Expert tips on working sustainability into event planning and execution.
By Hailen Eisen
For the past several years, ‘green’ has been at the forefront of meeting and event planning. In keeping the environment in mind, planners have swapped plastic water bottles for pitchers and glasses, collected lanyards for reuse, and found creative ways to make ‘green’ part of the event experience. But what will happen to environmental consciousness when the novelty of ‘green’ wears off? That’s a question being posed by many in the industry. The challenge will be to embed sustainability into the business of meetings, so that it becomes more than a trend. M+IT polled industry experts on what they see as ‘the next big thing’ in sustainable meetings, and which practices will outlive the trendiness of ‘green.’
Sandra Wood, CMP
2012 marks the release of three major sustainable event standards: APEX/ASTM, ISO 20121 and GRI EOSS. “While most planners have never gone through a standards process, these standards will offer structure and help answer the question: “how green is green?” Implementing standards will require time and commitment on the part of the planner, but once they’re in place, Wood says, we will reap the benefits year after year. “We want to be seen as a progressive industry taking action on sustainability before the government implements regulations.”
green tip: Choose venues, hotels, and destinations that ‘buy-in’ to sustainability, so you’re not forcing them to make changes for you, in order to produce a ‘green’ event.
Think beyond ‘green’ to overall corporate social responsibility (CSR). How are workers treated in the venue you’re employing or the destination you’re bringing delegates to? Is there a way you can support a local charity or cause through your event or meeting? These questions are part of a more well-rounded approach to meeting planning, where environmental, social and economic issues are all taken into consideration.
green tip: When it comes to sustainability, don’t just focus on cost savings. Think about how these practices contribute to your event’s promotional value, attendee engagement and employee satisfaction/retention.
Sandra Wood, CMP, is the annual meeting manager for the Canadian Medical Association.
Lisa English, CMP, CMM
Digital media and mobile applications change the way events are experienced from start to finish. Going forward, more meetings will go digital, reducing printing costs, paper waste and CO2 emissions. From electronic invitations, reminders, registration and check-in to mobile apps that accompany attendees throughout the event experience, paperless meetings will become a reality.
green tip: When you implement on-site technology, consider a phased approach: i.e. year one: print materials and introduce a mobile app; year two: print fewer materials and put more emphasis on the app; year three: go paperless.
Lisa English, CMP, CMM, is marketing manager, strategic meetings management, Cvent.
“Consider your carbon footprint at all stages of event preparation,” Chase advises. With a focus on tradeshows, he suggests: Digitize paper literature and have delegates download the information they require from each booth onto one USB key they carry with them. This eliminates the shipping footprint and printing costs and ensures no waste at the end of a show. “If you do require printed materials and you’re travelling to a trade show,” he says, “source a local printer and only print enough for that show on 100-per-cent recycled paper.”
green tip: If you require shipping, choose a SmartWay-certified hauler, to ensure sustainable shipping.
Set a goal to leave no trace behind when you wrap up a trade show. By shipping out everything that was brought in (all booth properties, packing materials, literature and giveaways, etc.), you’ll minimize waste for the show and in the city landfill. To save on shipping costs, bring in only what you’ll need for that show. It’s better to run out of something than to have to ship boxes of leftovers home.
green tip: Plan to participate in the exhibit donation program (often held by large trade shows) and offer up any leftover materials that are eligible for donation, including pens, bags and notepads.
Jeff Chase is vice-president of sustainability at The Freeman Company.
The green-minded meeting planner will have to start paying attention to sustainability across the supply chain and in more detail. “Until now, it’s been enough to have a checklist that includes basics: asking for local food and reusing name badges,” McKinley says. Going forward, you’ll see planners digging deeper and asking tougher technical questions, like: What materials are these lanyards made of? Are biodegradable badge holders better? What’s the best decision when you need to choose between organic produce or seasonal local produce that isn’t organic? To do this, planners will have to do more technical research and develop more intimate relationships with their suppliers.
green tip: Source lanyards and promotional materials from Vancouver-based Fairware (fairware.ca), whose products meet high standards of social- and eco-responsibility.
The greatest environmental cost of a meeting is often the travel footprint. “While it may not be as ‘sexy’ to plan a meeting or event closer to home, we’re lucky in Canada to have some incredible ‘destinations’ in our own backyard,” says McKinley. Eliminating air travel saves hundreds of metric tons of CO2, not to mention money. If your client requires a distant destination, she advises, choose a ‘green city’ and they’ll do a lot of the sustainability work for you.
green tip: Whatever city you’re in, try to be a catalyst for local enterprise and the betterment of the community. Source supplies from local vendors, and add regional touches to your meeting by connecting with artisans, farmers, etc.
Shawna McKinley is director of sustainability with MeetGreen and writes a blog called Sustainable Destinations.
Nancy Zavada, CMP
“While people used to see ‘green meetings’ as eating granola while sitting cross-legged outdoors, this is not the case,” says Zavada. “Green meetings are about first-class service and fresh, local foods served on fine china—it’s a return to the age of elegance.” She explains that many planners and venues strayed from elegance in search of convenience (disposable plates, napkins, beverages, etc.) and in doing so, forgot about the niceties of life and produced tons of waste in the process. Even if the venue has to install dishwashers and hire labour, eliminating disposables will save money.
green tip: Work closely with the chef to get him/her involved in developing menu-options (i.e. vegetarian meals) that are ‘green’ yet elegant.
Nancy Zavada, CMP, is co-founder of Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) and principal of MeetGreen.
Finally, remember that ‘green’ should be considered a work in progress. If implemented thoughtfully and over time, these practices are more likely to last for the long-term. The environmental issues facing our planet are only going to become more important going forward, and meeting planners have the unique opportunity to influence large audiences, while leading the way in making ‘green’ more mainstream.
–Hailey Eisen is a writer and editor based in Toronto.