Going Green Gets Easier

Meeting Planning

Sponsored by: Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa

As the nation weaves its way through a continuing saga of economic and political turmoil, the meetings industry remains a beacon of hope—a stable industry with strong growth potential for as long as people need to meet and do business. Even better, the meetings industry has continued to focus on something that is ultimately more important than all the economic and political wrangling—at least as far as the health of our planet is concerned.

Yes, green meetings are alive and well. Meeting professionals routinely require green components in their meetings, and association members and corporate stakeholders alike are driving the initiatives that are bringing these components squarely into the mainstream.

Virtually every meetings-industry conference includes at least a few educational sessions devoted to green meetings and also models green initiatives in the event itself. One indicator of positive growth: the ASAE Convene Green Alliance, which is dedicated to advancing green meetings and leading the dialogue about ways to improve environmental sustainability, recently passed the 1,000-member mark and is growing rapidly.

With that in mind, here are some steps along the path to consider and implement as you go forward.

   Atlantic City Convention Center, New Jersey

New Green Standards

While the commitment to going green is clear, the answer to the question of what actually makes a meeting sustainable is not. Fortunately, a new set of standards promises to make a difference.    

More than three years in the making, the forthcoming standards are the product of a partnership between the Convention Industry Council’s Accepted Practices Exchange on Green Meetings and Event Practices, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Green Meeting Industry Council. The process also has involved ASTM International, an organization that develops and publishes voluntary standards. When submitted to ASTM and approved, these new standards will become accredited.

The suite of nine standards covers all facets of event planning and management: accommodations, A/V, communication and marketing, destinations, exhibits, F&B, meeting venue, on-site office and transportation. Hundreds of meeting planners and suppliers have worked together with environmental experts to draft the standards in what has been described by many as a very robust process.

“When the standards are complete, we’ll have a shared scorecard to track and analyze how we’re doing as an industry,” says CIC Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Leonard, who oversees the APEX initiative. Leonard says the forthcoming measures are prescriptive, unlike others currently in use. “These standards lay out the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should-nots’ and provide the targets to aim for. They will provide planners and suppliers with effective tools to do self-assessments on where they sit with respect to sustainability.”

At press time, eight of the nine draft standards had been through the review process by the ASTM committee, which clears them for official ASTM approval and ratification. The much-anticipated standards will be welcomed by meeting planners and suppliers alike.

“The APEX/ASTM standards are important to our industry because they provide much-needed consistency,” says Michael Smith, CDMP, vice president of convention sales for Travel Portland. “They really help to clean up the clutter of everybody having their own definition, version or belief of what is green, or what aspect of green should matter.”

Tamara Kennedy-Hill, CMP, executive director, Green Meeting Industry Council, agrees, noting that the standards “provide clear metrics and give us a better way of understanding, evaluating, measuring and reporting progress. They also will provide easier benchmarking for business impact.”

Industry Trends

According to a recent survey by the American Society of Association Executives, 68% of associations reported using eco-friendly meeting practices, a 25% increase over the number reporting that just two years earlier. An additional 11% expect to begin these practices during the coming year.

“Facilities are on the sustainability track and are eager to help meeting planners meet their goals,” says ASAE Convene Green Alliance Director Chris Wood. “When natural light can be used in the exhibit hall, there’s savings to the association. When materials are being recycled rather than hauled away as waste, there’s a savings.” He also points out that sustainability and social responsibility are now key to many association missions. More than half responding to a survey indicated that eco-friendly efforts also have improved their reputations.

Today, discussions of green meetings are about much more than reusable water bottles and recycling bins. While those aspects remain important, a growing number of meeting planners are now looking for locally sourced foods, energy offsets and facilities with top-level, environmentally efficient certifications.

“The first thing I look for is food sourced from the local community,” says Bridget Chisholm, of BCC Planning. At a recent conference, Chisholm worked closely with the chef at Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. “He got the message and went out into the local farming community to build a direct relationship with those farmers,” she says. The local farmers committed to meeting the need and provided attractive pricing, and according to Chisholm, the chicken tasted amazing.

“Demanding locally sourced foods is great for the local economy. It can lead to farmers having larger farms and hiring more people locally,” Chisholm says. “We’re all worried about the economy. Here’s a way to help.” This approach also eliminates the need for transporting foods from distant locations.

Chisholm is also a strong advocate of eating seasonally. “Don’t order strawberries in December if they need to be shipped across the country. Send a clear message that you want to support the local community.”

Curbing food miles also was a goal of the Oracle OpenWorld, JavaOne and Oracle Develop meetings in San Francisco at the end of 2010. Early selection of menus and analysis of ingredients used helped reduce average food miles per function by 2,482 miles, according to a sustainable events report that appears on Oracle’s website. The report indicates that this was done at no additional cost to Oracle or vendors. Some menus reduced miles by as much as 13,000 compared with pre-event estimates, the report states.

The report also indicates that fewer pages and smaller print runs slashed daily-paper volume at the show by 76%. In addition, all collateral publications were printed on 100% post-consumer recycled stock. Both measures helped to conserve 233 trees.

The American Wind Energy Association has been using environmentally friendly lanyards, notepads and conference bags for years, according to Stefanie Brown, senior director, conferences and meetings. At this year’s conference, AWEA focused on making green strides in the exhibit hall by curbing waste and combined those initiatives with a community service component that had a lasting impact on the area.

“Working with our decorator and another partner, we collected leftover supplies from show management and our exhibitors and contributed those to community organizations such as L.A. Shares and Habitat for Humanity,” Brown says. Those leftovers included approximately 20,000 tote bags, 4,500 pounds of printed materials, 22,000 show handouts and magazines, and 1,200 pens and highlighters.

Other AWEA initiatives that focused on giving back to the community included on-site preparation of bags of produce for a local nonprofit that aids low-income families, financial donations through a virtual food bank, and donations of unused hotel toiletries, canned goods and other nonperishable food products.

The results of these activities provided the Orange County Food Bank in Anaheim, Calif., with 2,600 bags of fresh produce for the Farms2Kids program, more than $1,200 in financial donations equivalent to over 1,200 meals for needy families, 139 pounds of nonperishable food products donated by the convention center and catering staff, and 310 pounds of donated hotel toiletries and canned goods from attendees.

In addition to offsetting the estimated energy usage at the convention center during the show, AWEA also purchased wind-generated Renewable Energy Certificates to offset a year’s worth of energy usage at the food bank. This purchase will allow 415,000 kilowatt hours of wind energy to enter the national electricity grid in 2011, with an estimated environmental benefit equivalent to the carbon sequestered by 61 acres of trees or by removing 56 passenger vehicles from the road.

Heather Rhoderick, CMP, director of conventions and meetings at the American Composites Manufacturers Association, says her association started down the green path by focusing first on the low-hanging fruit. “While we’re not yet paperless, we’ve moved our presentations online, and we encourage our attendees to share a cab to the airport and to turn off their lights and televisions in their rooms,” she says. “We recycle our signage and offer a green sponsorship that makes our water stations possible rather than going with water bottles.”

Going green is no longer just the coolest thing to do, says Tracey Messina Buonforte, national account director for IMN Solutions and former Convene Green Alliance executive director. “Going green is something you’d better be doing. These initiatives are expected by members—accepted and expected.”

IMN Solutions is a leading management company and strategic consulting partner in association and foundation management. It has long been a forerunner in the green meetings movement, founding the Convene Green Alliance in 2008 and selling it to ASAE in 2010.

IMN Solutions manages hundreds of meetings and sees firsthand the many different types of green initiatives that planners demand and that destinations and hotels are providing.

Buonforte encourages meeting planners to think big and start small. “Many successful planners advise picking two things to focus on, like serving more sustainable food and cutting back on paper use or going paperless. Start small and plan carefully.”

She adds that one of the most important things about going green is making a plan and getting buy-in from staff, management and volunteer leaders. Communicating before, during and after beginning green initiatives is key.

   Oracle OpenWorld 2010 event

Greening Venues

Many convention centers and hotels are moving forward with extensive, innovative green programs. For example, the Dallas Convention Center recently celebrated receiving LEED Silver certification for an existing building.

The convention center’s green building programs include alternative transportation options, energy-efficient lighting, environmentally sensitive cleaning products and practices, reduction of indoor potable water via low-flow fixtures and a comprehensive recycling program. Phillip Jones, president and CEO of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, says, “At the end of the day, it’s about doing the right thing; having a smaller footprint while leaving more to the bottom line is good.” ASAE will hold its annual meeting in the center in 2012.

The Omni Dallas Hotel, scheduled to open in early 2012, has outlined a sustainability plan that is expected to lead to the property’s LEED Silver certification for new construction upon opening. The plan includes use of recycled and regionally sourced materials, reduced construction pollution and water-conservation initiatives. The property has employed a recycling program for all construction waste. The Omni Dallas Hotel also is using recycled and regional materials throughout the construction process. For example, the interior design for the hotel’s three-meals-a-day restaurant includes reclaimed timber and brick. Additionally, certified wood is being used for 50% of the wood-based material to encourage environmentally responsible forest management.

The Westin Riverfront Resort in Avon, Colo., received LEED Silver certification in 2009 for similar initiatives. Low and non-emitting paints, adhesives and carpets were utilized throughout the resort; 10% of building materials were made from recycled content; 50% of the resort’s electricity comes from renewable resources, including wind; and a control system allows front-desk staff to adjust room temperatures as guests check in and out so unoccupied rooms aren’t heated or cooled. “We are committed to operating this resort in the most sustainable way possible,” says General Manager Bob Trotter.

The Oregon Convention Center and Portland Expo Center’s recycling and waste management efforts succeeded in diverting more than 630 tons of materials from landfills in its fiscal year 2010-2011. With overall diversion rates of 58% for Expo Center and 67% for OCC, both venues saw double-digit increases in 2009-2010.

Each year OCC and Expo’s waste diversion rates have increased considerably, keeping garbage out of area landfills and cutting waste-disposal costs. Identifying and implementing convenient ways for employees, show managers, exhibitors and the visiting public to divert items from the landfill has been the key to their success.

The DoubleTree by Hilton Portland received the prestigious Green Supplier Gold Award at the International Meetings Exhibition annual event in June, becoming the first U.S. hotel to do so. The award recognizes environmental excellence and innovation in the meetings industry.

The first Green Seal-certified hotel in Portland, Ore., the DoubleTree was selected for its impressive results from reducing overall energy consumption by 32% annually since 2006 and investing in alternative transportation options for guests and staff such as free public bike parking and bike usage for guests. The hotel also partnered with the city of Portland to adopt a commercial composting and comprehensive recycling program, resulting in overall waste diversion of 70%.

“Being recognized on an international level for our local sustainability programs reinforces to our staff that the innovations and efforts they make every day have impact and meaning,” says Steve Faulstick, the hotel’s general manager. “Seeing the growth in demand for sustainable business for both our customers and employees is encouraging, and we are proud to be at the forefront of providing them [with] that culture and experience.”

Even before going green was “in,” the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority was moving in a very eco-direction. It installed the largest single roof-mounted solar array in the United States on top of the Atlantic City Convention Center in 2008. The solar-power system is comprised of approximately 13,500 modules and covers two thirds of the main roof of the convention center, or about 290,000 sq. ft. It generates approximately 30% of the center’s power. As a result of the solar project, the convention center will save an estimated $4.4 million in electricity costs over a 20-year period. In greener terms, that savings is estimated to avoid the release of 2,349 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a savings approximately equivalent to the electricity used by 282 homes in one year.

ACCVA’s recycling program has saved more than 100 tons of waste, according to Gary Musich, vice president of convention development for the organization. “We’re recycling 32% more now than we did three years ago,” he adds. “We provide a facility that makes it easy to be an environmentally conscious citizen. It’s got to start with having a choice and a facility that gives the options.”

You won’t find any plastic straws in food service areas at Embassy Suites Lake Tahoe Hotel & Ski Resort. In fact, you won’t find much plastic in those areas at all . . . or Styrofoam. Those were eliminated after the hotel launched its sustainability program in 2009. Today, the property features food-based alternatives that are compostable, but that’s just one aspect of its green approach. Since 2009, the hotel has achieved significant savings as a result of its sustainability initiatives, according to David Hansen, chief engineer. (Learn more from Hansen on pg. 24.) By using new technologies like programmable occupancy sensing in each of the 400 suites, the property has saved almost $520,000 in electricity. It also achieved a fuel savings of more than $230,000 and a waste savings of approximately $80,000.

 The Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau in North Carolina launched a local carbon-offset initiative, under which groups purchase an offset to mitigate environmental impact of their travel and activities while in Asheville. The offsets help fund Insulate!, a program of Asheville’s Warren Wilson College, which reaches out to homeowners below the poverty level and insulates their homes free of charge, reducing utility bills and carbon footprints.

“Natural beauty is part of Asheville, and our local culture is infused with the desire to celebrate and protect it,” says Tim Lampkin, director, convention sales and group services. “Asheville Offset allows attendees to reduce their carbon footprint in a way that directly reduces energy consumption on a local level in Asheville.”

The 2010 floods that hit the southwest forced the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., to close for six months. When the facility reopened, it did so with significant new energy efficiencies. Among them is an overhauled and modernized laundry facility. The new, state-of-the-art facility represents substantial improvements in energy and water consumption compared to that of more traditional facilities of its size.

New continuous batch washers (aka “tunnel washers”) allow the property to use less than half the water used in the average commercial-grade washers, by reusing water throughout the cleaning process. Less water also means fewer chemicals. A heat-reclamation system captures the heat from waste water to preheat incoming water, significantly reducing the amount of natural gas required in the process. Similarly, heat is reclaimed from the air exhausted in the drying process to further reduce energy usage. With an estimated 16 tons of towels, linens, napkins, tablecloths and uniforms to launder each day, the new laundry facility represents major reductions in water and energy use.

“If there is a silver lining to the unprecedented flooding that caused us to close for six months last year, it’s that it gave us the opportunity to make many physical improvements and upgrades,” says Pete Weien, senior vice president and general manager of the Gaylord Opryland. “We were able to bring our iconic property back even better than it was before.”

Identifying CVBs and hotels focused on green initiatives is getting easier with online search directories such as conventionplanit.com, a comprehensive web portal for the meetings industry that includes a section on green meetings in its “Planning Resources” section. Katherine Markham, CHME, principal and co-founder, says, “For the last few years, we have encouraged all our members with listings on our website to describe their green initiatives. Many have done so, and it’s a real benefit to planners who are all looking to hold green meetings.”

Hansen at Embassy Suites Lake Tahoe Hotel & Resort sums it up well. “Lodging uses 25% of all the energy in the United States. If we can attack this sector of the economy, think how much energy we could save.”

Audrey Rothstein, CAE, is a publishing consultant to Association Vision, a communications company specializing in publishing and public relations, and she is a freelance writer. Al Rickard, CAE, is president of Association Vision.