Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Confessions...Catering to My Whims

Choosing vendors for our green wedding required the same due diligence as any other project with request for proposals, interviews, checking references, etc. But even here in “green” Portland, my questions about environmental policies were too often met with an awkward silence. They had no idea what I was asking. This, of course, offered a perfect opportunity to educate and then continue my search. Deciding on the caterer is one of the best examples of our vendor selection process.

Looking over the websites of Portland’s “sustainable caterers” gave me a great deal of information even before the initial contact. One showed delightful photos of appetizers on #6 black plastic dinner plates, another offered farmed salmon as a sustainable menu option and still another talked about eco-friendly service being available for an extra charge. It was easy to rule those caterers out.

Once I had my list, I sent an RFP to the top candidates asking questions about recycling/composting, food miles and food bank donations in addition to menu options and cost. I was looking for the full package.

The choice quickly became clear.

During the interviews I reviewed the menu options and asked specifically what “fresh, seasonal vegetables” would be served? “Well, I won’t know until the week of your wedding,” Chef Doug Lum of Crave Catering told me, “that is when I see what has just been harvested locally.” SOLD! Now don’t get me wrong, I never overlooked the critical factors of their ability to produce the event on time and on budget. But Chef’s response tells me I can have my cake and eat it too!

Friday, August 27, 2010

27,000 Trees

The number of trees toilet paper wipes out every single day.

(source: homenews, September.10)

27,000 trees every single day down the toilet. Sad. I hope you will join me in ensuring that each and every meeting venue and hotel we use is purchasing toilet paper with recycled content. The higher the number the better!

Monday, August 23, 2010

What The Heck?

I am not sure where to start…

Today I received a package from a company in Florida which is about as far from Portland as you can get in the continental United States--a distance of 3,088.5 miles.

I did not request this package.

The package contained 4 individual bottles of water and some glossy literature.

I do not drink bottled water nor do I allow it at any of my meetings or events.

The glossy (most likely not sustainable) literature and decals explain that this water was bottled in America and is better because it will not be shipped a long distance.

More than 3088.5 miles?

The glossy literature tells me the bottles are compostable.

Our office has a compost bin however it only takes table scraps and yard clippings. Our city does not have curbside composting so I have no way of composting these bottles even if I were to drink the water.

But, again, I don’t drink bottled water.

The copy tells me this is “the most environmentally friendly water ever.”

Shipped from Florida in a one-time use bottle is better than me taking my glass to the tap 20 feet away? I am confused.

Their sales pitch says, “Be an environmentalist without even thinking about it.”

Clearly they didn’t.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Confessions...First Class Flowers

Weddings require a lot of beautiful flowers. They just do. I know cut flowers have a variety of environmental issues associated with them such as how are they grown, how far away are they grown, and what happens to them after an event which usually doesn’t last more than a few hours. But I just love them in every shape, form and smell. I had stumbled upon another green wedding decision point.

Our 1940’s nightclub theme (think Casablanca) lends itself to potted plants-- uplit for drama-- with shadows playing on the walls. The potted palms can be rented locally and returned to see many more events reducing the need for cut flowers. Perfect answer.

That only left the centerpieces. I wanted to use live orchid plants but couldn’t find any low enough to fit under the silver table lamps. After much deliberation, our best design was to use a single orchid bud—minimal cut flowers while still having a dramatic effect.

Next stop, a local vendor where we found the ideal orchid that was popular in the 1940’s, would add color and mystery to the table and could be easily donated. As I was about to place my order she said, “Wonderful, we will fly these in from New Zealand for your wedding.” My heart sank. I had visions of these delicate blossoms flying first-class in a 747 drinking champagne and burning fossil fuels by the ton during their 9,218 mile trip to Portland. I just couldn’t bring myself to order them. We talked about other flower options, but none had the same effect and I left without a plan.

I had chosen the right vendor though, because several days later she called with the news she had found a grower right here on the Oregon Coast who could supply the exact same flowers. She had taken it upon herself to research possibilities and as a bonus found a local grower for her future orders as well!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Confessions From a Green Meeting Planner's Wedding

After decades of being a single mother raising two children, I accepted my sweetheart’s marriage proposal and we are going to tie the knot next month. We decided a festive celebration was in order to share our happiness with friends and family. Thus began the planning process for two people in the event business--with the groom's theatre background thrown in for good measure.

Our vision is to transform an old building into a swanky 1940’s nightclub complete with tiered dinner seating, silver lamps adorning intimate tables and a cabaret show. Zoot suits and padded shoulders optional.

While I usually maintain this blog for business-related green meetings and events discussion, over the next month I will digress to share a few personal stories about planning our event. The journey to creating a sustainable wedding is requiring me to make sometimes difficult choices—not unlike those we all make when planning any type of gathering. But this time it is personal.

The first problematic choice was whether or not to even send an invitation. While my eco-sense told me to develop a wedding website and evite guests, my sense of elegance said a beautiful printed invitation was in order. Ah, the guilt! I lecture people daily about using electronic resources for all their event communications and now here I was about to turn my back on that very advice for my wedding. How could I do it? After much internal discussion, I compromised. Invitations were printed and mailed but using the paper with the highest pedigree possible for sustainability. In addition, the invitations didn’t include any inserts or extra cards to be mailed back—RSVPs would be electronic.

One decision down. Next up, how am I going to justify and then calculate the carbon footprint of flowers grown in New Zealand and flown first class to Portland?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Data In...Results Out!

Green meeting practices are moving towards mainstream, new standards are appearing and measurement and reporting have become the name of the game. Our work required a more robust calculator to assess client’s meetings and events. It was time to revise the MeetGreen® Calculator and we did just that.

Today we launch the updated Calculator which integrates the proposed APEX/ASTM Green Meetings and Events Standards and the British Standard for Sustainable Events (BS8901) for your use.

We've expanded the tool to assess over 160 event management practices and measurable outcomes related to sustainability across the following the ten key categories, including aspects of BS 8901 for Sustainable Events and proposed APEX/ASTM Green Meetings and Events Standards:

Audio Visual
Destination Selection
Meeting Venue
Food & Beverage
Exhibition Production
Communications and Marketing
Onsite Office

Several of the reports included with the MeetGreen® Calculator show your conference data compared against other events. A new feature allows you to sort this information by the size of your event.

Long story short, if you are interested in measurement and need a tool to assist your reporting, take a look, try the demo and see if it works as well for you as it does for us. http://tools.meetgreen.com/calculator_background

Monday, August 9, 2010

BS 8901: One Year Later

Last summer at this time we were finalizing our reporting for BS8901 Certification. At that time, this was posted on our internal Wiki:

"BS 8901 provides guidance in the form of easy to understand practical information designed to assist the user to implement the requirements and those in event management to manage their environmental, financial and social risks and impacts spanning all aspects of event management."

It is one year later and as I have blogged, our commitment to BS8901 has had a phenomenal positive impact on our organization. But it hasn’t always been easy. In the spirit of transparency, here’s what I found on our internal Wiki just today:

“BS 8901 is a complicated, difficult to understand approach to managing events sustainably. Or at least that is what we all thought when we first got into considering if we wanted MeetGreen to become a BS 8901-certified company. Frankly, we still feel BS 8901 is challenging to understand and probably can think of other things that are a lot more interesting to do, such as reviewing 200 page Banquet Event Orders.

But! We have also come to realize there are business benefits to standardizing and systemizing what we do at MeetGreen. Standards of practice can help us do what we do in a more consistent way for clients. Standards also help us duplicate our approach to event management in our emerging virtual environment that has staff working remotely in different corners of the world. In addition standards help us show the return on investment we give our clients by requiring measurement and promoting service improvement. And in a pinch, it helps to know that if one of us won lotto and
took a permanent vacation to a small island in the South Pacific tomorrow that a team member could easily step into our place in a seamless way for our clients.

So this is what BS 8901 is all about: standardizing our event management practices. Making what we do systematic. "

Now about that lotto ticket...