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