With the next generation of meeting planners and attendees raised on the mantra of “reduce, reuse, and recycle,” greener meetings aren’t just hoped for, they are expected.
What happens to all the plastic name badges after a one-day meeting has seen its last PowerPoint slide? What about the 20-page print out in laminate that was handed to all attendees (instead of a digital PDF)? With more Americans worried about the climate crisis than ever before, the meeting industry must respond accordingly…especially as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has named meetings and events as the second most wasteful industry, after building and construction.
So it should come as no surprise then that there is currently a big push for events to become more sustainable in order to reduce the environmental impact they have on the host destination, as well as better align with the values of attendees (many Millennials and Gen-Zers now entering the workforce grew up with eco-conscious ideals, therefore don’t just hope for sustainability to be a part of their meeting program, they expect it). And that expectation is more than just adding recycling and compost bins where the lone trash can used to sit. To be truly sustainable, a meeting must demonstrate considerations of its environmental impact at every stage of planning and execution. If you’re a corporate meeting planner, hotelier, or vendor reading this, we know that it can seem like a daunting task. Luckily, there are some great ways to begin greening your meetings.
Setting up for Success
The first step to a greener meeting is choosing an eco-friendly meeting environment, which includes your lodging accommodations and any off-site venues during the program. When exploring property options, ask them about their sustainability initiatives – do they feature energy-efficient lighting, recycled materials, or have other programs or efforts in place (i.e. no straws or plastic cups or cutlery in the rooms)? Most true sustainable conscious venues will even have a page on their website dedicated to revealing such efforts, like Willows Lodge, an 84-room property nestled in the hills of Woodinville Wine Country, Washington. Committed to environmental stewardship, the resort is built from recycled materials (the main structure of the lodge was constructed from timber salvaged from the Port of Portland in Oregon), but it also features a slew of other measures taken to be eco-conscious, including energy and water conservation, sheet and towel re-use programs, recycling and composting, sustainable landscaping, and much more
If you have people coming from different areas of the country or abroad to attend a meeting, another handy rating tool is the Civil Aviation Organization’s Green Meetings Calculator. This resource helps meeting planners take things – like take C02 emissions from work-related air travel – into consideration when choosing the meeting’s destination.
Source Food Locally
Any attendee will tell you that food is a big, and often a favorite, part of any meeting. And good news, the key to greening your meeting’s food and beverage options means embracing local options wherever possible on your menus. Not only does sourcing locally cut down on emissions from long-distance road or air travel, but the food and beverage options are often the most delicious choice because they feature fresh, seasonal produce that has been grown with care by the local agriculture industry. Then, after all your attendees have gotten their fill, donate any leftovers to the local soup kitchen — less food waste and less food insecurity.
The use of plastic utensils, Styrofoam containers, and excessive amounts of paper are all alarmingly common in the meeting and event industry. The conscientious use of materials during a meeting can make all the difference in reducing waste: Replace plastic utensils for ones made with biodegradable, recycled materials, or institute paperless check-in for when attendees arrive on-site (there are several great mobile apps and software to make paper a thing of the past, including Cvent OnArrival, Boomset, and Social Tables). And when you do have to use less-than-eco-friendly materials, reuse or recycle them wherever possible. For example, collect plastic name badges, signage, conference bags, or office supplies at the end of each meeting, and reuse them next time or even donate them to the venue to reuse in a future meeting.
Implement Green-Themed CSR Events during the Program
Green team building activities are one of the best ways to incorporate sustainable practices into a meeting, like volunteering to clean up a local park or green space in the host destination. For example, during 2017 FBN (Family Business Network) Global Summit, not only was there a system to collect lanyards and name badge holders at the end of the conference, but the organization also set up a tree legacy project during the conference, where attendees helped plant trees in Gran Canaria. By working sustainable efforts or outings into your program, it also shows that your part of an organization or company with a core value that includes a respect for the environment.