From: Bruce Fears, Green Lodging News, More from this Affiliate
Published September 2, 2007 05:13 PM

Choices Expand for Environmentally Friendly Meetings

As green options in the meeting and conference industry expand, environmentally conscious event planners, organizers and companies are finding that going green not only helps save the planet and resources, but also offers a wealth of other benefits and advantages. As the following questions and answers demonstrate, green meetings can help save the planet and yield real rewards for meeting attendees and your budget.


What Exactly is a Green Meeting?


After convening a task force on this topic, the Convention Industry Council presented this definition: “A green meeting or event incorporates environmental considerations to minimize its negative impact on the environment.” The task force met in 2003 to create minimum best practices for event organizers and suppliers to use as guidelines for implementing policies of sustainability. The Council’s Green Meetings Report also presents guidelines for running environmentally friendly events.


What Makes a Green Meeting Different


Most attendees likely won’t discern any difference at all in their day-to-day experience. Conference centers offering green events carefully integrate environmental considerations so they are not particularly noticeable. In fact, many are actually behind the scenes, such as environmentally sound choices that conserve energy and water. Some practices, such as using recycled paper products or biodegradable cleaning products, are imperceptible. Others, such as landscaping with native plants, simply add a pleasant sense of place to the surroundings.


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How Widespread is the Trend?


While environmental responsibility is a growing focus in the meetings and training industry, ARAMARK Harrison Lodging (AHL) has taken green initiatives seriously for years, and the company’s green responsibilities are not limited to smaller centers. For example, The National Conference Center (NCC) in Lansdowne, Va., one of the nation’s largest and most technologically advanced centers, recently earned Green Seal certification for using environmentally responsible products and practices. According to John Hawley, director of sales and marketing for NCC, the AHL-managed conference center took steps to become Green Seal certified for several reasons.


“As a large facility (925 guestrooms and 250,000 square feet of function space), we knew we could have an incredible impact on the environment—and our bottom line—with energy and water conservation measures,” Hawley says.


Hawley said that as host to more than 50,000 conferees annually, NCC knew it could enhance its guests’ experience. “For example, we now offer organic menu selections, use gentle laundry and cleaning products and utilize motion activated lighting in conference rooms,” he said. “Not only do our guests appreciate our efforts, they benefit from the savings we can pass along by running a more efficient facility.”


More Green Center Attributes


Guestrooms can feature dozens of environmental and energy-saving enhancements. ARAMARK Harrison Lodging’s EcoRooms, for example, incorporate more than 50 individual items. What’s in an EcoRoom? An EcoRoom is painted with AFM Safecoat paints that are odor-free and non-allergenic for 99 percent of the population. Traditional coffee service is replaced with a single cup-service machine that uses organic, fair trade coffee beans and requires no paper filters or individually packaged coffees. Traditional ice buckets are replaced with Planet Coolers made from entirely recycled materials that guests are welcome to take home with them after their stay. Clock radios operate on batteries that recharge from any light source.


Green Meeting Benefits


We’re all more concerned about our health and weight these days, concerns that can be even more challenging to manage when we travel for business. It’s easier to make healthy eating choices when staying at a conference center that offers fresh organic and/or vegetarian alternatives on its menus, buffets and break stations.


A green center can also help reduce the stresses that typically accompany us on business trips. A facility that uses natural cleaning products and non-toxic materials in its guest rooms is likely to have better air quality, resulting in fewer allergies and more restful slumber.


The Cost of Green Meetings


A green event doesn’t have to cost more. On the contrary, the economies of sustainable building design and energy conservation measures are significant. Even smaller choices add up to big savings. Serving condiments in bulk is less expensive than individual serving packages—bulk cream is 62 percent cheaper and bulk sugar 50 percent cheaper than single serving sachets (Meeting Strategies Worldwide, 2002).* Savings that impact the bottom line for a conference venue can translate to extra value for its clients.


As an organizer of learning and training events, you can rely on green conference centers for information about saving materials—and money—during your sessions. For example, ask the staff for advice about preparing electronic rather than printed handouts. Consider giving everyone in your group a reusable coffee mug as a welcome gift at the start of the session. Inquire if drinking water in your meeting room can be provided in pitchers instead of individual bottles, or request help in collecting name badge holders at the end of the session. For an event of 1,300 attendees, reusing these holders can save approximately $975 for the event organizer.*


Do Green Meetings Make a Difference?


Consider this amazing fact: The average hotel purchases more products in one week than 100 families typically do in a year. Add to this the products and services used for learning and training events and it’s easy to see why environmentally aware conference centers can have a huge impact.


What’s the Future for Green Meetings?


It’s an initiative that is gaining momentum, thanks to the commitment of hospitality industry leaders and positive response from guests. A key incentive for both providers and consumers of green meetings is that the impact of these events is both positive and measurable.


Leadership from organizations like the Green Meeting Industry Council is invaluable. The Council promotes green practices globally by offering educational programs in the form of training workshops and online resources. The Council is in the process of partnering with educational institutions to develop an accredited curriculum at the university level for green meetings.


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supporting the initiative with its One-Stop Information Source for Green Meetings at www.epa.gov/oppt/greenmeetings/.


By the year 2020 the Green Meeting Industry Council envisions a green meeting as an activity that has zero net environmental effects and positively contributes to the environment and host communities. This is a vision we can help achieve by offering our guests green meeting options. Together we can make today’s “brown” events a thing of the past.


*Statistics courtesy of Green Meeting Industry Council website.


Bruce Fears, president of ARAMARK Harrison Lodging, has more than 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry. He is responsible for the company’s operations at more than 50 conference centers, corporate training centers and specialty hotels in educational environments, as well as 16 national and state parks and other resort operations across the United States. For more information, visit www.aramarkharrisonlodging.com.


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