Turn on the television or open a newspaper today, and you are sure to see something related to the environment, weather extremes and climate change. But no matter what side of the debate you’re on, there’s no debating that the sustainability and “going green” movement is important to the association community. From sustainable coffee production practices to eco-friendly products to water conservation and waste management practices at conventions, meeting planners are taking notice and changing the way they’re doing business.
Each year, the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA), embraces sustainability at their Landscape Show whereby 50 to 75 nurseries donate their plants and trees at the end of the show to designated donees.
For many years, FNGLA donated much of the material to Give Kids the World, which is a resort-like facility for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families to come and immerse themselves in the fun and beauty of Central Florida and it’s family-focused entertainment options. An important part of the stay is enjoying the beautifully landscaped housing provided for the families, all at no charge.
“Current and future generations of meeting attendees have environmental responsibility top of mind.”
— Deirdre T. Flynn, CFSP
“Plants and trees not only add beauty to our lives, but also wellness and health benefits, all important qualities for a restorative venue such as Give Kids the World,” says Linda Adams, chief operations officer at FNGLA. “In fact, FNGLA members have been assisting Give Kids the World for many years, not only with donations, but with landscape maintenance days, so it was an easy decision to make them the recipient of the donated materials. Over the years, nearly $100,000 in trees and plants has been donated to Give Kids the World.”
More recently, the plant and tree donations from the Landscape Show have been going to Central Florida Boys and Girls Clubs. As more clubs are added to the area, landscaping is needed to help make the clubs more inviting and secure environments for the children who participate.
“We work with one of our landscape contractor members who is an active supporter of the Central Florida Boys and Girls Club,” Adams says. “He arranges to pick up the donated materials at the end of the show and facilitates getting them planted at the club where they are most needed. We estimate approximately $20,000 in plant material is donated with each show.”
The FNGLA is not alone. More and more associations are recognizing the important role sustainability initiatives play in meetings, conferences and other events.
Take the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM): Deirdre Flynn, CFSP, executive vice president at NAFEM and her meeting planning team look to reduce, reuse and recycle wherever possible when planning small specialty meetings and The NAFEM Show, the association’s major trade show.
They continually look at ways to reduce their association’s carbon footprint, including using electronic show guides, event schedules and handouts; using recycled paper goods for disposables; and water coolers instead of plastic bottles. They even donate the extra food at The NAFEM Show to local food banks.
“We work closely with our hotels and convention centers to contribute to their sustainability plans, too,” Flynn says.
Scott Craighead, CEM, vice president of exhibitions and events, International Association of Exhibitions and Events, says that they are seeing a conversion from paper show guides and other paper handouts for delivery by mobile app and other technology applications.
“Associations are also developing programs with general service contractors, event facilities and facility service providers to ensure environmentally responsible and sustainable practices,” Craighead says. “It’s the right thing to do, and it will appeal to members.”
According to Martin Bay, CMP, senior director of meetings operations and procurement at Kellen, an association management company, the single most important decision an association can have on making its meeting as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible is in the choice of the venue.
“The use of energy, recycling, food purchasing and so forth are all controlled by the venue,” Bay says. “The next steps in creating a positive impact are to be as paperless as possible, accurate with food ordering, having a plan for the repurposing of unused cooked and prepped food to food banks, and including sustainability into the programming.”
Jeff Chase, vice president of sustainability with brand experience company Freeman, works closely with several associations including Specialty Food Association, Specialty Coffee Association, American Chemical Association and the Consumer Technology Association, to name a few.
“When you focus on being more environmentally responsible for your event it will help you rethink how you do everything,” Chase says. “If you are worried about your event budget then that’s all the more reason to focus on being sustainable and environmentally focused. You can save money and cut costs by going green.”
Chase says that associations also need to consider the demographic of their membership who come every year and what they care about in their day-to-day lives. “If they want to keep them, surveys have shown that people care about the environment and helping others in their community, so by providing them the opportunity at the event helps show the association cares.”
The IEEE Power and Energy Society has always been environmentally responsible. “Engineering can be defined as, ‘The practical application of technology for the betterment of mankind,’ and that is what we as engineers do,” says Tommy Mayne, vice president of meetings for IEEE PES.
As an example, the IEEE PES leads the IEEE Smart Grid technologies issue that addresses the technology needed to implement the “smart” aspect of using electricity. “Smart means more efficient in every aspect of power. And that is only one of many aspects of power and power efficiency that we address,” says Mayne. “It follows that our conferences, and how they are run, are expected to adhere to that culture. With our conferences, we track several operational aspects that address areas like efficiency on food and beverage, transportation, existing venue programs, and others. Our members much prefer paperless over paper for our conferences. This is not only environmentally responsible but financial efficient as well.”
Although IEEE PES is a worldwide association, their ongoing sustainability initiatives within meetings is addressed locally. “From a meeting perspective, we are committed to use as much of our local services that are available at the venue,” Mayne says. “If we can find the services locally we will use them. All our conferences have a local organizational committee made up of local volunteers who are IEEE PES members, and we rely on that committee to recommend and incorporate any services that are available in their area. This allows IEEE PES conferences to be both socially and environmentally responsible.”
Freeman also has made the commitment to find ways to help their clients meet their goals of producing the most earth-friendly event possible by providing products and services that support them. As such, Chase works with associations to plan events that are truly sustainable and environmentally focused.
In fact, there are several key ways that association meeting and convention planners are working to hold greener meetings. First, many meeting planners include a “green” component in their RFPs to discover the sustainability initiatives of the venue and destination. For instance, meeting planners usually place a high priority on holding meetings and conventions in green buildings and venues that have established a basic level of environmental stewardship.
Some of the sustainability trends Chase sees associations investing in include:
“Most of the convention centers that you go to in major cities in the U.S. have created a list of local needs and groups that are asking for help, and they are connecting the two groups together and magic happens,” Chase says. “This includes everything from making food packets for Third World hunger programs to clothing drives to help give a suit to a young person looking for a job. Or other attendees may paint a building or clean up a park — all of this is done by event attendees volunteering their time while visiting that city for the event.”
Freeman recently helped orchestrate the show for the Specialty Coffee Association in Seattle. They worked closely with the association’s meeting planners to provide special compost bins in the booths.
“The booths are sampling coffee and they have lots of coffee grounds in the booths so they asked if we could provide a solution,” Chase says. “We created a special waste bin for compost only in the booths. It was a great success and helped keep the waste streams clean and kept the recycling stream clean and the compost stream pure.”
The implementation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become widely adopted as more and more organizations find tangible value in volunteerism. Many organizations regularly integrate volunteer programs as part of teambuilding activities during meetings, trade shows and conventions. Attendees walk away feeling inspired by the experience, while local community groups gain much-needed help and assistance.
More of Kellen’s association clients have built community service committees that are active year round with programs to help to give back and promote sustainability. The meetings become one component of this committee’s activity, and the volunteers also help to identify and execute a local community service program in the location of the meeting.
“By sanctioning and supporting by assignment of association resources — primarily personnel and budget allocation — the volunteers become the passion engine to motivate others and the worker bees to get the work done, thereby making an impact on the community on behalf of the association,” Bay says.
For the GreenBuild show in Washington, DC, Freeman worked to help provide a donation program for exhibitors, and they have worked with the convention center and local charities to provide leftover materials from the show to go to the Feast of Sharing event coming in right after their show.
“We did a clothing donation and reclaimed show bags that were donated to help the homeless in DC,” Chase says.
For Craighead at IAEE, it’s important to members to exercise their civic responsibility by giving back to the cities and communities that are involved in and support that association’s particular industry.
“Sustainability measures will continue to increase for meetings as more and more planners demand it and as technology advances,” Craighead says.
While sustainability and being community-focused is good for the association, its members and the community at large, it also is just good business.
As we are learning more about the millennial generation, community service and “giving back” are two pillars of their beliefs.
“The more we can help to facilitate that belief as association professionals, the easier it is to make a difference,” Bay says. “As society continues to make sustainability important in our daily lives, that will ripple deeper and deeper into the planning and execution of our association meetings. The future is very bright for the continued growth of sustainability in our association meetings.”
Mayne and his team at IEEE PES feel engineers are, in general, not recognized at the status that they should be. “Doctors and lawyers have a cultural perception to their profession, but engineers are often considered nerds and geeks,” Mayne says. “In my opinion, this perception should be changed. There is nothing wrong with nerds and geeks but our impact on the betterment of society is more far-reaching than the general public realizes. We have not done a decent job of marketing ourselves. Meetings and conferences can bring the publicity and exposure that we need, and the more community service components and social-economic impacts we show, the better.”
Indeed. Adams with FNGLA recognizes that trees and plants are, by their very nature, significant contributors to a healthy environment. The more we can encourage their use in community areas, the better for everyone, as they serve to reduce air pollution, noise pollution, reduce heat through the creation of shade zones, reduce stress and increase wellness, as well as add beauty to the environment.
“It’s important for FNGLA to share these very valuable resources to communities which can benefit the most,” Adams says. “The donation program for exhibitors reduces transportation costs and emissions, as they don’t need to bring trucks in from around the state to haul the plants and trees back to their nurseries.”
Whether it is through food recycling programs or green paper products, according to Flynn, sustainable and responsible meetings will continue to grow. “Current and future generations of meeting attendees have environmental responsibility top of mind,” Flynn says.
“Some of the associations have realized that in order for them to continue their 100-year-old association, they have a new generation of young people coming up that are looking at things in a whole new way, and it really matters to them about the environment and the community,” Chase says. “If they want the next generation to join in and be a part of their association, they need to show that they are listening and care about them.” AC&F