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Why Are Green Meetings Still So Hard to Do?

I had always truly believed greening your meetings was easy -- at least the low-hanging fruit bits were. After more than a decade steeped in my belief, reality finally hit me: This really isn't easy!

Who was I kidding? Undoubtedly, myself. Even when people told me it's too difficult, I would say, "It just starts with something simple like asking your vendors to do at least one thing to green the event."

I still believe making "the ask" for green practices is easy; actually implementing or manifesting them, not so much. As is often the case when you've known something for a long time and someone finally gets it too, I suspect many of you who know me are saying "duh, Amy" -- and deservedly so.

For me, the acceptance of this fact is painful to admit and more so to write. I desperately wanted to believe it wasn't so, even in the face of constant road blocks.

Here's a typical example of the challenges we continue to face in the attempt to make green meetings easier. We've been working with a facility nearly every year since 2003 to convince, cajole, threaten and plead for them to consistently offer sustainable practices, and yet, we're still having similar conversations every time we work with them.

In the beginning, it was getting them to fully utilize the recycling program they already had in place. We encouraged them to put trash bins next to the recycling bins instead of across the hall so that when people had to make a decision of where to put their waste they saw all the choices and were more likely to make the more sustainable one.

Convincing them to do this literally took years to adequately implement. Now that they've finally hired a sustainability staff person, they've decided to up-charge clients for reporting their diversion numbers at the end of the event, instead of including it in just what they do. And this is a property promoting itself as sustainable!

Next page: Even setting a standard for green meetings is a challenge

Even the process of putting green meetings standards in place has been difficult. Now, I know that creating an accepted, certified standard is a huge endeavor, and it's better to do it right than do it quickly, but still: The APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Event Standards were supposed to be created already, and we're now nearly four years into the process with little to show for it.

The standards have stalled and stumbled for a number of reasons:

  • Working within a standards-setting process was new to the meeting/events industry professionals who volunteered to develop them;
  • ASTM's voluntary consensus process is extensive and stringent and its approval can and has been on numerous occasions stalled by one vote;
  • Many of the ASTM participants who voted on the standards had no clue about how our industry operates or what's feasible or practical.

I could list more, but the point is that with each challenge I was convinced that people would just see the light and get it. Green meetings just shouldn't be so hard.

I know this is hard because my own company is having its own challenges in sustainability. We too are struggling to integrate the philosophy of our company. Even amongst my team of dedicated professionals, we too struggle with integrating the philosophy of our company, the way we work internally and how we deliver a consistently green meeting externally.

Although we've been practicing and participating in a sustainable management system for the past two years, it wasn't until recently I realized we hadn't connected all the dots. We've missed some key elements about how everything we do is interrelated.

We were so focused on each of our individual elements and tasks, goals and objectives we weren't circling back to connect those with our highest goals as an organization. Making this discovery was an important reality check, and has given us the chance to review and simplify our processes to make sure we're setting ourselves up to succeed.

What this all means is that we are human, and the words I've spoken over the years about sustainability being a journey are more poignant than ever for me. Through the conversations our team has had over the past weeks I sense they are more engaged than ever. I've watched them earnestly working toward understanding and uncovering any disconnects and how all of the aspects of sustainability we profess to practice can be integrated into the everyday tasks we perform. I realize this is another level of learning in the process and that learning comes when you're ready.

I think now more than ever is the time to take stock of all we have accomplished and how far we have come down the path of sustainability and at least take a moment to be proud of that work . The work is by no means over, but it has matured. We have history, a practical application behind to apply how we proceed into the future. We may not be exactly where we expected to be or as far along as we hoped, but we are certainly wiser.

I feel a bit like we've been on this winding road that has had moments of level ground, lots of hills to climb and more than a few downward slopes. Sometimes we're skipping along, sometimes we're running and sometimes we're walking.

This time, I'm sitting on the side of the road and I'm out of breath. I look back to the bit of trail that is still in sight, then forward to the road ahead and am reminded of Maya Angelou's quote "The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind." So, I am dusting myself off, taking a deep breath. I will continue to do the work I do so that someday my belief that it is easy to be green will be true.

Meeting photo from Shutterstock.

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