Green Meetings: It’s Easy to Be Green, When You Have the Right Tools

by Tara Swords

This article originally appeared in One+ Magazine.

These are the resources to turn to when you’re planning and executing sustainable events.

You know how easy it is to waste resources if you’ve ever had a backyard barbecue. Maybe you print invitations. You stock up on bottles of water that people half-drink. The thought of all those dirty dishes, silverware and linens leads you to the paper aisle in the grocery store, and soon you’re spending a lot of money on what will eventually generate a small mountain of trash.
Expand the size of your gathering to a few hundred or thousand people, and it’s easy to see why the meeting and event industry has a reputation of waste.

Things are changing, however, and meeting professionals shouldn’t ignore sustainability practices, says Amy Spatrisano, principal of MeetGreen and co-founder of the Green Meeting Industry Council.
“If you truly want to be working at the peak of your game and be on top of what’s going on in your game, you have no choice but to engage in sustainability,” Spatrisano said.

Experts at the forefront of the CSR and sustainable meeting and event movement say they hope green knowledge will soon become a competitive differentiator in the industry. People who know how to plan and execute sustainable events also know how to save money, says Amanda Gourgue, CMP, and founder of Meeting Revolution, a company that specializes in environmentally friendly meetings. And saving money—in any kind of economy—is always a competitive differentiator.

“There’s still that myth that green meetings cost more to do. I wonder, how is that possible? If you’re not doing transportation or bottled water, those are cost-saving measures right off the bat,” Gourgue said. “If you’re reusing signage, that’s cost savings.”

Green best practices go far beyond transportation and beverage costs: site selection, exhibit design, accommodations and many other aspects of events are all potential areas to reduce waste and cut expenses. But many professionals don’t know where to start learning about those possibilities.

“There’s still a lot of misinformation and confusion in the marketplace,” Spatrisano said. “People don’t really know how to start, and they resist change. When you’re really busy and trying to create things with fewer resources, the thought of having to do something different—you don’t tend to do that.”

Fortunately, plenty of education on the subject is available to meeting professionals, much of it for free or at low-cost. Education isn’t aimed strictly at newbies, either. As Gourgue notes, best practices are developing and evolving all the time.

“A lot of us in the CSR part of the meeting industry have seen that people have green fatigue because they’ve heard about it so much or they think they’re experts,” Gourgue said. “That’s frustrating, because no one is an expert. We can all learn about it, and things change daily.”
Here’s a roundup of opportunities to learn more about planning and executing sustainable, responsible events.

ONLINE
MPI offers webinars and research on CSR topics–supported by the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). In January, MPI released The State of Corporate Social Responsibility, detailing how the meeting industry must apply CSR practices to everyday business practices and investment in long-term change. “Executives who move away from the short-term will improve business performance. Learn how innovation doesn’t need to be challenging.”

Multiple MPI white papers have also addressed pressing issues in meeting and event CSR, including two supplements to The State of Corporate Social Change: Fuel for Change (CSR drivers) and Need Rules Apply (CSR regulation).

The drivers of CSR blend personal values with business sense. MPI’s CSR research results show that these drivers range from strong personal beliefs in ethical practices to commercial advantage in stronger relationships with communities, suppliers and stakeholders. Find out what these drivers mean to you, and the future of meetings in this supplement to MPI’s Phase 2 research.

A recent free webinar focused on the APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Event Standards. The APEX/ASTM standards (most of which are now available) offer the industry’s first set of standards for environmentally sustainable meetings. Spatrisano says the standards will finally provide professionals with an objective way to assess sustainability and help prevent people from advertising wasteful events as “green.”

“Everybody will be starting with the same frame of reference, and that will avoid ‘green washing,’” Spatrisano said. Gourgue encourages professionals to adopt the new APEX/ASTM standards as soon as they can or face the possibility of government regulations. “Our industry is pretty wasteful, so it will be something we self-regulate or [regulation] will be forced upon us,” she said. “I don’t know whether people have thought that far out, but it’s something we have to think about or we will have people telling us how to do our jobs.”

With social media, it’s easy to integrate education into your daily routine. Let the experts curate the news and trends that matter to the industry, and all you have to do is follow along. On Twitter follow socially responsible event pros such as @AVGirlMidori and @rog_simons. On Facebook, “like” green groups such as the USGBC, Meeting Revolution and MeetGreen.
In an effort to provide the clearest and most valuable reporting of sustainability measurements, MPI’s Sustainable Event Management Tool (SEMT) is being upgraded to the Evolution platform this month! With Evolution, the SEMT enables you to measure and report the environmental and social impact of your events better now than ever before.

Launched in 2010, the SEMT was developed by the Triple Bottom Line Alliance with a founding investment through the MPI Foundation by IHG, and guided by MPI’s CSR advisory council with members from Oracle, the United Nations, IHG and Microsoft and in collaboration with the Green Meeting Industry Council.
The tool is free to all MPI members.

IN PERSON
Large MPI events, such as the World Education Congress and the European Meetings & Events Conference, offer all level of CSR education and opportunities for attendees to “test drive” and experiment with new and innovative options. Your local MPI chapter provides ample education opportunities. Check your chapter’s upcoming events schedule for up-to-date happenings.

The GMIC holds an annual Sustainable Meetings Conference, a four-day event that offers different educational tracks and workshops on subjects that range from the theoretical (“The Evolution of Green Meeting Design”) to the practical (“Green Strategies that Create Business and Attendee Value”).

The annual Opportunity Green Business Conference is not aimed at meeting professionals specifically, but it’s open to anyone interested in the intersection of sustainable practices and business profits. The 2012 event unfolds Nov. 8-9 in Los Angeles.

IN PRINT
Gourgue recommends three books to help meeting professionals understand the value of responsible events.
Simple Steps to Green Meetings and Events, by Amy Spatrisano and Nancy J. Wilson, provides basic education and practical steps to inject sustainability into events at every stage of the process.

Saving Green by Going Green, by Nancy Zavada, by Amy Spatrisano and Shawna McKinley, makes the case that green meetings save companies money and provides step-by-step instructions for saving money.
Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value and Build Competitive Advantage, by Daniel C. Esty and Andrew S. Winston, gives companies a roadmap for satisfying the need to be sustainable while meeting bottom-line demands. One+

Certified Expertise
The LEED system (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an internationally recognized standard for rating buildings on the sustainability of their design, construction and operation. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) created the LEED system in 1998, and it later established the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) to provide professionals with a way to test and certify their knowledge of the LEED system and its principles.

Today, more meeting professionals are seeking LEED credentials to attest to their understanding of sustainability issues, particularly when it comes to venue selection. Professionals interested in a LEED credential have several options.

LEED Green Associate. The GBCI offers the LEED Green Associate credential for professionals who support green building design, construction and operations. This entry-level credential requires an exam and fees of up to $250 ($200 for members).

LEED AP with specialty. The GBCI offers five LEED specialty certifications in different areas, including homes, neighborhood development, operations and maintenance and interior and building design and construction. Applicants must sit for two exams: the Green Associate exam and the specialty exam. Fees can reach up to $450.

Amanda Gourgue, CMP, LEED AP, and founder of Meeting Revolution, a company that specializes in environmentally friendly meetings, says the LEED designation sets her apart because it’s not predominant in the industry.

“I use my LEED to help educate people on what it is and how to use it within the industry,” Gourgue said. “The CMP and CMM are so well known in the industry, it is great to have something else behind my name. It is a great conversation starter.”

Exam preparation resources for LEED exams are available from the USGBC and third-party providers.
GET YOUR GREEN ONLINE
Knowledge of CSR and “green” is available 24/7, free to MPI members, at Professional Development OnDemand.

Preview of The Complete Guide to Greener Meetings and Events
In January, author Sam Goldblatt offered an online discussion of his latest book, the first major textbook on sustainable event management. Check out this webinar to learn about the theory of sustainable meeting management, the contributions from ecotourism and other markets and more.

APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Event Standards
In this webinar, Katherine Manfredi, CMM, senior director, strategic event management & CSR for Conference Partners Inc., explains the format and structure for the standards, identifies how the standards will benefit you, your organization and your stakeholders and more.

Decarbonating Your Events
In this recorded session, Mariela McIlwraith and Elizabeth Henderson, of industry consultancy Meeting Change, help meeting pros learn the science behind an event carbon footprint, understand how they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and debunk some green myths.

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