Green meetings get easier with new standards

Green meetings get easier with new standards

It’s a meeting at an inn in Vermont designated as a “Green Hotel in the Green Mountain State” that, among other benchmarks, composts leaf and yard waste. It’s a corporate event by a firm that checks for needed products in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing database. It’s a meeting arranged by a planner who considers a destination’s public transportation system and a venue’s recycling program. A green meeting may be any one of these things, and more.

Increasingly, greener—or more sustainable—meetings are occurring across the landscape. Today, more sustainable meetings, encouraged by EPA guidance on the topic and also available with the help of professional planners, mean more than what’s green. Sustainable meetings, in addition to the environment, consider social factors; they also make good business sense.

And now, through the work of the American Society of Testing and Materials' (ASTM) International Committee E60 on Sustainability and its Subcommittee E60.02 on Hospitality, and the broad industry representation on the group, eight recently released standards, with one more coming soon, can assist planners and suppliers in producing more environmentally friendly meetings.

The Benefits of Meeting

“We as human beings have a need to meet,” says Amy Spatrisano, principal of MeetGreen, Portland, Ore., and an ASTM International member who served as a catalyst to begin the work on the new sustainable meetings standards; she also chaired the Convention Industry Council task force for its 2004 Green Meetings Report.

And meet we do. From local business gatherings to large industry conventions, meetings represent billions of dollars to the U.S. economy, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study for the Convention Industry Council. These billions also represent employment: the industry directly supports 1.7 million jobs.

At the same time, tighter travel and business budgets, and soaring fuel costs are making virtual meetings a more attractive option for companies and corporations alike. Meeting virtually saves time and money, as evidenced by a Forbes Insights study, yet “amazing things are created and have happened in the world when people come together,” says Spatrisano.

Photo of orange round conference table provided by Dontree via Shutterstock.

The Forbes survey also speaks to the importance of face-to-face business meetings. According to the survey, responding executives say that meetings build stronger, more meaningful business relationships, provide the ability to read body language and facial expressions, allow for more social interaction and promote more complex strategic thinking, among other benefits.

The bottom line, however, is that if an in-person meeting will be planned, it can be done in a way to be more sustainable. “It’s about rethinking how you can do your meeting in a way that’s less wasteful of resources,” says Sue Tinnish, Ph.D., Kendall College, Chicago, and chairman of E60.02. “What we’re trying to do is change the way we hold meetings.”

Describing a Green Meeting

What is a green meeting anyway?

Karen Kotowski says that green meetings attempt to minimize adverse environmental effects. Kotowski, CEO of CIC, Alexandria, Va., tallies a few ways to green a meeting: not using bottled water, making handouts and programs available online instead of in printed form, using locally sourced foods and choosing hotels with towel reuse programs. That’s just a start.

In a more sustainable meeting, one that considers economics and social aspects, your luncheon tables might not be set up with salads waiting for attendees, and the desserts might be served buffet style. Water and iced tea might be available in pitchers, not already poured into glasses. The hotel might use energy efficient appliances; the destination city is chosen because it recycles and operates a mass transit system. And the list can be expanded.

Making meetings greener helps the environment, but more than that, it can make economic sense. “We feel it’s smart business,” says Spatrisano, who co-founded an organization, Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC), based on the model.

For example, according to MeetGreen, collecting 1,300 name badge holders from a conference can save close to $1,000 for the event organizer. Using china instead of disposables for meals and breaks at a five-day gathering of 2,200 can keep 1,890 pounds of plastic from going into landfills. And, not pre-filling water glasses during three days of served lunches for 2,200 attendees can save 520 gallons of water.

Many checklists exist to help hold an environmentally sustainable meeting, but checklists tend to skew to one perspective, according to Tinnish. “Nobody to date has said, here’s what planners have to do and here’s what suppliers have to do to create an environmentally sustainable meeting,” she says.

That’s a difference in the ASTM International standards—both planners and suppliers can refer to individual standards for requirements on their part of the meeting equation.

The new standards cover a range of components for environmentally sustainable events, including the evaluation and selection of destinations, exhibits, transportation, audiovisual and production pieces, communication and marketing materials, onsite offices, food and beverage, and venues.  A ninth standard still under way details choosing hotels and accommodations.

Subcommittee members agree that the publication of these meeting standards marks a milestone but not the journey’s end for sustainable meetings. The way meetings are held may change; new green cleaning products, name badges or other products will become available in the marketplace. Technology will likely change as well. And E60.02 will consider any changes for possible revisions to the standards.

For now, GMIC is rolling out training about the standards’ purpose and use, and E60.02 is looking to increase awareness of the standards’ availability. “We need them tested and used in the market to see that we have the right balance,” Tinnish says.

Click here for more information on the ASTM standards.

This article first appeared in Green Lodging News and was reprinted with permission.

Photo of orange round conference table provided by Dontree via Shutterstock.