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Practical Tips on How to 'Green' Meetings

This special feature outlines how to bring eco-friendly practices to hotels, non-hotel venues, and food & beverage. Leading off is a wrap-up of the Green Meeting Industry Council’s ‘Greening the Hospitality Industry Conference.’


This special feature outlines how to bring eco-friendly practices to hotels, non-hotel venues, and food & beverage. Leading off is a wrap-up of the Green Meeting Industry Council’s ‘Greening the Hospitality Industry Conference.’ March/April 2008

It’s green and growing. For the first time ever, the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) held its annual conference in Canada. In the last year, the council has experienced a 116 per cent growth in membership and conference organizers were elated when 200 people ultimately made their way to Vancouver for the latest information, dialogue and networking opportunities regarding green meetings. At the conference, Amy Spatrisano, president, GMIC, informed delegates that the council had just been accepted as the 32nd member of the Convention Industry Council.

During the two days, topics ranged from community and global citizenship, sustainable catering, green tourism and transportation, carbon offsets, green facilities, partnering for sustainability and the ethics of sustainability and green meetings. A small tabletop exhibit room featured CVBs, ecologically sourced promotional items, an American Green Events Source Book and various hotels.

Although the audience was mostly American (there were 15 Canadian attendees), polling conducted at the outset of the conference gave insight into the green issues that are preoccupying planners.

In terms of their events, the most significant opportunity, for this crowd, was waste management. The audience rated green meetings as a top-three priority over the next three years, and their biggest challenge was measuring the impact of a green meeting. For 43 per cent of the audience, determining best practices for green was their biggest concern; 27 per cent said presenting a green agenda is difficult; 13 per cent said costs of green meetings was a factor, while six per cent said there are too many issues around green meetings.

Shawna McKinley, Vancouver-based project manager with Portland, Ore.-based Meeting Strategies Worldwide and GMIC board member, told the audience to develop a business model for sustainability built on specific, measurable, actionable and realistic elements for their events. Start by including green criteria in their RFPs and ask about green suppliers. “You must let your suppliers know your environmental expectations, and take back-of-the-house tours to ensure those practices are occurring,” she added.

Learn More
www.greenmeetings.info
Check out or even join the Green Meetings Industry Council.

www.greeneventsource.com
A green-meeting resource for the U.S., featuring six strategies for greener meetings and links to other resource organizations. It includes tip sheets and overview of best practises for the States. Planners can sign up for email updates.

www.sustainablesolutionsbydesign.com
You can buy this meeting planner’s toolkit to plan and organize green meetings. Good for basic knowledge and terminology, with minimum green guidelines developed by the Convention Industry Council. The kit was developed by Beverly Oviedo and is designed for PC-computer use.

sandra.eagle@mtg.rogers.com

Green Hotel Venues

By Anthony Watanabe, March/April 2008

Recent research conducted by M&IT indicates that over 50 per cent of Canadian planners are initiating the idea of green meetings. While this number is encouraging, it will no doubt increase during the coming years, driving the growing green demand. Fortunately, both corporate chains and individual properties are stepping up to heed the call.

START THE SEARCH
When seeking out a hotel for your green meeting, start with obvious things like a stated environmental policy. This is a good indicator of a hotel’s level of engagement. (Be sure to check when it was last updated.)

Lately, planners are starting to dig a little deeper in their green search by asking innocent yet probing questions of front-line staff. More than just ‘spot testing,’ these folks will be your allies in ensuring your good green planning is successfully carried through.

Including a request for environmental best practices in your RFPs is another tactic worth considering. Like any RFP component, it will clearly communicate your needs and save time by avoiding unqualified responses. Also, it sends the signal that planners are increasingly on the hunt for properties that meet their logistical and ideological requirements. The virtuous circle will continue as the hotel industry responds in kind, making subsequent searches easier – and greener.

HOMEGROWN INITIATIVE
Canadian planners can take pride in a homegrown initiative designed to raise the bar for hotel greening in this country. The bilingual Green Key Eco-Rating Program, established by the Hotel Association of Canada over 10 years ago, is at once innovative (it is administered entirely online) and robust (it has five rating levels and covers nine areas of hotel operations).

With approximately 700 Green Key-rated hotels in Canada, planners can rely on these properties to be a credible starting point for their search.

MINTO SUITE HOTEL
On a recent trip to Ottawa, I stayed at the Minto Suite Hotel, which enjoys a four-leaf rating by the Audubon International Green Leaf Eco-Rating Program.

With function space to accommodate up to 200 attendees, a robust energy-management plan which claims a GHG reduction of 1,000 tonnes a year and complimentary wireless Internet in meeting rooms, the property is green meeting-enabled.

On my way to a workout, I inquired about the hotel’s environmental initiatives. After the usual shopping list of linen and recycling programmes, the housekeeping employee told me about an initiative to replace the plastic shampoo trays with FSC-certified wood, accompanied by a fresh leaf for good measure. Such detailed information coming from front-line staff is a sign of authenticity, green ratings aside.

So while third-party endorsements are important, planners should nonetheless find opportunities to do their own fact-finding. Of course, the real work begins once a venue has been selected. Planner and hotel must work in concert to realize a compelling, memorable and sustainable meeting experience for all participants.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Green Key Eco-Rating Program
Hotel Association of Canada
Online self-assessment, 40-page PDF report
www.hotelassociation.ca/site/programs/green_key.htm

Green Leaf Eco-Rating Program
Audubon International
Checklist, audit and summary report
www.terrachoice.ca/hotelwebsite

Canada Green Meeting Guide
Innovolve Group
Online self-assessment with transparent criteria
www.greenmeetingguide.com

Green Convention Venues

By Anthony Watanabe, March/April 2008

While there are some robust rating programmes for hotels, no such programme exists for convention facilities. So planners have to be more diligent when selecting these sites. Venue selection in this category is arguably more important, since many non-hotel venues host city-wide conventions and trade shows whose eco-footprint is larger than straightforward meetings.

KEY CONSIDERATIONS
Key considerations for these properties include waste management (the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre has visible waste-sorting bins in all meeting rooms: www.vcec.ca) and energy management (check out the Metro Toronto Convention Centre’s massive green roof and use of deep-lake water cooling: www.mtccc.com).

Other clues planners can look for are a clear and comprehensive environmental policy and examples of walking the walk, including responsible printing of corporate literature and green procurement such as GreenSeal paper products. In terms of the buildings themselves, there are rating systems in place.

LEED CERTIFIED
The Quebec City Convention Centre (QCCC) is in the process of becoming the first convention centre in Canada certified by LEED-EB (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Building). Early on, QCCC communicated, to the market, its mission and its commitment to sustainable development. The lessons they learned should be of interest to any organization looking to set a sustainability strategy and communicate it to their stakeholders.

“We made it known to our suppliers what eco-friendly actions we were taking,” says Ann Cantin, director of communications for QCCC. “And as the word spread, not only did our supplier base at the time step up, but others came into the fold. As a result, our suppliers have played an integral role in helping offer clients eco-friendly options, and QCC, through our purchasing dollars, has enabled a number of green suppliers in the region.”

GREEN LEADERSHIP
The Calgary Telus Convention Centre (CTCC) is another shining example of green leadership. With a host of initiatives in areas such as energy efficiency, water conservation and green procurement, the CTCC ensures that every planner who comes through the door runs a green event, whether they know it or not.

Winner of a BOMA Go Green Environment Award, the CTCC should also be commended for the environmental-stewardship training it gives all employees. And realizing that complacency is a dangerous thing, the Centre holds monthly status meetings to assess current initiatives and identify new ones.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)
Canada Green Building Council
Soon to be online rating system
www.cagbc.com

BOMA Go Green Program
Building Owners and Managers Association
Building owner/manager applies directly to the local BOMA association for certification; local association sends a verifier to review/confirm the application and the building
www.bomagogreen.com/index.html

Green Seal
Independent non-profit organization promoting green products and services
www.greenseal.org

Ceres
This is a national network of investors, environmental organizations and public interest groups working with companies to address sustainability challenges.
www.ceres.org

Anthony Watanabe, PhD, is president and CEO of the Innovolve Group consultancy.

Green Food and Beverage

By Don Douloff, March/April 2008

Green meetings have become such a hot-button issue that planners ignore it at their peril. And food and beverage (F&B) plays a key role in green meetings, since F&B choices affect the budget, attendees’ well-being – and the environment.

COMPOSTING
“All of our food waste is placed in bins and taken away to be composted, including what comes back from dining rooms and function rooms,” says David Garcelon, executive chef of Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York. “In addition, our overproduction of muffins, Danishes, etc., is collected each day by Second Harvest, who redistribute it to shelters throughout the city. We also have a composter on the roof, next to our herb garden, where we compost a small amount of food waste along with the weeds and surplus from our herb garden.”

Beyond that, the hotel uses, wherever possible, organically grown and locally sourced products.

Fairmont has also introduced green meeting breaks designed to improve attendees’ attention spans. Examples of eco-friendly snacks include organic vegetable chips at the Fairmont Washington D.C.

HILTON TORONTO
At the Hilton Toronto, the kitchen, under executive chef Kevin Prendergast, recycles all cardboard, glass, plastic and tin; utilizes a combi-therm oven that only operates as needed and uses less energy; employs high-efficiency lighting; and uses a dishwasher that consumes up to 40 per cent less water and soap. Last year, the hotel collected 16,000 lbs. of leftover food for Second Harvest.

For its part, Toronto’s Direct Energy Centre maintains a compostable-packaging recycling programme, at all concession stands, that includes compostable hot and cold cups, lids and straws, plates, napkins, utensils, salad packaging and dressing containers, and wrap and sandwich packaging. A four-stream recycling bin accepts paper, plastic and cans, compostable food waste and litter.

THE COST OF GOING GREEN?
“I don’t think you can categorically say that all organic food costs more,” says Dawn Graham, meetings and events planner for Ottawa-based Engineers Canada. “Companies may or may not be willing to pay more, but the planner needs to look at the overall bottom line first. In greening, there are higher expenses in some areas and lower expenses in others. Sometimes, it may balance out. If I have a certain amount to spend on a meal, it may mean that a three-course meal is offered instead of four, [so] there is a little more money for organic produce. Reality is, the planner needs to really research the bottom-line costs before concluding, and then trying to pitch to their company, that it’s going to cost more.”

FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Simple Steps to Green Meetings, by Amy Spatrisano, CMP, and Nancy Wilson, CMP, suggests:
Choose food that’s seasonal, local, organic.
Choose seafood from sustainable fisheries.
Choose china service.
Use cloth instead of paper napkins.
If cloth isn’t available, use recyclable napkins with a high post-consumer content.
Serve condiments, spreads, etc. in bulk containers.
Serve water and juice in pitchers, and soft drinks in returnable containers.

Lee Simon, foodservice designer for Tampa, Fla.-based The General Group, suggests:
Phase out Styrofoam and other polystyrene products.
Use alternative chafing fuels. Consider non-toxic fuels and electric chafing dishes.

Visit www.ntc.on.ca/org_environmental.htm (Direct Energy Centre’s programme on perishable food donations and organic recycling).

Don.douloff@mtg.rogers.com



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