Implementing environmentally friendly practices is becoming more and more essential for success in today’s event and meeting business. Sustainability has become increasingly important as an evaluation criterion for meeting planners, and venues are often asked about their implementation of specific green initiatives as part of a bid. Venues are finding that initiating sustainable practices is as good for the bottom line as it is for the planet.
In fact, a survey by the Natural Marketing Institute reported that 58 percent of U.S. consumers consider a company’s impact on the environment when making purchase decisions and are more likely to do business with those that follow sustainable practices.
Yet, here’s the rub. Meetings produce a lot of waste, and consume a lot of energy. It was just a few years ago that the meetings and events industry earned the not-so-esteemed title of the second most-wasteful sector in the U.S. (behind only building and construction). That’s due to the huge environmental footprint of air travel, audio-visual equipment, food waste, plastic containers and more.
Setting sustainability standards
In 2013, the industry took a giant step in the right direction when the Events Industry Council's Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX) and ASTM International, in collaboration with the Green Meeting Industry Council, released their standards for sustainable meetings. IACC was ahead of the curve, creating its own set of standards and a green certification specific to the meetings industry four years earlier.
“Being sustainable and responsible for the environment is part of the DNA of IACC members,” said Kate Bacon, IACC Customer Relations and Events Manager. “It is also important culturally in many of the countries in which IACC has members. And of course, meeting planners look for it and give it value in their decision making process when selecting a venue.”
For an industry with such a huge hurdle to climb, finding support and guidance in ways that make a positive impact counts for a lot.
Sustainability is a resurging focus
“Corporate and association interest in the impact that meetings have on the environment and community is again growing, following several years of reduced attention during the global recession,” said Jessie States, CMM, Manager of Professional Development, Meeting Professionals International. “Both delegate and participant interest and top-down policies are driving meeting professionals to find ways to lessen environmental impacts and leave positive social footprints in the communities they touch.”
Sustainable practices are also more accessible today than in the past. “The focus on sustainability is growing and the market is changing. This makes it a lot easier to obtain green products and resources today than just a few years ago,” said Lotta Boman, CEO, Sigtunahöjden Konferens and Hotell AB, Stockholm.
“Being sustainable is not boring,” she added. “It can enrich the delegate experience, and motivate the team and give them all a sense of pride. We can see that people choose us because of our sustainable profile.”
Implementing eco-friendly initiatives
In addition to doing what’s right for the environment, venues that initiate sustainability programs gain three-fold benefits: environmental, social and economic.
Environmental benefits range from reducing the venue’s carbon footprint to creating a better work environment to improving the air and water quality of the property and the surrounding community.
Social benefits include better employee health and well-being; improved image in the local community; becoming a positive contributor to the sustainability of the planet; and improving the quality of life for future generations. Another benefit is attracting high-quality employees and increased employee retention, particularly among those under 40.
Economic benefits are increased productivity; cost savings in energy, water and supplies; attracting new business and building greater customer loyalty (planners are searching for venues that have certifications or sustainable programs); improved risk management and safety and the opportunity to collaborate with other innovative companies.
Cutting costs and consumption
“Electricity consumption is a large cost to venues,” confided Bacon. “Installing sensors so that corridors lights come on upon entry and having guest rooms on key card operated lights are two major ways to save on energy.”
Adding independent heat controls to meeting rooms, so only rooms in use are heated, is another smart energy-saving practice.
Using washing machines and dishwashers designed to use less water and energy are two critical ways to conserve. In addition, installing low-flow water taps and faucets, and toilets that flush with less water, help conserve both water and money.
Venues also focus on reducing and attempting to eliminate ‘one trip’ plastic. “We recently removed the small plastic straws from our daily smoothie trays,” said Tim Chudley, Managing Director of the SunDial Group. “We are gradually reducing the use of plastic water bottles. A recent review of our refuse contract has enabled us to switch to a contractor that provides a higher level of recycling without additional work for us, or our guests."
Creating a more eco-friendly venue
Some other green steps IACC encourages include:
- Implement double-sided printing and copying. Use scrap paper for notes and internal memos. Buy toner in recyclable cartridges and donate unused office supplies.
- Set up recycling services in meeting rooms for all items, including paper, plastic, metal, glass, cardboard, newspaper, fluorescent bulbs, toner cartridges, electronics, mobile phones and batteries.
- Use recyclable or reusable signage and name tags for conference groups.
- Replace bottled water with refillable bottles or containers that are refilled on-site.
- Use biodegradable/recyclable containers or install bulk dispensers for soaps, shampoos and creams in bathrooms.
- Install reduced water flow faucets and toilets.
- Use energy efficient washers and dryers to reduce water usage, fill to recommended capacity and wash in the coolest temperature possible.
- Incorporate water-saving landscaping by planting drought-resistant plants, trees, shrubs and/or native landscaping to keep watering to a minimum.
- Ask suppliers to source products with little or no packaging, purchase in bulk to reduce packaging or to take back packaging for recycling or reuse.
- Replace hazardous materials, pesticides and herbicides with more environmentally friendly products and solutions.
- Inspect all doors and windows for proper seals and maintain properly to prevent heating and cooling loss. Undergo energy audits with a plan to implement recommendations and reduce carbon footprint.
- Use alternative energy sources when possible (solar, wind, geo-thermal, or hydro) and consider hybrid, bio-fuel or electric vehicle options when purchasing company vehicles.
- Implement a "No Idle Policy" that requires all vehicle operators, delivery trucks, shuttles, etc. to turn off their engines prior to leaving their vehicles.
- Purchase food and beverage supplies locally wherever feasible to avoid long-distance transportation, and source local produce in season with menu selections that take advantage of local growing seasons. Serve fish from sustainable fishing lists.
- Avoid using disposable food and beverage service wares whenever possible, and use corn or potato-based compostable plates, cups and cutlery when reusable isn’t possible.
The Green Star certification process
IACC introduced its environmental sustainability certification, known as the IACC Green Star Global Sustainability Program, eight years ago.
“We looked at other green certifications and none were completely relevant to conference venues,” said Bacon. “Many tended to be hotel focused or quite basic with little detail on the meeting facilities and service to conference delegates. Our sustainability certification is venue focused and relevant to the meeting business.”
The IACC Green Star certification process can take up to three months for members initially, and they must complete a bi-annual certification to remain current. Today, approximately one third of members have a Green Star certification, but only had a handful attain the highest level: platinum certification, which requires meeting 100% of the 60 criteria.
“I think the most powerful benefit of the IACC Green Star sustainability program has been the culture of continuous improvement that it has generated in our teams,” said Chudley. “Because we know that every idea to improve our performance can contribute to our standing under the program and because the accreditation is so valued by our teams, we have now created an expectation that any and all proposals are welcomed. This has resulted in many small steps which together add up to a continuous journey towards Sundial becoming ever more sustainable.”
Signing the IACC Code of Sustainability demonstrates a level of commitment that far surpasses the adoption of other “green practices.” Rather, it is an affirmation that the property is actively engaged in a holistic sustainability program that is woven into the fabric of the company from top to bottom.
More about Green-Star certification>