Green MeetingsFebruary 1, 2015

A Game Plan to Go From Green to Greener By
February 1, 2015

Green Meetings

A Game Plan to Go From Green to Greener
Oregon Convention Center

Volunteers sort donated food for the Oregon food bank during a Food Services of America Trends Show at the Oregon Convention Center.

Organizations that are committed to making their meetings more environmentally responsible are generating some impressive results. Take the IMEX show held at the Sands Expo in Las Vegas, as an example. According to the most recent Sustainability Report prepared for the event by the consultancy firm MeetGreen, show officials were able to divert 90 percent of the show’s waste from the landfill. In addition, the organization was able to reduce water consumption by 16 percent from the previous year and achieved 72 percent of Level One compliance with the APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Event Standards, an increase of 10 percentage points from the previous year.

Greener Convention Centers

Convention centers also continue to green up. In October, the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center hosted the first ever “net zero” convention center expo area when it proved that exhibit booths can unplug from the utility grid and operate from power generated by solar panels. This accomplishment was achieved at the Greenbuild Conference and Expo presented by the U.S. Green Building Council. The convention center has implemented a series of energy-saving measures, which combined, have allowed the facility to reduce its monthly electric bill by half.

In 2014, the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) achieved LEED Silver certification, making the 3.9-million-sf facility the world’s largest LEED-certified convention center. GWCC is approximately 27 percent more energy efficient than an average building of similar size and characteristics. The facility also recently installed an electric vehicle charging station and offers incentives that have enabled its employees to reduce their commutes to the building and the associated air quality issues by 47 percent through a combination of using mass transit, carpooling, compressed work weeks and telecommuting.

The Minneapolis Convention Center, the largest convention center in the Upper Midwest, has achieved Level One certification to the ASTM Standard pertaining to the Evaluation and Selection of Venues for Environmentally Sustainable Meetings, Events, Trade Shows and Conferences. The standard includes specific criteria for staff management, communications, waste management, energy, air quality, water, procurement and community partners.

In 2004, the Oregon Convention Center (OCC) became the first convention center to earn LEED certification. The center achieved LEED-EB (existing building) certification in 2008 and was designated LEED-EB Platinum in 2014. It is one of only two convention centers in the country to do so.

The LEED-certified Anaheim Convention Center (ACC) implements an extensive list of green initiatives, including the use of solar energy, onsite composting and non-toxic cleaners. All of the facility’s lobby carpet is certified green, and it has a green roof with a 2,000-sf garden. The ACC also partners with Aramark, the facility’s onsite catering company that is committed to maintaining proactive recycling practices and serving sustainable cuisine.

The Game Plan for Going Green

According to the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC), planning green meetings requires a multiphase approach that includes creating a plan, engaging internal stakeholders in supporting that plan, engaging vendors in the process, tracking performance and communicating the results, and celebrating success. GMIC offers a Sustainable Event Professional Certificate program, which combines online learning, working in small groups and hands-on participation at GMIC’s annual Sustainable Meetings Conference.

The mission of the Event Service Professionals Association (ESPA) is to support event and convention service managers in their quest for excellence. Two of ESPA’s goals are to make its annual conference more sustainable as well as to educate members about sustainability initiatives they can employ. “We want to set the right example for our CSM attendees,” explains Lynn McCullough, executive director for ESPA. “To that end, we are also now expanding our sustainability initiative into hosting a Green Week in April where we will be encouraging our members to incorporate green practices within their own facilities.”

“We are also now expanding our sustainability initiative into hosting a Green Week in April where we will be encouraging our members to incorporate green practices within their own facilities.” — Lynn McCullough

For its 2015 conference at the Sheraton Chicago Towers & Hotel, ESPA implemented a number of green practices. These included replacing bottled water with water stations, reducing paper usage by uploading speaker presentations to the My ESPA Portal and partnering with EventMobi to create an event mobile app.

ESPA also introduced BYOB — Bring Your Own Bag. “We all know that we receive convention bags and have a pile of them sitting in our offices,” McCullough comments. “In order to eliminate the waste of materials as well as the manufacturing and shipping of these products, ESPA encouraged our attendees to ‘Bring Your Own Bag’ to use throughout the conference. Once the conference is over, we encouraged our attendees to donate the bags and we provide them to a local charity.”

In the past, ESPA also has used sustainable centerpieces. “Instead of using centerpieces that only have a use during the conference, ESPA displays items on the center of the tables that are then donated to a local charity. Not only are we able to eliminate waste of the centerpieces, but we are also giving back to the local community. For example, toys for children’s charities or a bowl of fruit for a local food bank,” McCullough explains.

When asked what advice she would have for planners who want to green up their meetings, McCullough responds, “First I would always suggest that they talk to their CSM to get recommendations at the local venue. CSMs often have very creative ideas and many past experiences with other events so they are a wealth of knowledge. Also, the CVB’s website will often describe green initiatives at the city level. Of course, there is always a need to reduce, reduce, reduce (i.e., digital/electronic communications over paper), giveaways, signage and (using) pitchers of water versus bottles of water, as the impact of that can be huge.”

Choosing a Venue That’s the Right Fit

Choosing a venue that is not only sustainable, but that meets the goals and objectives of the meeting can require a balancing act, and the American Planning Association (APA) found the right fit for their needs. APA is an education and membership organization dedicated to building communities that enrich people’s lives, and sustainability is an important area of focus for its members. So APA chose the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) in Seattle as the site for its next national conference. “Seattle is a vibrant planning city, ensuring our attendees have limitless learning opportunities,” explains Deene Alongi, APA’s director of conferences and meetings. “The Washington State Convention Center satisfies our criteria for size, scope and flexibility, but also promotes a sustainable environment that resonates strongly with our members.”

The Washington State Convention Center has been focused on conservation and recycling for more than two decades. Its green initiatives include sustainable culinary practices, energy-efficient lighting and the use of environmentally friendly cleaning products, in addition to its recycling and composting program. The WSCC offers a Green Meetings Guide on its website,

Getting Attendees Involved

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) has developed a creative way to get its members involved in greening up the organization’s annual meeting. AAA offers members a discounted registration rate if they’ll agree to use an e-reader-formatted program, an online personal scheduler and/or the AAA annual meeting mobile app to navigate their way through the conference.

“In the past two years, we have offered a green registration fee, which was a $5 reduced registration fee for attendees who did not want to receive a printed final program onsite,” explains Ushma J. Suvarnakar, MTA, CMP, director, meetings and conferences for AAA. “Since we started this program, we have had close to a 25 percent adoption rate by our attendees (not including exhibitors). AAA encourages the use of our mobile application that contains all of the information found in the program. We find that our attendees have mixed reviews to relying solely on the mobile app, however those who have resisted change in the past acknowledge that going paperless is inevitable and are learning to adjust. With the push to use the mobile application, AAA has found that offering complimentary Wi-Fi at our meeting venues is critical to the success of this initiative.”

In addition to greening up the meeting, this initiative has resulted in cost savings. “We have also been able to reduce the quantity of our printed final program,” Suvarnakar notes, “and hope to be able to continue to lower the quantity in future years.”

Suvarnakar discussed her plans to further enhance her green initiatives in the future. “My hope is that we can continue to improve our mobile application to provide for additional features to the attendees through real time surveys, gamification, networking, etc. This would incentivize more attendees to want to use the app versus flip through our 500+ page final program.

“My ‘pie in the sky’ is to make our annual meeting as paperless as possible,” she continues. “We are researching various options of producing hybrid events that can lessen the carbon footprint of the attendees traveling to the meeting without the fear of them losing out on the content.” AAA’s annual meeting draws approximately 6,500–7,000 attendees and 100–150 exhibitors. The organization’s 114th annual meeting will take place in November at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

The American Chemical Society (ACS), which will host its 249th national meeting and exposition at the Colorado Convention Center in March, gets its attendees involved by encouraging them to “Take the Greener Meeting Challenge.” Some of the steps ACS recommends include taking advantage of linen reuse initiatives at the hotel, declining delivery of unread newspapers and turning off the lights when away from their hotel room. ACS also suggests using the meeting’s mobile app instead of the printed onsite program. And for attendees who choose not to walk to the convention center, ACS suggests using their carbon-offset shuttle service. They also recommend bringing a reusable water bottle to avoid the cost and waste associated with disposable, petroleum-based plastic water bottles.

Sustainable Food and Beverage Choices

Food and beverage choices also can play a key role in making a meeting or conference greener. The London-based nonprofit organization Sustain serves as an advocate for better food and farming, and enhancing the health and welfare of people and animals. So it’s only natural that an organization dedicated to sustainability would have a detailed set of guidelines for caterers who handle its own events. These guidelines could easily serve as a template for all types of meetings.

Among its catering requirements, which can be viewed in their entirety at, Sustain requests vegan and vegetarian options; organic meat or meat raised to high standards of animal welfare; tea, coffee and sugar that is Fairtrade-certified (as well as any dried fruit, nuts, juice and chocolate that are used); and whole-grain bread. If fish is on the menu, Sustain requires that the species chosen are not in danger of extinction and should be certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council ( Sustain also requests a selection of seasonal fresh fruit, preferably locally grown and organic, or fruit that is Fairtrade-certified if it is imported. The organization does not serve soft drinks or bottled water (unless the bottles are refillable) and prefers to order fruit instead of cakes, cookies or salty snacks.

Every Step Counts

As the online resource reports, “Whatever you do will make a difference.” It gives the following example of going greener on printed brochures: “In a typical brochure run, using paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or recycled paper and soy-based inks, you can save 47 trees, enough water for 1,100 eight-minute showers, 75 large cans of garbage and equivalent exhaust emissions to driving a car for 5,322 miles.” They add, “If enough companies progress beyond thinking green to actually being green, we’ll all breathe and live easier.” AC&F

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