Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Lean and Green in 2014

 Meeting budgets continue to be slashed by organizations preparing for another lean year in 2014.  You have done your best to save money, but let's face it, you can only cut a bagel into so many sections before the attendees threaten mutiny. 

Here are seven lean, green tips to save your organization money:
  1. Serve beverages in pitchers like lemonade or iced tea instead of individual soft drinks.  This strategy eliminates both bottles and cans as well as the ++ of gratuity and tax on individual servings.
  2. Reduce the size of the printed conference program saving paper, printing costs, shipping, freight hauling and staff handling.
  3. Eliminate the conference bag.  Seriously, no one needs another one even if it is a reusable grocery bag and you don't have to hire people to stuff, schlep and hand them out.
  4.  Meet in a location that doesn't require shuttle service.  Chose a site accessible by mass transit to the airport and walkable to hotels, restaurants and shopping.
  5. Offer a virtual option for speakers and participants.  Bring in revenue without having to feed and house participants.
  6. Serve hearty vegetarian meals for lunch (note:  we used this strategy this fall with no complaints,  attendees were full, and the food costs were much lower).
  7.  Guarantee food with close and accurate numbers and chose plated instead of buffet meals.
How are you "Going Green by Saving Green" in 2014?  Share your ideas in the comment section and receive a free copy of the book.

Monday, November 25, 2013

From the Bottom of our Little Green Hearts

The 2013 conference and event season draws to a close here at MeetGreen.  Our road-weary teams return home and we celebrate a job well done.  We are a little older and a little wiser and most importantly, we are grateful.

Grateful for another full year of invigorating opportunities to produce meetings that make a difference.

Grateful for clients who invite us into their "sandbox" and let us play by their sides developing sustainable options not even considered a few years ago.

Grateful for stakeholders not satisfied with the status quo pushing the envelope to better tell their story and vision for the future.

Grateful to meeting venues and vendors working hard to understand and embrace green meetings.

Grateful for their "champions" who sometimes had to convince management and peers of the value of sustainable initiatives.

Grateful for each other and the support we give one another both in the office and on the road.  We remember to laugh and have fun, even if we are laughing at ourselves.

Grateful for our families who understand our life's work and are our biggest fans.


Grateful for each of you who get up every morning and strive to do the right thing to make our world a better place. We recognize this isn't always easy and applaud your choices, commitment and passion. 

Thank you from all of us!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Care for a Little Data with Your Meal?

Getting the word out to conference participants about the sustainable initiatives being done on their behalf is a step that is often missed.  Using the conference website, emails and social media are the traditional delivery methods, but there is another...providing this information to a captive audience on the big screen. 

Last week, the BSR 2013 Conference organizers served up a helping of fresh data with their meals.  That's right, as guests entered lunch and were served, the screens on either side of the stage scrolled through the following facts: 
  • Food served during this event is 90% local or organic.  Over 15 different local farms have been used.
  • Fair trade, organic coffee has been served throughout the conference.
  • No disposable coffee cups were used saving 112 lbs of waste from the landfill each day of the conference.
  • Individual bottled water has been eliminated saving enough energy each day to run an American household for 1360 hours.
  • By minimizing meat selections in meals, 200,000 gallons of water have been saved.
  • Food waste and kitchen scraps have been composted.  Last month, the Hyatt San Francisco composted 3,983 lbs. diverting food waste out of the landfill.
An easy-to-digest opportunity to share information with 1,000 guests who will appreciate knowing the facts.

Data provided by MeetGreen

Monday, October 28, 2013

Steps in the Right Direction

The good news is, each year meeting professionals get a little more green savvy and the trend towards more sustainable meetings initiatives continues.  Thanks to research by Meetings & Conventions Magazine each year, we have been able to watch closely as our industry gets on board with green policies and procedures.

The recent survey reveals that 22% of planners now have a policy regarding green meetings.  Forty-six percent say their organization's meetings are greener now than they were two years ago.  Hopefully, as our industry moves forward, planners won't be forced to make economic vs. environmental decisions any longer.

This survey chart represents a real shift as green practices for hotels have moved into the "Prefer to Have" category in most areas.  Now we need to take the next step as a community and "Require" hotels to adopt these sustainable initiatives.  It's time to address these in the contract.

I am so proud of this industry and the change we have already made.  I salute you and urge you to keep up the good work! 

Personal note:  Let's hope none of us ever attends a meeting where one of the 3% planners who "prefer not to have local food sourced" is choosing the menu.  Sounds like a trucked in, frozen food bonanza.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Let the Sunshine In (and compost out)

When the Society for Ecological Restoration chose Monona Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin, I was excited about the opportunity to work there.  Hearing so many reviews about the fabulous views, natural lighting and impeccable staff over the years, it was my turn to experience it.

Now as a green meeting professional, I sometimes look through a different "filter" than others and am not easily impressed.  You know, things like diversion rates and composting are critical for me.

During my back-of-the-house tour with Jeff Griffith, Monona Terrace's Building Maintenance and Technical Supervisor, I got down to the facts.  Here is a sampling of the data this LEED-certified Midwest convention center is very proud of:

  • 23.6 tons of kitchen scrap was composted in 2012 thanks to a pilot project with the University of Wisconsin
  • 53.4% current diversion from landfill rate
  • 18.3% reduction in energy use in five years
  • 31% reduction in water use over five years
  • 27.4% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions

Even the room lights were on sensors and flicked on immediately upon entering.   The operations team had recycling bins next to all of the waste cans and allowed our attendees to do their own front-of-house recycling at meals where box lunches were served.  Guests took their lunches out into the midday sun to sit on one of the many terraces.

This Frank Lloyd Wright building was beautifully designed to take in the views and the sunshine.  With so much is being said about the benefits of  natural light in meeting centers and I know these SER2013 attendees would agree.

Note: This is not a paid endorsement, instead my experience in a building where I spent eight, 15 hour days last week.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dress for Success, Wear Your Passion

My passion for Planet Earth and my passion for the meetings industry have dovetailed into a career in sustainable meeting management.  MeetGreen is honored to support the efforts of organizations such as Society for Ecological Restoration, Living Future, The Nature Conservancy, and National Wildlife Refuge as they work towards a more livable world.

An opening address by Tia Nelson, daughter of Gaylor Nelson, father of Earth Day, inspired me once again with these words:

“The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats and biodiversity — that’s all there is. That’s where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world.” — Gaylord Nelson

Remember that each of us contributes to the "wealth of our nation" by choices we make in our daily work, whatever work that may be.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Seed Pod Lands on Capitol

Now that I have your attention, let me explain.  This art installation in Madison, Wisconsin, between the Monona Terrace Convention Center and the State Capitol was donated by the 2013 Society for Ecological Restoration Conference this week.

"Seed Pod" by Brenda Baker references the threat of invasive species to native plants and how they spread one seed at a time.   It was created using hand-harvested invasive species in the local Wisconsin area which shade out the native species.  The installation will help tell the story to visitors in this city and is very beautiful indeed (although, it didn't actually land on the Capitol Building).

Another excellent example of a conference giving back to the community, this time with art and learning.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Help Them Pack

The program is finalized, the banquet event orders are signed, sponsors have shipped their freight and now it's time for participants to head out for your event.

Wait, you may want to help them pack!

There are a few items they can bring to help save the environment, and in some cases, money!  On your last email out to conference attendees this fall, add these few tips:

  • Bring your own reusable coffee cup and water bottle
  • Pack one less pair of shoes and say goodbye to 4.85 lbs. of CO2 on your flight
  • Let us know what meals you will be attending so we don't over-order food
  • Before you leave home, stop your newspaper and turn down the heat
  • Take public transportation to and from the airport
  • When you arrive at the hotel, tell them you won't need a newspaper delivered (unless you are planning to read and recycle it)
  • Ask the hotel for their linen and towel reuse policy and hold them to it
  • Look for recycle and composting bins the event organizers have made available for you

Feel free to add your own environmental initiatives to the list, educating attendees on what you have done on their behalf to lessen the impact of your conference.  Evaluations show, your guests will be grateful and your organization's image will be shining.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Make a Difference Day, the SER Way

photo of budding plant by Nancy Zavada
How do participants from 56 different countries impact the community hosting the 5th World Conference on Ecological Restoration?  They do what they do best, volunteer to restore habitats in two local, renowned ecological restoration sites.

The knowledgeable and experienced "person-power" provided by conference attendees will make a significant difference to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Lakeshore Nature Preserve.

A sponsored event, by Weston Solutions, participants will be transported to one of two locations for a day of volunteering and a free lunch.

This legacy project is an excellent example of using the expertise and skills of the conference volunteers to make a difference in the local area.

Monday, September 23, 2013


Walking along a deserted beach last week, I happened upon this structure.  Rocks balanced delicately upon a piece of driftwood in a stream so as to not touch either tip of the wood in the water.  The artist long gone, just the rock scale was alone on the beach.  Funny, because during my walk that day I was thinking about balance and how important it is in my life.  Some days, "fighting the good fight" seems like it is going nowhere until I spend time in nature.  Nature reminds me of why I care so much about sustainability and brings me back into balance.

So many of the decisions meeting and event planners make every day require a fine balance of factors too, whether they be financial, environmental or social.  Green meeting practices offer even more complex decision making opportunities:
  • Local or organic?
  • Farmed or fresh?
  • Fair trade or shade grown?
  • Recyclable or biodegradable?
  • By train or by truck?
And the answers aren't always easy or the ones we think they should be. Many require a deeper understanding and weighing of factors based upon our event's stated goals.  All of this while balancing our precious time between researching some of these complex decisions and the pragmatic details of finalizing the agenda and printing name badges.

This simple, elegant beach sculpture reminds me, it is after all, a balancing act.  It may take a few different rocks before we make it work, we just need to keep trying.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Reinventing the Wheel

The three-arrow logo which has come to symbolize, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle needs a makeover.  Somewhere in this concentric circle, we need to integrate, Rethink.  Rethink, before any of the other "R"s.

Hasn't the hospitality industry been rethinking our events lately anyway?  Given the current economic, societal and environmental atmosphere, we as meeting professionals still have a need to connect, educate and inform our participants.   Enter such strategies such as virtual meetings, hybrid meetings, meeting apps and social media.  The meetings industry has reinvented the toolbox more in the past several years than during any period in my entire thirty years of planning experience.

So it is with sustainable meetings.  Early in the event production proces, reinvent how your meetings are being managed with an environmental filter.  Run all of your decisions through the Rethink filter by asking these questions:

  • Is it necessary to do this?
  • Is there a better way to achieve the same objectives?
  • Have we reviewed our options in the last six months?
  • If the green option costs money, can we recoup that cost somewhere else?
  • What other use could it have?
  • How will this event reflect the values of my organization?

In our experience, the last question on this list is the one corporations are concentrating on.  How a corporation is perceived through their events has become a part of the risk management equation.  The values of an organization are becoming more and more transparent, never more so than during a sponsored event.

Rethink as if your professional and personal survival depend on it...they might.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Not Far From the Tree

My grandmother was always one to look at labels.  She was always picking up the saucer and turning it over when having tea at a friends house.  She was checking to see how expensive it was.  She inspected the silver looking for Reed & Barton embossed on the handle.

She didn't limit her inquisition to tableware.  She would read the labels of ladies coats hanging over their chair, flip up the corner of a rug, and take note of the furniture.  It was downright embarrassing!  As a teenager, I would make up any excuse not to go "visiting" with her.  I vowed never to do the same thing.

Fast forward 40 years to dinner at a restaurant celebrating a family birthday.  My questions ranged from, "where was the salmon caught?"  to "are the greens organic?" to "is that to-go container compostable?"  My daughter, thoroughly embarrassed at this point, threatened to have me buried in a Styrofoam cooler for eternity, if I didn't knock it off.  It may have been a different set of questions than Grandma asked, but there I was, judging everything.  This time for the sustainability rating.

I spend a lot of time carefully choosing products I consume to ensure they are the easiest on Planet Earth.  I won't use paper products without post-consumer recycled paper if at all, buy my food locally, try to find reused items before buying something new, etc.  I just hadn't realized how completely ingrained in my daily life it has become until the polystyrene threat.

It was also Grandma who loved to say about family members, "That nut didn't fall far from the tree."  Apparently this nut is closer to the tree than she thought.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Stop Traffick!

As meeting planners, we spend A LOT of time in airports, hotels, and ground transportation in cities around the world.  As a company, we strive to be good citizens of the world environmentally and socially.  We train and plan for disasters, weather challenges and crisis management.

When it came to our training on how to be aware of possible human trafficking, signs to look for and tools to help, it was a tough but vital subject to discuss.  Recently in her article, Not in My Hotel, Barbara Scofidio, MeetingsNet, did an incredible job of explaining this issue, telling you what to look for and how you can make a difference.  I urge you to read the entire article.  She also published The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism for Meeting Planners

During our research here at MeetGreen, we found some additional resources to share with you:

How to Identify and Address Human Trafficking, Hotel News Now

How Flight Attendants Fight Against Human Trafficking, Deseret News

Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct,

Addressing Human Trafficking in the Hospitality Industry, Green Hotelier

Please be alert and aware of what to look for during your travels and while on-site at conferences.  The clues may be subtle, but a child's life is at stake.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Summer Festivals...Sustainable or Not?

Everywhere I look, I see advertisements for "sustainable" festivals this summer.  The word, sustainable, is a big draw for the type of demographic which as both the time and money to attend events. However, it seems to be a buyer-beware situation.

In many cases, after significant research, I really can't see much in the way of environmentally responsible practices. For example (the names have been left off to protect the innocent/guilty):

  • A festival that promotes itself as green because it is holding a motorized race through huge inflatable objects as they are is powered by biodiesel instead of diesel like last year.
  • The sustainable wine festival which promotes sustainable wine just a portion of the vendor options and while featuring tastings in small plastic cups in an county unable to recycle them.
  • One festival proudly reported they purchased carbon offsets for the artist transportation and called it green.  No mention of recycling, car pooling, or minimizing bottled water use.
  • Another event donated canned food brought by festival-goers to a local food bank but did nothing to mitigate the huge amount of disposables used by vendors.

There are also festivals which are really working hard to be more sustainable such as Pickathon, The Big Green Music Festival, and Lollapalooza to name just a few.

My point is this,as you enjoy events this summer, ask yourself which elements make this festival green and which don't.  Learn from what you witness and apply it to your own events.  This time from the perspective of a guest.

If you manage a sustainable festival,The Natural Step has developed a Sustainable Music Festivals Guidebook to help you get started.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Have We Picked All of the Low Hanging Fruit?

This question gets raised frequently in the sustainability world in 2013.  We've been at this a while, shouldn't we move on to the hard stuff?  Green meetings are no different and has it's own list of the "low hanging fruit:"
  • Recycling during the event
  • Eliminating individual water bottles
  • Reducing or eliminating handouts
  • Donating leftover conference bags
  • Eliminating polystyrene cups

Many organizations have instituted these initiatives for a meeting and then promptly checked off the box marked, "Sustainable Meeting."  Done.  If only it were just that easy.  Even these seemingly simple items, the first step in holding a sustainable meeting, take considerable consistency to accomplish each and every time. 

For instance, a conference may return to a venue which had an incredible recycling system one year ago, yet thanks to a variety of circumstances, can only recycle paper the day of your event--no bottles or cans.  Or the conference that travels throughout North America eliminating polystyrene cups in most locations, but is unsuccessful in a southern city.  Or the individual water bottles that crept into 500 box lunches when no one was looking.

While green meeting practices continue to be implemented, venues are being certified, standards are being addressed, the everyday low hanging fruit still demands our time and attention.

If you are like us, you just keep picking away, one event at a time, because the low hanging fruit comes back every year. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Let's Get Engaged

Engaging and connecting is what we do.  Whether the engagement is face-to-face, virtual or hybrid, our core competency as meeting managers is to bring information, education and a sense of community to our audience.

A new report by Virtual Edge Institute in Smart Meetings, June 2013, finds the virtual event audience is trending up.  Here are a few of the findings:

  • 67% of respondents said their online attendance is on the upswing
  • 50% want to make money with their online event activities
  • 40% hope to leverage online events to drive participation to face-to-face meetings
  • 35 % indicated that attendees are averaging more than three hours in an online event

Getting started producing virtual meetings is probably the hardest part.  Here are a list of resources to help you get engaged in the fastest growing trend the meetings industry:

Lessons Learned:  Hybrid Meetings
This article will share our perspective in getting started with hybrid meetings.

12 Best Practices for Hybrid Meetings
Concise list of practices for virtual meetings by Bill Cooney

Four Takeaways from a Hybrid Meeting that Worked
Thought-provoking discuss of what worked at EventCamp Vancouver by Mitchell Beer

12 Questions to Consider When Hosting a Hybrid Event
Jeff Hurt brings in the event sponsor point of view

Helping Your Speakers Navigate Hybrid Events
Speaker management requires extra care and training when dealing with a virtual audience.  Carole Garner and I share our learning.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

No Event is an Island

When MeetGreen had an opportunity to coordinate a sustainable event in the British Virgin Islands this spring, volunteers were not hard to find. Our Portland, Oregon, based planners were especially tired of the long, rainy winter and enthusiastic about the project.   Armed with event expertise and sunscreen, Jaclyn Skrivseth, Project Manager, boarded a plane for adventure.

While her stories are many, today she shares some of her “lessons learned:”

  1. The supply barge only comes when the barge decides to come. It is important to know if the barge is front loader or not to match the dock when it does arrive.
  2. When sending dignitaries to the event by boat (the only option), make sure you know the height of the dock and if it matches the height of the boat. 
  3. Events tend to be formal (suits and dresses) in the British Virgin Islands, so let guests know they should dress appropriately for walking on sand and getting in and out of boats. 
  4. You need to brush up on the local island dialect asap. 
  5. Polystyrene is not an endangered species and neither is 90’s music. 
  6. All the facilities and venues are very small, you need to check the capacity of the sewer system. 
  7. If you order port-a-potties to subsidize the sewer system, they will have to be barged in. See Item #1.
  8. If the event grows and your hotel room is sold, you may have to sleep on a boat. 
  9. Plan for rain, it isn’t always sunny on a tropical island. That is why they are so green. 
  10. Local food is not local unless it is a fish. Ignore the chickens roaming the streets. 
  11. It may not be easy to set up a recycling system where the garbage is incinerated, not hauled. 
  12. Advise guests to carry-on their important items. Charter airline and transfer baggage service is not dependable. 
  13. Mailing addresses are all PO Boxes and getting a street address is difficult. Warn sponsors in advance to allow for Item #1 and onshore delivery. 
  14. Even a green meeting planner has to resort to bottled water when it’s not safe to drink. 
  15. Don’t upset the local vendors as they may be the only one able to provide the service on the island. 
  16. Know how to maintain a professional demeanor with sweat running down your face or when riding around in a small inflatable boat. 
The event was wildly successful and great strides were made toward the sustainability of that region of the world. Jaclyn looks back on her planning adventure with both pride and a new appreciation for island planning.

Photo credit: The Nature Conservancy

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Show and Tell

Just like back in school, we can all learn from a good "show and tell" session.  Today's session involves sustainable solutions for a couple of difficult logistical requirements.  Everyone knows meetings can't do without signage and name badges, but both of these usually require unsustainable solutions.

Last month's Living Future's unConference 2013 incorporated two great ideas.

Printed on a sustainable substrate, these session signs saved both materials and human resources.  Each room sign was printed with the session names for the entire day.   Even better, just flip them over and you will find the next day's sessions for the same room.  Brilliant!  The bonus for meeting planners with tired feet, is the signs could be put out once in the morning, used for the entire day and simply turned around the next morning.  A quick calculation estimates this system saved over 200 additional signs being produced for the event.

This is the event's program.  This is also the participant's name badge.  A name badge label is simply affixed to the white side of the program and a lanyard clipped through the hole.  And there you have it...a small program which minimizes resources and a name badge without the plastic cover all in one neat, conveniently located package.

Participants loved this solution and happily recycled them after the event.

Photo Credit: Shawna McKinley

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Good Ship, Planet Earth

photo of a sailboat in the San Juan Islands by Nancy Zavada

Have you ever dreamt of living on boat?
How life would be different aboard ship?

The thrill of pulling up anchor and filling the sails with wind to set off on an adventure.  For the voyage to last any length of time at all, you would need to be very efficient with water, energy, food and waste.  You would quickly realize how important it is to conserve resources.  Spending time away from port requires you to be mindful of daily activities such as:

  •  Turning off the water while brushing
  • Only flushing when it is solid waste
  • Turning on the lights when absolutely necessary
  • Leaving the blow dryer behind
  • Having multiple uses for everything on board
  • Minimizing the packaging of food and supplies
  • Being aware of your surroundings as the sea and sky change rapidly
Food is no different than any of the other necessities.  There is only a finite amount of space for storing, refrigerating, cooking and serving meals on the water.   As the grandchild of a boat maker with a good deal of my youth spent aboard his vessels, I learned very early about food.  While there was always plenty to eat, you ate what was served, when it was served.  There was no such thing as “leftovers,” because leftovers were going to be used in the next meal, in a sandwich, salad or soup later on.  We didn’t have room to either store a great deal of food or hold the food waste for disposal once back at the dock.  Food waste gets stinky very quickly in the summer sun.   

Snacks took the form of whole pieces of fruit or pieces of cheese that didn’t require wrappers.  If you were lucky enough to find a bag of tortilla chips, they were probably meant for a Mexican meal one night and a taco salad with the leftover hamburger, lettuce and salsa another.  Everything was well thought out and nothing went to waste, ever.

When I had children of my own and my grandfather’s boat, I trained them the same way.  Even at home when they were growing up, we always pretended we lived aboard a pirate ship and followed the same rules.

To this day, I still use those guidelines at home and at work because I live aboard The Good Ship, Planet Earth.  Her limited resources require me to be thoughtful about the water, electricity, and food I use.  Minimizing waste is essential in this small space.   

I love this ship and want her to sail on for many generations so that my children and their children will know what it feels like to have the wind in their hair, the sun on their faces, and the beauty of nature as far as the eyes can see.

Care to join me on this voyage?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Can Food Truck Catering be Sustainable?

photo of Shawna McKinley of MeetGreen at local food truck
Traditionally, food trucks are not known for being green because of all of the individual, disposable service ware. Trendy and local, but not necessarily sustainable. Our job at a recent event was to ensure the meal function was as environmentally friendly as it was fun.

Early on, we started asking questions of the food truck vendors to minimize the event’s footprint.  The Living Future event worked with our coordinator to ensure the trucks could provide compostable service ware.  A checklist of specific requirements was circulated and information was used in deciding which food vendors would participate in the event.

Onsite, Shawna McKinley, our Director of Sustainability (pictured above working with one of the vendors), took the lead in implementing green practices. As in the last blog post which provided a list of lessons learned about logistical issues, here she shares with us tips for green initiatives.

  • Require compostable serviceware. In our case, only two vendors did not have 100% compostables. Those that were non-compliant only had one item that was plastic and could be recycled. 
  • Communicate to attendees about composting. Signage should follow a consistent color-coding. 
  • Post people (either volunteers or staff) at the waste stations to assist your participants with the recycling efforts. Sorting can be complicated and the streams must stay relatively clean to be accepted by the recycler or compost company. 
  • Manage attendee expectations about disposables. If your group is particularly environmentally focused, some may be disappointed by the amount of disposable serviceware required at this event.  Research if a re-useable lunch container for food trucks operates in the city.  In Portland, we are lucky to have this solution for food trucks.
  • "Compostable" does not necessarily mean compostable by the venue, so it would help to cross reference the requirements of the venue hauler with the serviceware used using samples from the trucks as early as possible (i.e. not when the trucks arrive onsite). 

As green event planners, exciting new types of events may challenge our sustainability efforts. With time to thoughtfully address sustainability issues and follow-up onsite, you can be successful. Think of it as an opportunity to be creative and take your current knowledge into a new realm of meeting management.

Additional Resource from Shawna McKinley:  Good Food Guide for Street Vendors

Friday, May 17, 2013

Localiscious Event Lunch

Whereyouatmatt?, Athenas, Fusion on the Run, Box Nature Sushi, Snout and Company, Skillet Shindig? Food trucks or conference caterers? Both!

With food trucks being the latest rage, it makes sense our cutting-edge client, Living Future Institute, would want to include them in their conference. This week in Seattle, Washington, our lunches were served by local area food trucks meeting sustainable serviceware (more about that in my next post). As is our practice, we share our lessons learned with the meeting planning community. Here’s what we have learned:

  • Work with the city and venue to get permits for the trucks to park near the facility. 
  • Timing is essential. Trucks must arrive, set up and be ready to serve at the scheduled time during your program. Have clear expectations about start and stop times, and if, at any point, trucks can open for cash or public sales.
  • Pre-negotiate pricing for 4-6 basic menu options. The lunch packages offered should be worth the same dollar amount and trucks may determine their own packages with approval. 
  • Include "food trucks for dummies" step-by-step instructions on the back of the vouchers to easily inform attendees what to do. This way there is very little confusion about how to redeem them. 
  • Have a weather plan if it's raining, so people can come inside to eat. 
  • Ask for truck measurements in advance. The larger ones do not fit into one parking space and it would be problematic fitting them all in if they were all different sizes. Prepare truck owners about the need to remove any vehicles used to tow their trailers if they are not using self-contained trucks. 

The food truck lunch was a huge hit with conference participants thankful to be outside away with an array of food choices.  As meeting managers it requires an additional level of logistics and dedicated staff to coordinate the food event.  It was well worth the effort!

Photo:  Carole Garner, MeetGreen Project Manager, working with the vendor.  
Photo and writing credit: Shawna McKinley.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Don't Forget to FLOSS

FLOSS?  That's right, choose Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonal and Sustainable food for your events and meetings.  According to Chef Steven Ward, DoubleTree by Hilton Portland, during his recent presentation at the GMIC Sustainable Events Conference, this easy-to-remember acronym will help you select a fabulous, healthy menu for your guests.

Chef Ward recommends the event planner work directly with the chef on menu decisions as they can best assess the regional supply and demand, availability of products and valued partnerships with local suppliers.  He has been successful in reducing costs for FLOSS food by purchasing seasonal products, using large volume in price negotiation with small farms, and reducing the need for packaging.

As a valuable take-away, Chef Ward offered a "Meeting Planner Checklist" which he offered to share:

  • Use the farm-to-table philosophy.  Showcase flavors in the venue's backyard using local suppliers
  • Highlight the locations, farmers and recipes of the food
  • Request fair trade products that help producers make better trading conditions, e.g. coffee and chocolate
  • Serve food in bulk whenever possible
  • Don't preset water, salad or desserts
  • Be creative with centerpieces.  Make sure they are reusable and the customer takes them home
  • Offer water stations instead of individual bottled water
  • Donate excess food to shelters and food banks
  • Look for composting both of kitchen waste and table scraps

My thanks to Chef Steven Ward for being an early adopter and unwavering champion.  I think he would be the first to admit, it wasn't always easy.   Today, his culinary creations are incredible and he has mastered the art of sustainable menus for 50 or 500 because he always remembers to FLOSS.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Upgraded to First Class

 If the flight attendant serves your tea in a china cup with a silver spoon to stir in the delicate sugar cubes, you might ask yourself, “Is airline concerned about sustainability, or is this because am I sitting in First Class?”  That question is easily answered if you are the passenger bumping along back in Coach Class with a styrofoam cup, paper sugar packet and plastic stir stick balanced on the tray.

Air travel is one of the least sustainable ways to get to a meeting and airlines traditionally haven’t shown much regard for the environment.   However, they are currently a necessary transportation provider in this industry and sustainability is still in the “progress not perfection” stage.

There are signs several airlines are taking their first steps toward a greener future.  Horizon Airlines, having started its recycling efforts in the 1980’s, now leads the industry by collecting 90% of onboard recyclables.   Alaska Airlines reports 63 percent of onboard recyclables were collected in 2012 and their goal for this year is 70%.

Since 2004, Alaska Airlines has cut their carbon footprint by more than 30% by using fuel-efficient aircraft and GPS-based navigation equipment to fly more directly between airports.

During the last six years, United recycled more than 20 million pounds of cans, paper and plastic items from waste generated inflight and at its facilities resulting in a net reduction of 28,700 metric tons of carbon emissions.  More than 24% of United’s ground equipment fleet is electric or alternatively fueled.

United Airlines has set a goal to save 85 million gallons of fuel in 2013. The airline says this savings will equal 828,750 metric tons of CO2 or about $275 million dollars at current fuel prices.

Just this week, “NASA researchers announced commercial airlines can safely fly using plant-based biofuel, following successful test flights in California.  Bruce Anderson, a senior research scientist at Langley who worked on the project, notes these fuels are 'quite acceptable' for use in commercial jets.”

Congratulations on these small steps along the way to make air travel more sustainable, not to mention the cost savings in landfill fees and jet fuel.   On our own path to sustainability, the meeting industry salutes the airline industry and looks forward to a future where everyone drinks tea out of a china cup!

Alaska Airlines Corporate Sustainability Report
Environmental Leader article, 4/15/13, “United Airlines to save 85m Gallons of Fuel in 2013.”
Environmental Leader article, 5/1/13, NASA Clears Biofuel Powered Jets for Takeoff

Monday, April 29, 2013

Confessions of a Dumpster Diving Team

Over the last six years MeetGreen has collected a wealth of information about event impacts.  We have entered 40 client events into our MeetGreen Calculator which provides a meta-indicator of how successful our clients have been at improving event sustainability through policy, procurement, implementation and measured results.  We are thrilled to see their efforts continue to improve overall year after year.

In addition, 32 of these events have delivered data about carbon, waste and water impacts.  We audit and analyze this information to filter for reliability and completeness under our ISO 20121 management system.

Based on this information, we estimate the average daily footprint of a typical event attendee at events we have worked to be as follows, which provides us with a baseline of comparison for client events:

319 pounds carbon dioxide per participant
 10 gallons water use at venues per participant
1.4 pounds of landfill at venues per participant
3.6 pounds of waste at venues per participant
 ("waste" includes all event discards, e.g. landfill, recycling, compost and donations)

This above is an excerpt from our 2012 Corporate Report.  For more information about how our event sustainability management system plays a key role in aligning our project teams to pursue consistent, measurable objectives to reduce our operational footprint, improve risk management and measure the impact of legacy activities, read the full report here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sustainability Quotes for Reuse

Sometimes it is one line of a speech or a sentence uttered in a hallway which provides all the inspiration you need.  I offer here, my collection of sustainable meetings related quotes, overheard at the Green Meeting Industry Council's Sustainable Meetings Conference:
"Sustainability is still a beta test." - Eric Ryan

"Don't forget to FLOSS (fresh, local, organic, seasonal, sustainable)." - Chef Steven Ward

"Get past the "holiday" mode of attendees while at an event." - group discussion

"What inspires you more than making money?" - Eric Ryan

"Share shamelessly." - Brian Hunt

"Sustainability: Meeting producers don't be left behind." - posted sign

"Hooray, the final standard, Accommodations, standard is published!  Now we can get going." - Amy Spatrisano and Lawrence Leonard

"I'd rather be a pirate than in the Navy." - Steve Jobs quote during a session

"Is it legal to donate leftover food?"  - question asked during a session.  Immediate and overwhelming response from the room, "YES!"

"We are all in this together."  Paul Salinger

"Make it personal.  Make it visible.  Make it possible." - Julie Baylor

...And my personal favorite,  "What would MacGyver do right now?"

Monday, April 22, 2013

You Have Probably Heard it is Earth Day

photo of Tillamook Bay Oregon by Nancy Zavada

It's Earth Day.  You can't miss it.  Every product, service, news show and community is parading out it's finery, boasting about how they save the planet.  What good global citizens we are on Earth Day.  Wonderful!  This doesn't need to be a day of boasting (we, Americans, can't help ourselves), but if flag-waving is what it takes to get more people conscious of the environmental issues, then I am all for it.

What's missing for me is the celebration of all we have accomplished day in and day out for the past year.  An acknowledgement of each change we made, sustainable initiative we implemented, and our progress (not perfection) from where we were 12 months ago today.   A recognition of our friends, co-workers, vendors and clients who have been our partners every step along the way.

So today I celebrate and give thanks to all of my partners who have made such great progress this year.  Together, we have tried new things, made a few mistakes and learned along the way.  As the momentum has grown over the years, it is really quite amazing to reflect on what we have done together!  I look forward to this next year where we will do the same, day in and day out, quietly leaving this planet better than we found it.

Thank you!