do more than talk the talk. Last year, only eight percent of meeting planners surveyed by Wilson said environmental conditions were mandated for their meetings. Just 38 percent said they always arrange for recycling bins at venues; 41 percent said they placed a high importance on whether the venue was eco-friendly.


To help you be the best you can be at green meetings—without turning green around the gills—we’ve summarized some key efforts and issues on the table today. While it would be impossible to include every facility, hotel or product currently out there, we hope these will get your creative juices flowing with ideas for greening your own meetings. It can be as easy or complex as you want it to be.

 “One of the misconceptions is that (the effort) has to be 100 percent or it’s not good enough,” Wilson says, “but everything you do helps.” The resources are available. It’s up to you to get started.  Municipal Efforts

Municipalities that adopt green efforts often have a domino effect on other cities and organizations. Portland, Ore. was one of the first to get a LEED rating for its convention center. Now, the Green Building Council counts Portland, Vancouver, B.C., Seattle and San Francisco among the cities nationwide with the most LEED projects. Cities like Spokane and Vancouver are touting freshly minted LEED certifications and new buildings designed to get the highest LEED rating possible. Spokane received its LEED certification with such elements as an EnergyStar roof, covered parking, renewable hydropower and environmentally friendly cleaning products.


Tourism Vancouver—the city’s destination marketing organization—was the first of its kind to sign on to purchase carbon offset credits for all air travel, including flights booked for people coming to Vancouver on family trips. More are sure to follow.


San Francisco’s Department of the Environment was an early adapter that started a recycling program at Moscone Center in 1997. Now, convention centers across the country have such programs in place.

 Other cities, like Santa Cruz, Calif. developed their own green business programs that certify facilities like Benchmark Hospitality International’s Chaminade conference center as environmentally friendly.   Convention Facilities

As more companies and organizations consider green practices when they choose a facility, planners should be aware of what’s in store at major convention facilities, so they know what questions to ask when submitting RFPs. Meeting planners who are aware of eco-programs can take advantage of those programs for upcoming meetings.


Such efforts already are catching on. When PCMA held its annual convention in Toronto this year, it asked for recyclable cups, napkins and plates—something the organization hopes to make a standard feature of its convention. The Environmental Protection Agency has asked its meeting planners to consider environmental practices along with other factors in buying meeting space. And the World Urban Forum chose the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Center for its June meeting based in part on its green facility mandate and Vancouver’s efforts to reduce carbon output, waste, pollution and energy usage.


Big companies like technology giant Cisco are developing green policies, while trade shows like New Hope Natural Media’s Natural Products Expo West added environmental mandates to its RFP in 2005. The mandates include things like organic menus, recyclable utensils and recycling bins in the exhibit hall. The GreenXchange Xpo—a new green marketplace staged by IDG World Expo—chose Los Angeles for its first program partly on the strength of L.A.’s recycling and solar programs.


“Los Angeles has a commitment to use and showcase renewable energy resources,” says Michael Krause, senior vice president of LA INC. The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau. In fact, “The convention center will use 100 percent renewable energy sources in 2008,” he says, which is up from 25 percent in 2007.

 Following the model set by the likes of Los Angeles and San Francisco’s Moscone Center, convention centers have been adding environmentally friendly components at a brisk pace. Energy costs are one factor.Randy Tanaka, assistant general manager for the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu, says recent efforts have focused on reducing energy costs through more efficient air conditioning. He also adds that the center recently installed a jockey chiller that has variable flow valves to regulate the amount of cold air sent to various parts of the building. “Energy costs are up 30 percent to 40 percent,” he says, adding that it’s difficult to pass those costs on to customers. The Hawaii Convention Center is one of 17 in the Western U.S. and Mexico operated by Spectacor Management Group (SMG) of Philadelphia. Bob McClintock, SMG vice president of convention centers, says SMG is looking to reduce the environmental footprint in all of its facilities. “We (as an industry) use a lot of energy and produce a lot of waste, so we look at ways to reduce that impact,” he says. “Everyone in the building needs to be focused on energy use.”  

SMG is looking at ways to bank power, create their own power or better manage peak power periods to offset peaks and valleys determined by the usage at different events. McClintock says the company also is looking at alternative energy sources such as wind power and solar energy. Moscone Center and Long Beach Convention Center are among the centers considering these options.


Another option includes giant fans by Lexington, Ky.-based Big Ass Fan Co. The fans are suitable for large atrium or warehouse areas and keep air moving to reduce the need for air conditioning. One is being tested in Hawaii with positive results. (Note: Smart Meetings’ editors confirmed the company name!) SMG’s catering division also is working to develop standard food and beverage guidelines for disposable items, food handling items and recycling. “Every step we take that reduces our footprint is valuable,” McClintock says.

 Meanwhile, the Vancouver Trade & Convention Center in British Columbia expects to be the greenest building in North America when its new building and plaza are complete in 2009. The expanded center will include a six-acre living roof, seawater heating and cooling, a fish habitat in the building’s foundation and on-site water treatment facility.

Trade Show Providers

Trade show providers are getting in the act as well. Last year, VNU Sports Group of San JuanCapistrano, Calif. partnered with general services contractor GES in a program to provide recycled carpet and tiles for trade-show floors and booth displays. This year, Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Exhibit Design Consultants debuted a green-built portable modular exhibit system calledEcoSystems made entirely of recycled content that is recyclable after use.


President and CEO Tim Morris says the company’s recycling program finds aftermarket uses for all materials “down to the copper wire in the lights.” The booth system is so efficient, he says, that when the company applied for its booth at the August TS2 trade show, Morris had to convince organizers that his booth only needed 5 amps of electricity.  “We’re taking a wider approach to cradle-to-cradle (applications) in an industry that’s traditionally very wasteful,” he says. “That allows us to be better stewards and provide an example to others.”


Today’s hoteliers are far removed from the days when having compact fluorescent light bulbs and asking people to reuse towels were considered state-of-the-art environmentalism. Spurred by spiraling energy costs, they’re installing energy-efficient improvements that range from insulated water tanks and convection ovens to solar energy-driven signs.


They’re also looking at water conservation, recycling and waste management. One example is Seascape Resort in Aptos, Calif., which has installed a water-saving, satellite-controlled irrigation system for its 40 acres. Costanoa, an eco adventure resort in Pescadero, south of San Francisco also, is another. Not only does this property have its own water treatment plant (which includes wastewater treatment and a reclamation system used for irrigation), it also has a comprehensive recycling program that reduces what it sends to landfills by at least 20 tons per year.


All of those efforts reduce costs and waste. The average-sized hotel purchases more products in one week than 100 families do in a year; waste generation can reach 30 pounds per room per day, according to California’s Green Lodging Program. Green Lodging was established in 2004 by the California Integrated Waste Management Board to help hotels get on the green train. The program encourages state and local groups to give preference to these hotels for business travel and meetings.

Planners also can look for other green designations, such as the Green Seal Lodging Certification offered by the nonprofit group. Hilton Portland & Executive Tower earned that designation earlier this year.


Meeting planners who use conference centers can consult the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC) to learn which ones have adopted guidelines set out by the group’s green task force. Such efforts make it easier for planners to find eco-friendly properties for their meetings. “Green techniques are continuing to be refined,” Meeting Strategies Worldwide’s Wilson says. “Hotels and other facilities are getting on board and that makes it easier (for planners).” Wilson says planners negotiating with hotels might want to point out that green meeting services provide a higher level of service to guests, which can be a benefit to hoteliers.


A new survey by J.D. Power indicates that 75 percent of hotel guests are willing to participate ineco-programs at hotels, but only 63 percent say they are aware of such programs. That suggests attendees might appreciate knowing in advance which hotels in the room block have eco-programs in place.


Some hoteliers have been on board with green efforts for many years. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts—the first brand to embrace green efforts—has led the way since 1990, with an emphasis on energy, water and waste reduction, and conservation and community partnerships. Various Fairmont hotels use wind power, solar power, co-generation and heat-recovery systems. Its environmentally friendly conferencing program, Eco-Meet, makes it easy for planners to embrace green events. In California, guests with hybrid vehicles even get free parking.

 Marriott International also has been a leader in green initiatives, with water and energy conservation and other efforts dating back to 1994. Now, the company says it is on track to hit the one-million-ton mark in greenhouse gas reductions for the decade of 2000–2010. 

More recently, hotel developers have begun to incorporate eco features in new hotels like the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel, which was the first hotel to earn a gold LEED rating. Sage Hospitality is seeking a silver LEED rating for The Nines Hotel in Portland, part of the Starwood Luxury Collection. Starwood also plans to launch an environmentally friendly brand, 1 Hotels & Residences, next year with projects planned in Seattle, Scottsdale, Ariz. and Mammoth Mountain, Calif.


Even smaller resort properties are getting on board. Antlers Vail in Colorado installed an ozone-activated laundry system that general manager Rob Levine says saves money and water. The hotel also uses non-phosphate detergent and bleach. As a condo-style property, Antlers includes kitchensignage directing guests to the proper recycling and trash bins. In Santa Fe, N.M., the new Sunrise Springs resort has gone organic with its own gardens, producing food and herbs used in the restaurant, in its wine and in its spa amenities and treatments. “We do a lot of board meetings and retreats for eco-minded groups,” says Judy Hertzl, director of marketing. “For them to be able to ask for organic food and know that the (kitchen staff) knows what they’re talking about has some real meaning.”


Hoteliers like Fairmont don’t rest on their environmental laurels. Michelle White, director of environmental affairs for Fairmont, says the company is planning to roll out its sustainable cuisine and wine this fall and is planning its first green-built hotel in Pittsburgh.

 It’s a testament to the efforts of meeting planners and industry suppliers that volumes more could be written about innovative properties and procedures that promote environmental conservation. A decade ago, it was just a blip on the radar of the meetings industry. Now, there’s always something new on the horizon. 

Wilson says standardization and regulation of carbon offset programs is still on the horizon. But she also thinks the social consciousness that has revived the green movement will extend to other areas. “Where it’s headed is the social arena,” she says, including the way employees at venues are treated in terms of wages or housing. “It’s time to start asking the questions and having vendors step up to the plate,” she says.


Sandi Cain, a regular contributor to Smart Meetings, is a freelance journalist who has covered the meetings, hospitality and tourism industries for more than a decade. She is a resident of Laguna Beach, Calif.


 GREEN MEETING TIPSWhen you’re planning your meeting or your spa amenity, here are a few other tips to green the experience:• If the spa has an on-site organic garden, take your attendees on a tour, then participate in a healthy cooking demo. • Reduce the usage of bottled water by having glasses and pitchers of water available.• Add recycling bins to the meeting and sleeping rooms.• Ask your group if they want a morning newspaper delivered to their rooms rather than doing soautomatically.• Arrange to have all food waste composted. Use silverware and cloth or recycled paper napkins in lieu of Styrofoam and plastic dishes and utensils.• Turn off lights when not being used, and employ natural lighting whenever possible.

• Walk throughout the venue instead of taking cars.

–        Julie Keller


Some of the most common eco-friendly practices employed by hotels are listed below. Meeting planners might ask hoteliers about these practices during negotiations or choose the items of most concern to clients to include with RPFs to a hotel.


• Use of compact fluorescent lightbulbs

• Linen reuse program

• Smoke-free policies

• Laundry system conservation efforts such as ozone-activated laundries

• Use of outdoor LED lighting and fiber-optic technology

• Use of low-flow shower heads and toilets and other water conservation methods

• Use of EnergyStar-compliant products

• Waste-management procedures, including recycling efforts

• Conservation efforts such as soap or shampoo dispensers instead of individual bars/bottles

• Use of organic and/or sustainable products in food and beverage operations

• Use of recycled products in renovation projects

• Partnerships with community or other nonprofit environmental groups

• Whether the hotel has a designated employee who coordinates or oversees eco programs GREEN RESOURCES

Center for Environmental Leadership in Business

Conservation International

Convention Industry Council’s Green Meeting Task Force

Environmental Protection Agency

Green Lodging Program, California

Green Meetings Industry Council  (also has online public forum)

Green Seal

International Association of Conference Centers Green Task Force

International Ecotourism Society

Marine Stewardship Council

Monterey Bay Aquarium 

Native Energy

Sustainable Travel (carbon offset programs)

Terra Pass

U.S. Green Building Council  SMART GREEN PRIMER

The Convention Industry Council’s Green Meetings Task Force created a primer of minimal best practices for various aspects of the meetings and conventions industry. The task force was made up of people from the meetings industry, hotels, convention centers, the EPA and environmental groups. A few of those suggestions are below to get you started thinking about what you can do to green your business and events.

  For Suppliers

CVBs and DMOs

• Survey the city’s venues, hotels and other providers to find out what they already have in place, then compile that into a database of green programs.

• Use that information to help planners make supplier decisions.


Lodging and Cruise Lines

• Start or expand on-site recycling programs that capture paper, cardboard, metals, glass and plastics.

• Implement a linen reuse program.



• Develop an energy-management program to reduce electricity consumption.• Establish a policy to buy reusable linens, dishes and cutlery, as well as Energy Star equipment, recycled paper and toner cartridges, and plastics. Transportation Providers—Ground

• Recycle used oil, vehicle batteries, antifreeze and tires.

• Follow environmentally responsible maintenance and operation practices, such as performing regular maintenance and minimizing the use of air conditioning.


Transportation Providers—Air

• Use reusable or biodegradable service ware.

• Use fuel-efficient and low-noise aircraft.


Food and Beverage Providers

• Arrange to have leftover unserved food donated to a local food bank.

• Purchase and serve water, beverages, condiments and other food items in bulk to minimize packaging.


Exhibition Service Providers

• Encourage vendors to print collateral materials on double-sided, recycled paper with vegetable-based inks or via online downloads.

• Offer exhibitors reuse opportunities for decorations and display materials.


General Office Procedures

• Use LCD rather than CRT monitors, laptops rather than desktop computers and inkjet printers rather than laser printers to save energy.

• Encourage employees to turn off equipment and lighting and turn down thermostats when leaving the building for an extended time.

  For Organizers

• Consider using carbon offsets if extensive attendee travel is required.

• Include a list of environmental criteria in your RFP.

• Ask about a hotel’s environmental policies and include a clause in the contract that requires a commitment to comply with the group’s environmental requests.

• If using multiple facilities, look for locations that are within walking distance of one another.

• Provide information about public transportation systems available in the destination.

• Ask cruise lines if they have spill-prevention plans.

• Ask airlines if they collect recyclables used in-flight and recycle them.

• Reuse name tags made of recycled materials and provide bins to collect them.

• Ask about using locally produced and/or organic food and beverages.

• Shift written communications online.

• Minimize the use of collateral materials and packaging.

• Communicate the event’s greening initiatives to attendees, stakeholders and media.

 The full list of best practices can be found at conventionindustry.org/projects.


Web Exclusive Smart Tips 

We’ve got 14 hot tips on how to make your meetings greener, thanks to the help of Joella Hopkins,CSEP, CMP, president of Simply Mumtaz Events, an eco-friendly planning company based in Los Angeles area. Here’s what she suggests:

1.Use local sources and know where your food comes from. Purchase from local farmers markets whenever possible. Write menus around seasonal and local produce.

2.Purchase organic ingredients such as organic and fair-trade coffee, tea and sugar. Purchase organic juices, mixers and alcohol. If organic is not affordable, look for vendors and distributors with sustainable business practices. Purchase sustainable seafood, meats and poultry. Eliminate endangered seafood choices and inhumanly treated animals from your menus.

3.Purchase flowers that are pesticide free or organic. Use Live Centerpieces—such as live plants that you can replant. They will continue to live when the event has passed. If you use ice centerpieces, try to reuse the water.

4.If you want to cut flowers, consider donating the flowers to a hospital or nursing home—recycle them! You can also do silk flowers or make potpourri!

5.If you want to use candles, use soy-based, palm wax candles—they burn longer than petroleum and they emit less soot into the air, burning cleaner. Or use beeswax with cotton wicks.

6.Reduce waste. Recycle and compost if possible.

7.Donate cooking oil to a bio-diesel fuel company. Purchase a bio-diesal van for food delivery. Ask vendors if they have eco-friendly delivery methods.

8.Use eco-friendly cleaning products. Purchase and use chlorine-free paper products, tree-free products and biodegradable disposables and bamboo plates and platters. Avoid Styrofoam.

9.Use take-out containers that are cornstarch or sugarcane. Post-consumer paper products will work too.

10.Print invites, menus, and programs on high post-consumer recycled content,nonchlorine-bleached papers, using soy or vegetable based inks. Print one and place in a frame on the table so everyone can share.

11.For technical productions—try to use as little electricity as possible. Ask your team to think about this objective when you begin planning your event!

12.When you need cars, use an eco-friendly car service like OZOcar and EcoLimo. Especially, carpool!

13.No bottled water—use pitchers.

14.When building props, sets, etc., use sustainable materials like reclaimed wood, bamboo, cork and hemp. Use nontoxic paints. With branded event T-shirts, use organic cotton tees with water-based or metal-free inks.