Thursday, December 27, 2012

Better Than an Apocalypse

The end of 2012 was destined to bring all sorts of surprises, but when the well-advertised Apocalypse failed to materialize, I gave up hope of seeing change.

I was premature, however, because the Meetings Focus East, January 2013 issue hit my desk today with news of Six Key Trends.  It seems a "State of Meetings" survey of more than 380 meeting planners by Destination Hotels & Resorts revealed that Number 2 on the list of trends was "Being green affects the bottom line."  Yes, meeting planners say they evaluate green practices as part of their booking decision.  In fact, 63% say eco-friendly practices are either somewhat or extremely important when choosing a venue.

Hotels and resorts are likely going to see an impact on securing future business through offering thoughtful, established programs with numbers this high.

Two of the other items on the list also have green components when you consider eating healthy, local food and community service activities as part of a team building adventure.

Change is upon us as the shift towards environmentally friendly meetings is stronger than ever as we move into 2013.  If your organization hasn't already embraced this change, take a look at how it will affect YOUR bottom line!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Not Worth Weighing

If this is the amount of recycling (and no landfill waste) left at the end of a three-day conference for 250 participants that's a "green meeting" in my book.  No certification or standard required.  All other conference materials were used, eaten, taken, donated or not ordered to begin with.

Congratulations to the

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Are You on the Transition Team?

"The world is changing 
and I am on the transition team." 

This is an exciting time to be on the transition team for meetings and events.  After years of meeting planning practices being fairly static, our world is being shaped by:

  • Technology
  • Hybrid events
  • Climate change 
  • Introverts finding their voice
  • Social media
  • Increased awareness of organizations' corporate citizenship
  • Sustainability
  • Sustained economic pressure
  • Globalization
  • Well-informed, involved attendees

So if you aren't on the transition team already, it's time to get involved.   Start today by tweeting about your event, develop an event disaster plan for severe weather, attend a hybrid event, save money through green practices, design your program with introverts in mind and include a CSR program in your next event.

Welcome to the team!

Note: Although I don't know who to attribute the quote above to, I am guessing it is the same person that said, "Honey, Normal is now just a setting on the dryer." 



Monday, November 12, 2012

Greener Meetings Held in 2012

The headline reads, "Is Green a Priority? Most Planners Have Stepped Up Conservation Efforts."  It is a headline that, five years ago, very few would have believed still newsworthy in 2012.  The greening of meeting practices was thought to be a fad that would soon disappear like registering by fax machine.  Yet, it has been the cover story this year for a significant number of meeting industry publications including the October issue of Meetings & Conventions Magazine.

The meetings industry continues to become more sustainable thanks to factors including cost savings and a big dose of organizations striving to appear as good corporate citizens.  In fact, according to the M&C research, 53% of respondents believe on-site conservation efforts are important to their meeting attendees.

When asked if their organization's meetings are greener now than they were two years ago, only 10% said not at all and 1% said they are even less green now, leaving an impressive 89% holding greener meetings.

53% either sometimes or always donate leftover food to charity, finally taking great strides to debunk the myth donating food is a liability issue for venues and caterers.

In an interesting twist, all but 27% are now willing to implement green meeting procedures that require more costs--athough I still maintain green meeting initiatives are either cost neutral or a cost savings on the total budget.

Facilities and hotels take note, 83% of respondents are aware their properties can be certified as environmentally responsible.  I would venture a guess, they will be asking for this certification as a part of the upcoming RFP process.

Note:  my thanks to Meetings & Conventions Magazine for providing this research and benchmarking our industries green meeting initiatives.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sustainability: What I Learned From Football

Trying to incorporate sustainable event practices into your meetings or organization? Take a hint from American football. Yes, football. 

While you know your goal is to be as green as possible, it is a long way to the end zone.  Here is a little advice straight from the coach's handbook...

  • Concentrate on the next 10 yards. Without incremental wins along the way, you can't reach the goal line.  
  • Use your special teams. Green teams filled with passionate individuals can often move things forward faster. 
  • When in doubt, punt. Sometimes the well-conceived plan just doesn't work. Consider all of your options.  
  • Take time to huddle. After a burst of enthusiastic success, gathering together to celebrate and redefine your strategy may be in order. 
  • Every player is essential. No team can win without everyone's full commitment in their area of expertise. Everyone in your organization should understand the sustainability initiatives and their role.
  • The best defense is a good offense.  By consistently working towards being a better corporate citizen, your organization will not be called upon to defend itself against questionable environmental or social practices.

Note: Football's chest pounding, butt slapping, and Gatorade dumping...optional!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hiding the Dirty Laundry

Call me crazy, but when I see a bin like this...

I leap to the conclusion that items placed in the correct slot will be recycled.  Not necessarily true!  Within days of  the greenwashing article I wrote being posted, I came across more "dirty laundry." 

Our client was using a property they held a meeting in several years before.  During the previous meeting, the property had recycled paper, plastic and glass.  Bins such as the one above were scattered throughout the meeting room level.  During the negotiation phase and the pre-con, we asked about recycling and they assured us "all the same systems are in place."

During the back-of-house tour, it became apparent there was no recycling area for the bottles and cans.  When I asked the staff about this, they reported it cost money to have the recycling company pick those up so they no longer recycled bottles and cans.  So sorry.

Yet, in their meeting areas, they still had bins marked as if recycling was occurring.  Attendees were carefully separating their trash and feeling good about helping out when, in fact, it all went to the landfill.  Outrageous!  Somehow, that isn't "all the same systems are in place" in my book and if I hadn't pressed the issue of a tour, I would have never known.

Sadly, meeting organizers are still required to perform due diligence to hold our vendors responsible and consumers are being misled.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Back of House Tour: Dealing with Food Waste

Touring back of house at the Grand Hyatt New York during the BSR2012 Conference, we had the opportunity to observe their sustainable practices.  Chef Nick Rutyna; Dimitrios Mantzouranis, Executive Steward; and Wan Yi Tang, Convention Services Manager, showed us the kitchen, back docks, purchasing and recycling areas.

One of their proudest moments was showing us this hard-working machine.

This is the end of the line for the dishwasher that takes the food from scraped plates, dehydrates the waste, and deposits it into a can for composting.  The scraps are picked up daily from the back dock (along with the compostable disposable cups used at the property).

Bottom line:  This unit has cut food waste down to 1/8th of its former volume.  With no charge in the city for compost hauling, they estimate a total cost savings of 35% from the waste hauling bill.  Not to mention the additional space now available on the small back dock which serves this very large hotel.

Their team is very excited about the environmental practices they have been able to put into place and look forward to continuing their work toward a greener tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Reduce Paper, Gain a Sponsorship Opportunity

Still trying to do away with the paper program for your conferences or events? When the BSR 2012 conference made the choice eliminate the full conference program, they went to a conference app.   Their app program is incredibly robust and has been very successful this year with a large percentage of participants using it to find sessions, learn about fellow attendees, schedule sessions, follow the social media and take polls.  The app can be downloaded to your computer, tablet, or smart phone.

If you don't have access to any of those, we have a solution...

This freestanding, secure unit holds a tablet with the conference app for guests to check.  It is also a highly-visible conference sponsorship opportunity as they are placed throughout the event.  I am not marketing these stands, but I am trying to sell you on reducing paper and gaining a sponsor.  Keep it in mind.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

No Recycling Bins? Problem Solved!

How many times have you been told that a facility can't provide front-of-house recycling because they just don't have enough bins?  More than a few would be my guess.  Well, here's a cool solution you can suggest the next time you hear that excuse.

photo of recycling sign by Nancy Zavada
Use nicely framed signs placed on the serving tray stands normally used for used plates and cups at banquet functions.  This worked well in action in both hallways and at meal functions.

Friday, October 19, 2012

First Class Tap Water

As a follow up to Shawna McKinley's blog post about ditching water bottles and using tap water at conferences, I offer the following photo:

This is one of the most pleasing displays I have seen of fresh, iced tap water set with real glasses.  I can't believe guests would prefer a plastic bottle that gurgles and pops when you take a drink.

Thanks to the DoubleTree by Hilton Spokane City Center for providing this sustainable water station.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Case Study: Back of House Tour

The Efficiency Connections Northwest Conference we manage is being held at the Doubletree by Hilton Spokane City Center.  One of the reasons it was chosen to host this conference, was the property's sustainable policies.

Today, we took a back of the house tour to see those practices first hand.   Leading the tour was Barry Wright, Director of Property Operations.  He was very proud of his team's accomplishments.  (Seen here posing in front of the compost bin with Jody Aldred, CSM).  Among those accomplishments is the facility being the first business in Spokane compost, paving the way for other city businesses.

Measuring up against the other "brand" properties is also an area of pride and I think you will agree when you see these statistics:

Monthly use of Spokane City Center (bold)  vs. the brand average (in parentheses)

Water:     193 gal/room   (207 gal/room)
Waste:     4 lbs/room  (12 lbs/room)
Energy:    52 KBtu/ft2  (110 kbtu/ft2)

Score:      220 (163 out of a possible 300)

The tour of the kitchen was especially impressive with composting and recycling bins next to ever work station.  They have learned the fewer steps the better for diversion. The Chef also has an herb garden and works to provide a menu of local ingredients.  We recommend the huckleberry pancakes!

Congratulations to the entire Doubletree by Hilton Spokane City Center team and thanks for making our job easier!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Attention CMPs: CEUs For Reading My Blog!

That's right, fellow meeting professionals. 

According to the October 2012 issue of PCMA Convene, if you read the article "CMP Series: Olympian Effort" and followup by reading this post about What's New in Green Meetings and the 2011 European Ecological Federation Sustainability Report you can apply for one hour of CEU credit. Instructions on  how to apply for the credit are included on page 76 of the Convene article.

What a handy, cost-effective way to earn credit towards your CMP.  Great idea, PCMA!

Photo credit: PCMA

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

5 Step Waste Management Plan for Events

In case you weren't able to attend Amy Spatrisano's presentation at IMEX America about strategies for waste management at events, I thought I would summarize the key elements so you can begin formulating your own waste management plans.

She recommended a five step approach to dealing with conference waste:

Step 1:  Avoid waste
Step 2:  Set a goal
Step 3:  Make a plan
Step 4:  Verify Practices
Step 4:  Write and talk about it

Let's take a closer look at "Step 3: Make a plan."

Start by asking the facility how they will manage the waste from your event.  How many waste streams are possible at their venue?  Do they recycle paper, cardboard, plastic, cans, glass, kitchen grease?  Are they able to compost and if so, is this front of house or back of house composting?  Will the rest go to the landfill or do they also have a donation stream.

Once you are assured they have the infrastructure to complete the tasks, there are some additional facts you will need to set up your plan.  Ask if they have staff who manage the waste inhouse AND if they have an outside provider.  You will also need to know if you need to supply staff or volunteers to assist with the process.  Find out who will be training both staff and volunteers to assist attendees with the often-confusing waste stream sorting.

Your role in this as the event organizer is also to understand how waste will be disposed of properly.  Different cities and different venues all have their own systems. Learn as much as you can about the system to help you prepare.  You may also need to be willing to support the facility with additional resources to provide the diversion rate you want.  Depending on what those resources are, this is usually a sponsorship opportunity.

After you have finalized all of the details into a written plan for your event, communicating it to everyone becomes your next move.  Who's everyone?  Meeting room cleaning crew, facility cleaning crew, general service contractor, waste hauler, catering staff, attendees, volunteers and your own staff.  Cast a wide net for success.

With all of the elements in place, you can sit back and watch it happen.  Well, realistically, you will probably won't be sitting back but instead be doing "Step 4: Verify," but that is another blog for another day!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Shout Sustainability From Your Website

Want all of your sponsors, attendees and exhibitors to know what green meeting policies you have in place for them?  

Don't miss the opportunity to educate and enroll them by putting information right on the conference website.  Key stakeholders are excited about the opportunity to attend a conference AND feel good about their environmental impact.  You have done all of the work to make it happen, why not share it with them and the world?  It may also provide you with a competitive advantage if prospective participants are shopping around.

Need some help deciding how a sustainable meeting page might look like for your organization?

These pages come in all shapes and sizes with some even offering Sustainability Reports from their past events.  Instead of telling you all about how to design one and what should be included, I am proudly sharing what a few of our upcoming clients have done.  Pictures (in this case, web pages) speak louder than words. 

2012 Net Impact Conference:

2012 Business for Social Responsibility Conference:

2012 IMEX America:

Efficiency Connections Northwest:

Look for our team at any of these upcoming events and we will gladly share our sustainability story!

Monday, October 1, 2012

ABCs of Sustainable Meetings

A Alternative Fuels - Includes a wide range of fuel types including biofuels derived from corn, so and recycled cooking oils, ethanol blended fuel, biodiesel, bioalcohol, etc. 

B Biodegradable - Capable of being broken down by natural processes, such as bacterial action (hint: always ask how long it takes to break down and if the product has been certified).

C Carbon Offset - A way of counteracting the carbon emitted when the use of fossil fuel causes greenhouse gas emissions. Offsets commonly involve investing in projects such as renewable energy, tree planting and energy efficiency projects. 

D Diversion Rate - The percentage of waste materials diverted from traditional disposal such as landfilling or incineration to be recycled, composted or re-used. 

 ...and on and on through the rest of the alphabet soup of sustainable meetings.  Green meeting practices often come with a whole new set of words to master. Like me, you probably don't have an environmental science degree and want an easy solution to this challenge.  

We've gotcha covered.  After constantly adding to and updating our glossary over the years, we recently published a new edition.  There are now over 500 words relating to meeting planning, CSR and sustainable events.

Please use our glossary

U Will be so happy you did!


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Need Help With Green Meetings? We've Got Your Back

When nearly 1,200 meeting professionals registered for the Meeting Focus webinar, "Sustainable Meetings: Going Green the Easy Way," I knew their was a demand for basic information.  During my presentation, I took a poll to confirm my suspicions.

Answering the question, "What are you already doing about green meetings?" the respondents replied:

14.88%     Have a sustainability policy
23.72%     Request the same minimum green practices each time
 7.91%      Measure and report on their green practices
53.49%     Nothing yet, just getting started

Great news!  Look how many meeting and event organizers are getting started putting sustainable practices in place.  

I urge those of you beginning to learn about green meetings not to be overwhelmed and give up when reading about APEX/ASTM Standards, ISO 20121, GRI Reporting, or the UN Global Compact.   The good news is that it is easier than ever before to get started making your events more sustainable.  There is now a framework for what to request, vendors who are able to fulfill those requests, templates, forms, forums and an even an organization (Green Meeting Industry Council) devoted to supporting your efforts.

If you haven't already watched the webinar, it would be a helpful place to start.  The information should alleviate your concerns and give you some simple steps and resources to get you going.  You might also want to check out the information and local events of  GMIC .  Additionally, please don't hesitate to post questions to this blog, I will  happily answer you.

Remember you are not alone and do not have to reinvent the wheel.  If I have learned anything doing this work, it is that we have a strong community of passionate, committed, amazing individuals ready to share what they have learned. 

Those of you who have been working with green meeting practices for a while, have a policy, measure and report, look around and find someone to mentor.  Share your insights, teaching is the best way to learn.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Are Things STILL What They Used to Be?

"Oh, mercy mercy me
 Oh, things ain't what they used to be
 No, no
 Where did all the blue sky go?
 Poison is the wind that blows
 From the north, east, south, and sea

 Oh, mercy mercy me
 Oh, things ain't what they used to be
 No, no
 Oil wasted on the oceans and upon our seas
 Fish full of mercury

 Oh, mercy mercy me
 Oh, things ain't what they used to be
 No, no
 Radiation in the ground and in the sky
 Animals and birds who live nearby are dying

 Oh, mercy mercy me
 Oh, things ain't what they used to be
 What about this overcrowded land?
 How much more abuse from man can you stand?"

I was in high school when Marvin Gaye wrote this sorrowful song.  Back then, I listened to it over and over again with a growing concern for our planet.  This morning, I heard it on my way back from vacation.  Just as poignant as it was in 1971, the song reminded me that all these years later, our work is still not done. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Eliminate Food Packaging for Your Events

If you have committed to requesting and serving food and beverages in bulk whenever possible, this blog's for you.

Today I offer easy tips on how to accomplish your goal:
  •  Ask the caterer to provide condiments in bulk. What exactly does this mean? Milk in creamers instead of little plastic "moo juice" cups, sugar in covered bowls instead of paper wrappers and and butter on a plate without a foil wrapper. Doesn't that sound more elegant anyway?
  • Request fruit be served whole on breaks. We have found a significant cost savings by switching to whole fruit as the labor costs are much lower than sliced fruit. Guests like the "comfort food" aspect of eating fruit this way. 
  • Serve pitchers of lemonade and iced tea for afternoon breaks instead of individually bottled soft drinks. This is a huge cost savings for meeting organizers and also saves in cans and bottles. 
  • Ask for yogurt to be served in large bowls so guests may spoon it into pretty glass bowls instead of the usual plastic container and foil lid. 
  • Request snacks and cookies be made fresh and served on platters. Not only do they taste better, you will save money as guests are less likely to grab a handful for later. 
  • Ask participants not to use room service, but to dine in the restaurant instead. If you are footing the bill, the reason may be financial. We are seeing a growing trend where companies will no longer pay for this guest service. Also think of all the tiny, individual containers which arrive on the tray. 
  • Use large pitchers or "bubblers" instead of individual bottled water. I won't go into the lecture here (you are welcome), just a friendly reminder. Save oodles of money and your corporate image too! 

These ideas should get you started and you can add your own each time you place a catering order. Don't forget to ask for and document your cost savings.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Should We Go Hybrid?

photo of a jet stream by Nancy Zavada
Hybrid meetings are here to stay.  It is time for organizations and planners to stop fighting so hard to "save" face-to-face meetings, there is room for both.

You already have the core competencies required to successfully execute virtual meetings such as program design, speaker recruitment, logistical organization and sponsor enrollment. All that is required is learning a new platform and some careful consideration about the audience and how best to engage them. The economic and environmental savings are considerable and will make you a hero in your organization.

Here are some questions to ask yourself and your key stakeholders we you begin designing your next event:

Are our attendees tech savvy?
Do they tend to be introverted or extroverted?
Do our attendees live in rural areas making it difficult to travel to the meeting?
Is the additional time and expense spent on travel worth the result we expect to achieve?
Are we trying to build consensus and community or is this an educational program?
How will this meeting impact the environment and how can we minimize that impact?

For a case study about the who is best served by these formats, check out "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Think Composting Won't Save You Money. Think Again.

A report, entitled "The Composition of Waste Disposed by the UK Hospitality Industry" estimates that over 3.4 million tonnes of waste is generated by hotels, pubs and restaurants every year. The report, published by the Waste and Resources Action Programme, says detailed research shows nearly 80% of this could be recycled with food waste representing a "particular opportunity." The Hospitality Industry can play a leading role in the US as well, but it means change and we sometimes struggle with that.

Take for instance, Portland, Oregon, where in 2011 we instituted a home composting program to capture food waste. It is hauled away with our yard debris--weekly.  Our landfill service is now every other week. While some of my neighbors have embraced and adapted to the change, others are fighting it as if garbage is one of our unalienable rights. Seriously, folks, it is food waste!

Thanks to this new policy, Portland's landfill waste decreased 44% in the first quarter alone.

Imagine your meeting venue reducing it's waste hauling bill by 44% in one quarter, substantial savings right off the bottom line.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Come Out With Your Sporks Up!

"Justin Beiber doesn't make a ceramic birthday party plate, so here's your paper plate.  
Deal with it!" 

This is a direct quote from my sister as she was handing me a piece of cake for my niece's Justin Beiber themed birthday party and a piece of her mind.  She also shared that she had already removed the plastic "sporks" from the table prior to my arrival.

Just another day in the life of the Eco-Police.  In my defense, I don't believe I am too militant about my my environmental views with my family.   They do read my blog and my books and know what MeetGreen is all about.  Thus, they are usually proudly telling me what they did to use the Earth's resources wisely--without being asked.   I try to live my life sustainably and not get into my loved one's business.  It is after all, their business. 

Okay, I will admit one time I did go on a bit of a rampage about virgin toilet paper after I took a walk through a logging clear-cut on the Oregon Coast.

Then there was one time when I did make a bit of a stink traveling through Illinois and the take-out restaurant put my sub-sandwich in a little polystyrene coffin.  Not only was it unsustainable, but the sandwich flopped around inside spilling its contents and would have been far better wrapped in a piece of paper.  

And yes, I do often ask Starbucks if they have any fair-trade coffee brewed (hint: sadly, the answer is usually no, they only have it available in packages).

Perhaps somewhere along the line, my work splashed over into my personal life and I became the family Eco-Police.  When you are passionate about your work, I guess it happens.

How about you, my fellow green professionals?  Does your family hide the plastic sporks when you come to dinner?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Event Recycling 101

Recycling is the final option before the landfill and one that can still have an impact on your economic bottom line.  It is essential to the environmental bottom line and cannot be stressed enough.  It is also becoming one of the easiest initiatives to request and implement.

Consider how much money you can save on waste hauling charges.  Traditionally, show organizers are charged for hauling away waste from the event.  Your first haul may be free, and then the rest are typically charged at the local rate.  This charge can be from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on where the venue is located.  Avoid paying this fee by both reducing what is brought onsite and increasing the percentage of materials recycled.

The Top Two Tips to make your recycling program a success are:

  1. Choose a destination with a recycling infrastructure in place, this is a key decision that will make your work implementing a recycling program much easier.  During the request for proposal process ask the recycling questions, tour the facility, learn what is involved and what is possible.  It is possible to set up a recycling system in a facility or city that currently doesn't have one, but it is much more time consuming.  And none of us have any extra time, right?
  2. Use volunteers to maximize recycling efforts.  Managing the waste stream can be complex.  For the participant in a hurry to dispose of an item, very difficult indeed. One way to significantly increase your event's recycling numbers is to use "green angels" stationed by the recycling area to assist people with selecting the right bin.  Statistics and experience show us their impact, over and over again.  Sponsoring these volunteers is also a great sponsorship opportunity for many organizations who want their name associated with "feel good, look good!"

Photo courtesy of UUA General Assembly.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ideas to Reduce Box Lunch Packaging

photo of polystyrene container by MeetGreen
By now you know that serving food in bulk saves money and the environment.  Caterers we work with estimate the savings to be between 50% and 60% for serving bulk condiments instead of individually packaged. 

What happens if you need to serve box lunches?  Sometimes it is just a necessity, but there are always options.  Start by coming up with a creative way to replace the container.  One event employed sponsored carpenters aprons for a container. Another had all the items out on a banquet table with bags available if needed, but most people just grabbed a sandwich and an apple and off they went.

Try to steer away from as much individual packaging as possible. Set out the sandwiches on a buffet and have participants select their sandwich, put mustard, mayo, etc. on them before wrapping them up.  The bonus for guests, is they get to have only their favorite condiments.   Cookies and whole fruit don't require packaging and also don't require utensils.

You get the idea, now meet with the chef and get creative.  Ask the caterer to pass along some of the savings by lowering the cost of the meal.

Excerpt from Saving Green by Going Green

Friday, July 27, 2012

Consider YOUR Source

Think it doesn't matter where you source your event promotional items from?  Ask the US Olympic Committee and think again.  When word leaked out about the uniforms being "Made in China," the media world went crazy with bad publicity.  My Google search today revealed pages upon pages of links to stories about how thoughtless it was of the Committee. 

A little bit of due diligence by this esteemed group could have resulted in a wonderful news story about how "Made in America" products were being worn by the athletes winning medals for our country.  Imagine the photo op of the seamstress watching the Olympics and rooting for the individual wearing the uniform she lovingly sewed.  Instead, look at the firestorm of media that has resulted.

The Canadian Olympic Committee apparently took these steps and are able to report 85% of their uniforms were made in their country.  They are already winners in their nation's eyes.

Don't think for a minute the promotional products we select for the our events won't have a backlash.  Maybe not today and maybe not to this degree, but soon and it will impact on your organization's image. Count on it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Contagious Enthusiasm

"We just can't help it. Once we got started on green practices, we keep asking ourselves and each other, 'What's next?', 'What else can we do?'"   Grace Lial, Director of Guest Services at the DoubleTree by Hilton - Portland, was simply beaming as she described their latest ideas.  Grace wasn't telling us this because it is the party line or for promotional reasons, but because she was so very proud of their ingenuity and accomplishments she wanted to share them with us.

What started as an impromptu visit to the property turned into a great learning opportunity for our new employee at MeetGreen as well as our seasoned planners.  Sometimes we think we have seen it all, but in less than 30 minutes, we had to admit we haven't.  Here are some of the innovative ideas we discovered during our short visit:

In-room composting.  Guests are now able to compost right in their sleeping rooms and avoid putting items into their waste or recycling bins.  Housekeepers empty and clean these bins during their regular rounds several times daily, so smell is not a problem.

Digital newspapers.  After much discussion about what to do with all of the unread USA Today newspapers stacking up outside guests doors, the Portland property worked with the brand office to find a solution.  In turn, by this office enrolling the publisher to find a solution, the hotel now has a system to provide digital versions of the news for guests.  This solution has been adopted across the chain, thanks to the Portland property.

Digital mass transit monitor.  The property being on a light-rail line is great, but it is even better when the monitor next to the front door tells you what bus/rail lines are available in the vicinity and when the next scheduled stop will be.  You can stand inside, out of the rain, and learn that the next train headed for the convention center and downtown will be arriving in 18 minutes.  The monitor is synched up with the Tri-Met system for constant updating.

These initiatives were new to me in my travels and I was impressed.  What really impressed me, however, was the pride and excitement of the employees in telling their sustainable story.  A story they are living, breathing and writing each day.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Community Sole

photo of Portland Street by Nancy Zavada

It was a beautiful weekend in Portland, so when I parked my car after work on Friday, I decided to leave it there and walk for the next few days.  My weekend was a busy one, but walk I did.  Here's a list of all the places I visited on foot within 1/2 mile of my house:

  • Farmers Market
  • Movie
  • Thrift Store
  • Antique Mall
  • Restaurants (twice)
  • Grocery Store
  • Pet Store
  • Book Store
  • Pharmacy
  • Post Office
  • Bank (thanks to my other destinations)
Sure, walkability is an environmentally responsible strategy, but I was doing it for the social benefits of being in my community and the pure fun of exploring the world on my feet.  The same way I like to explore other cities. Isn't that what we want for our meeting attendees too when they visit the conference city?  A walkable conference community.

Note:  I took this photo of my street because I loved the carpet of blossoms on the sidewalk.  You can tell it's Portland, the line of recycling bins of to the right of the pink carpet give it away.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Case in Point

Yesterday I posted a blog about how our industry should stop fighting so hard to prove that face-to-face is the only way to meet and use that energy to embrace new technologies and transform the meeting experience.  Today I want to give you an example why I think it is so vital.

We recently began work with a new client who's membership base is located in small, rural areas.  They hold an annual event to bring together their membership for networking, education and thought leadership.  Only a portion of the group is able to attend due to economic considerations as well as travel.  The portion that isn't able to attend has no way to connect and will only hear about the event second hand.

This year, thanks to the advancement in technology, the association will provide a virtual component by streaming general sessions, online forums, and other social media outlets.  The charge for attending virtually will be far less than the cost of travel to the conference and is expected to increase attendance at the event.  More revenue. More members connecting with other members.  More visibility for the organization.  More sponsorship opportunities. 

We are in the logistical phase of production now and when this event is over and the numbers are in, I will post a full case study complete with testimonials on the participant experience.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was a corporate meeting planner for a national healthcare organization specializing in small, rural hospitals, this scenario would have been a dream come true.  We were continuously striving to find a way to connect everyone in the organization although only a portion were able to attend the annual conference due to economic and human resource constraints.  In these small hospitals, it was very difficult to have the entire management staff away at a conference at the same time, so several key team members had to stay at the facility.  Technology and social media would have been a welcome solution.

We as meeting professionals and industry suppliers have a rare opportunity.  At no other time in history have such incredible tools been available to us.  Now it is our turn to use our knowledge and skills to reinvent how people connect and learn.

Monday, July 9, 2012

"Social Media Will Not Stop Face-to-Face Meetings"

You can imagine that headline got my attention. Social media stop face-to-face meetings?  Of course not, I said to myself and went on to read the article. In a consultation of 1.75 million people, Airbus found that 60% of the respondents believe that social media will not stop face-to-face meetings.  It also found that 96% of those same people believe aircraft will have to be more"'eco-efficient."  Not surprisingly, nearly half believe door-to-door travel will become more "stressful" in the future.

Airbus and the entire hospitality industry have tough mandates moving forward, keep people meeting in person, eco-efficiently and stress free while doing battle with social media for our attention.  Perhaps, instead of always viewing social media, virtual meetings, and technology as the Evil Enemy, it is time to embrace the new reality and acknowledge there are enough slices of the pie for everyone.

At the risk of committing professional suicide, may I make a suggestion?

  • Travel when it is REALLY important for the human, physical connection--it is vital.  
  • Use technology to save both the planet and our stress levels whenever possible, whether that be in more efficient planes, more comfortable space or connecting via the internet.  Sometimes the connection we make with our family by being in town to cheer at a child's game is more important than the connection made by attending a meeting where your physical participation is not essential.  
  • Take into account the personal characteristics (introvert/extrovert) of the group when determining whether face-to-face connection is essential for the outcome.

As an industry, let's stop acting like this is a battle that requires campaigns, buses, and lobbying to keep people traveling for travel's sake.  It is scarcity thinking and won't help our industry in the long run.  Instead, we should all be figuring out how to help people meet in a way that connects them without undue stress on their bodies, minds and planet in whatever form it takes.

After all, isn't that what hospitality is all about?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What's Behind Door #1?

Oracle OpenWorld Tour
It is time to choose a meeting venue for your upcoming event. You have found a destination with a walkable community, mass transit from the airport and a selection of green vendors. You have narrowed the field by looking at rates, dates and space.

During the proposal process, you were diligent about asking for recycling, composting, local and organic food and donation programs and the answer has been, "Yes." Now during the site inspection, ask to see this is actually happening. Here are the top three areas we always visit:

The Kitchen. Do you see recycling/composting bins being used? Are the garbage cans full of things that should be in these bins? Do the food labels show the product is local? Organic? Is the seafood from a sustainable source? Are the condiments in bulk containers or is there a walk-in cooler full of little packets? Where do they hold food for donation?

Housekeeping. What kind of cleaning products are they using? Where are the little, partially-used amenity bottles going? Is the in-room trash being sorted for recycling? How do they implement their towel and sheet reuse program?

The Loading Dock. Usually this is the home of the recycling containers, garbage dumpster, composting bins, and cardboard compactors. Seeing the set up and operation will tell you a lot. It doesn't take long to see if it is actually being used. I was on one inspection where the tour guide was telling me all about the recycling efforts when a houseman pushed a huge gray bin up to the garbage dumpster and put bags of recyclable materials straight into the dumpster. You could tell it was "business as usual" while the recycling containers stood by empty.

You can always add to your tour if the venue touts things like an herb garden, solar panels or green roof.  See for yourself. Lately, I have been finding sustainable practices pretty much as advertised over the past year with a few exceptions.

When back of house, I also find the champions, the unsung heroes of sustainability  Those folks we very rarely see doing the real work of making sure our complicated waste stream gets to the right place and anything that can be reused finds a home. Take time to thank them for the important role they play--none of this would be possible without them!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Where to Find Green Meeting Suppliers

Last week I talked about how many more meeting venues and vendors are going green, making a meeting professionals job easier.  Hooray! Perhaps I should back up my assertion with some resources for you to find those suppliers.  I have put together a short list to get you started and will add to this list from time to time. 

GMIC Green Supplier Directory
This directory just keeps getting better and better with 16 different categories to choose from.  Categories include Accommodations, AV, Communications, Exhibition, Food & Beverage, to Offset Providers all the way to Sustainability Consultants to help you make it happen.  One-stop shopping.

Best Places to MeetGreen 
Choosing a sustainable destination will always make a green meeting planner's job easier.  This website has a list of cities complete with green scores (both verified and unverified) for your selection.

International Association of Conference Centres Green Star
This site is a valuable reference if you are looking for a sustainable conference centre for your meeting or event.

Green Restaurant Association
This searchable site will help you determine the availability of environmentally friendly restaurants near your meeting location or for smaller events.

Promo with Purpose Today
Heidi Thorne just wrote the book, "Eco Friendly Promotional Product Guide" full of helpful advice and this site is full of information and resources.

Feeding America
It has never been easier (or more important) to donate food to a local food bank.  Just type in your zip code or select the state where your event will take place.

These are just the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended) of a growing resource base of environmentally friendly, hospitality industry suppliers.  Seriously, reduce your workload and stress by aligning with a vendor that "walks the talk" of sustainable meetings.  You will be glad you did!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What's New in Green Meetings

What's new in green or sustainable meetings?  I find it interesting how frequently I am asked this question.  We are so trained to look for the new, fresh, latest trends in everything we do.  Anxious to be done with the last part, check it off our list and move on to something more exciting.

It might help to think of sustainability in the hospitality industry as a large ship, it doesn't turn on a dime, it takes a while to make a mid-course correction.  Sometimes you just need to keep your hands on the wheel and keep making incremental changes.  Not as exciting, I know.

With that being said, there are some areas of green events that are on the forefront of this correction today:

Measurement – This next step is finally taking hold.  No longer can event organizers and venues say they are "green" without the data to back it up. I was happily surprised at how many of the session presenters at the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference had slides full of facts and figures.  This appears to be a precursor to the adoption of standards for most people. 

 Social Responsibility – The industry is readily adopting the notion of some type of CSR project during a conference or event.  This is definitely the first step in social advocacy for meetings.  Its popularity can certainly be linked to the “look good, feel good, team-building” opportunities it presents.

Local, sustainable food -  Everyone wants to eat healthier, fresher foods which is driving this aspect for conferences and events.  Participants are no longer satisfied with anything less, enough said.

Vendors are making it easier – Hotels, convention centers, general service contractors and others are really stepping up to be more sustainable.  Five years ago it was tough to find one of these suppliers with an environmental policy much less, a  product, not so today.  For them it is a competitive advantage, for planners, a welcome relief.

What’s new may be that it’s not new – No longer just a trend and slipping into mainstream, the public requires organizations to be good citizens and to display that at meetings.  If you aren't constantly monitoring social media during your events to find out how your corporate image is coming across, you should be.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Don't Make Me Use the Wand

Standing in line, I dutifully shuffle toward the long metal tables.  As I get closer, I remove my shoes, then my coat.  I empty everything else into a plastic bowl.  My computer comes out of the bag and into a bin.  I have no plastic bottles of liquids.

I step into a large metal machine and put my hands over my head.  Puffs of air blow my skirt and hair while the doors spin around me.

After the scan, I see my x-ray, the transparent outline of my body (a little lumpy from years of wear).  Wait, there's a tube of Chapstick still in my pocket!  Arghhhhh, I was so close to perfect and now everyone around hears about it.

That's how I feel each year when we publish our annual corporate report.  A bit naked to the world, our successes and our challenges out in the open.  Transparent.  But unlike "security theatre" at US airports, it is this level of transparency provided by a corporate report which allows others to see our level of commitment to both environmental and social issues with measurable data.

Corporate reporting is vitally important for all of a business' stakeholders.  It is one way of seeing past the "greenwashing" which has become much too common.  Combined with social media, radical transparency and informed decisions by consumers are more possible than ever before.  It is crucial to our sustainable future.  That's why we do it.

So, here we go.  Shoes off, change in the bowl, and arms overhead, here is the MeetGreen Annual Corporate Report .  Sure, we have some lumps, but at least you won't find any plastic bottles.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Why Bother?

Really, isn't enough...enough?  Haven't sustainability and green run their course?  Why is business still talking about doing "the right thing" for our planet and its people?  Because, here in 2012, it is good business.

According to Katherine Manfredi, Conference Partners, and Andrew Walker, E3 Strategy, during their GMIC Conference session, the Seven Key Benefits of Being a Responsible Business are:

  1. Brand Value and Reputation
  2. Employees and Future Workforce
  3. Operational Effectiveness
  4. Risk Reduction and Management
  5. Direct Financial Impact
  6. Organizational Growth
  7. Business Opportunity

With the trending benefit of Responsible Leadership.

No wonder business, especially big business, is still bothering!

For more information: If you attended the GMIC Conference, their slides are now available in the proceedings.  Take a look!  If not, email me and I will forward their contact information.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Free Sustainable Events Resource

Looking for some fundamental questions to ask yourself when getting started planning an event? Here's a list that incorporates green meetings too from the latest sustainable events guide!   Event organizers should ask themselves:

  • What is the purpose of the event? 
  • What are we trying to achieve? 
  • What does success look like? 
  • Do our current planning practices violate any principle of sustainability? 
  • What aspects of our event have the greatest negative impacts on the environment and the local community? What sustainable event practices will help achieve desired outcomes? 
  • What goals and objectives can we identify and how will these be measured to support transparent communication and future planning improvements? 
  • Of these, which do we have the greatest opportunity, or control, to influence? 
  • Do our stakeholders concur that these goals, objectives and measurements are relevant and important? How do we know? 

Now that you know the questions, and maybe even some of the answers, here's the FREE resource to get you going, "Meeting The Future: The Sustainable Events Guide" from the Green Meeting Industry Council and The Natural Step.

Thanks to both of these organizations for producing this guide and to the volunteers who worked on it.  GMIC continues to be the leader in providing practical resources for planners and suppliers to make our planet a better place.

Friday, June 1, 2012

100% Sustainable Meeting

While on holiday in the San Juan Islands earlier this week, I was lucky enough to discover an ancient Native American meeting area overlooking the water.

photo of Native American Meeting Site by Nancy Zavada

Standing back from the site, I considered how effective and collaborative all meetings would be if this is where we still met today.  Gazing out over the bluff or at the meadow would certainly beat the windowless, over air-conditioned rooms where we gather in 2012 to stare at Powerpoint slides or our smart phones. 

And the early meetings certainly did a better job of sustainability...

  • No bottled water
  • Local food
  • Sustainable seafood
  • No disposables
  • No airline transportation
  • Sail or human powered boats
  • Accommodations that you pack up and take with you

I must admit though, it scares me that I ponder these things while away from work. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Get Your Green On" Wins IMEX Award

Congratulations to Shawna McKinley, MeetGreen; Judy Kucharuk, Footprint Management; and QuickMobile for winning the IMEX Award for Commitment to Community.  This awesome threesome was recognized during IMEX 2012 for the "Get Your Green On" app designed for EventCamp Vancouver.

They also wrote and recently published a case study on developing the application which can be found here

 Who says hard work, creativity and risk-taking don't pay off?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Measurement: The Next Step

As evidenced at the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference last month, measurement and reporting of environmental impact has finally taken hold.  Presentations were no longer about educating participants on why measure, instead they included real-life statistics and information proving the value of green meetings.  Yes (fist pump)!

Venues, hotels and meeting organizers are validating their environmental and economic savings with data. Take a look at the stats from one session compiled by Shawna McKinley.  Reporting mechanisms such as calculators, case studies, and corporate reports are being used to tell the story.  Sustainable meetings are good business!

Greenwashing tales of why an organization is a "good corporate citizen" are now being questioned and the public wants solid facts and figures to back it up.  Social media, with its radical transparency, are pushing this trend forward.

It is heartening to witness this shift in the hospitality industry and know we are on the way to a more sustainable future.

photo credit: Green Meeting Industry Council

Monday, May 7, 2012

Carpooling on the Information Highway

The media (social and otherwise) allows so much information to flow through our lives each day, it is tough to filter.  Does a certain article or post warrant a blog entry with careful consideration, or do I just need to pass the information on to you?

 Organically (no pun intended), I seem to be using my Twitter account @nancyjzavada to post quick bits of information on our industry, environmental or social impacts of meetings, and other travel/meeting related happenings.  Blogging has been used more for our organization's tips, ideas, experiences and of course, pretentious musings.  So be it.

First of all, my thanks for reading this blog and I promise to stay relevant and informative as green meetings and events continue to evolve.  Secondly, feel free to follow me on Twitter @nancyjzavada to see what has caught my eye in this big, noisy world we live in. 

Please feel free to point me in the direction of great stories and comment on any of the posts.  Like any good carpool, there is plenty of room for all of us.