"Event destinations are the ultimate event partners, setting the stage for your event culturally and creating a foundation that either does or doesn’t lend itself to sustainability."
The green meeting movement may have slowed temporarily as a result of the recession, but the growing trend of corporate responsibility along with the planning of the 2012 London Olympic games has helped drive renewed interest and the release of various sustainable event standards. The APEX/ATSM Green Meeting standards are currently creating a buzz across North American cities like Denver, Toronto and Orlando, and more sustainable meetings are taking place across the globe.
While many green meeting practices are driven by event planners; recyclable name badges, locally sourced food for meals served etc., hosting a sustainable meeting is dependent on working with other sustainability-minded partners. Event destinations are the ultimate event partners, setting the stage for your event culturally and creating a foundation that either does or doesn’t lend itself to sustainability.It is a well-known fact that transportation to and from the destination for many city-wide events is the most significant environmental event impact, typically, representing 75-90% of the carbon footprint of the entire event.It is a well-known fact that transportation to and from the destination for many city-wide events is the most significant environmental event impact, typically, representing 75-90% of the carbon footprint of the entire event. This impact, coupled with advancements in technology, tighter budgets and higher travel price tags, has driven the exploration of virtual meeting solutions.
Before we give the meeting and event industry a bad rap, it’s important to recognize that bringing people together from across the globe creates an environment where the latest advancements in technology and business can be recognized. Conferences and tradeshows help to educate and promote all professions and give people a chance to share achievements and ideas that can lead to incredible advancements in society.
Selecting a sustainable destination partner is one of the most impactful event decisions you can make. Here are a of couple things to consider during your search and selection process as well as some specific questions to ask your Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) or Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) contact to help make that selection process easier.
Accessibility and Infrastructure
The built environment of the event destination, as well as how it operates, will be an integral part of the event footprint. Transportation infrastructure will dictate ease of moving attendees within the city and around the main event venue. Understanding the lay of the land will lead you to a destination that will directly either support or hinder your event sustainability success.
Some basic transportation elements to review that will lead to a smaller event impact include finding out the distance (mileage) from the convention center to the airport? How will you and your attendees be transported? Does the destination have public transportation (subway, tram, bus) options between the convention center (downtown) area and the airport? Are any of those options utilizing low-impact or sustainable means of transportation such as alternative fuel or efficient buses, hybrid shuttles/taxi fleets or car cooperatives? Additionally, knowing the percentage of hotels within walking distance (defined in this case as 1 mile) of the convention center and choosing a hotel package within that distance may offer the chance to eliminate attendee shuttles, which reduces carbon emissions.
City, Convention Center and Hotel Environmental Initiatives
Chances are you’re likely a seasoned planner, who for economic, green, or other reasons is already considering these high-level destination attributes. Understanding the event venues’ back-of-house operations can be a lot more work than you have time for, but simply knowing whether a CVB or convention center has a green team or Sustainability Director can indicate the destination is committed to sustainable events.
Additionally, cities or counties that have a sustainability or climate action plan in place are usually more aware of impacts and are already working on initiatives that will support sustainability goals for events.
For city-wide events, the convention center is home. Popular building certifications such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) show commitments to performance, but even without certifications, to determine a center is a strong greening partner consider asking the following questions:
- Can the convention center provide a post-event sustainability report including measurement of; water and energy consumption, waste diversion, locally sourced food and carbon emissions?
- Does the center have an ongoing recycling program (that includes at the very least, plastics, glass, aluminum, paper, and cardboard) Do they provide any options for organics recycling such as composting?
- Do they source any energy from renewable sources? If so how much?
Hotel sustainability practices have the potential to affect the guest experience and the perception of the show. Destinations with a significant percentage of hotels (within convention package) that hold a 3rd party sustainability certification (for example; LEED, Green Key or APEX/ASTM) are preferable.
City, Convention and Hotel Social Sustainability Initiatives
When we talk about “green meetings” people usually think “eco” and recycling, but green or sustainable meetings are ultimately “responsible meetings,” meaning they are designed and executed in a way that takes into consideration the planet, but also the community hosting the meeting.
Selecting a destination partner that is already a good “citizen” helps you be a super citizen while visiting. Destinations with CVBs and convention centers that have active and robust donation programs in place for leftover food, banners, signage, give-a-ways, and exhibit materials really show their commitment to reducing waste and reusing resources in a way that can positively impact local non-profit groups and the community members they serve. Additionally, CVBs or convention centers providing information and helping coordinate activities related to volunteer opportunities and social legacy projects is another way the host destination can help enhance the overall sustainability of your event.
All in all, there are a myriad of indicators that can help planners and event organizers identify a sustainable or “green” destination when planning their next meeting.
Glossary of Terms:
Alternative Organics Diversion Program: A program that diverts food, organic and compostable waste materials from the landfill through methods other than industrial composting. Methods may include onsite waste composting vessels, food liquefiers, food digesters/disposals, etc.
Alternative Fuel: Fuel that is substantially nonpetroleum based, (non-gasoline, non-diesel), yields energy security benefit and offers environmental benefits. Examples of alternative fuels include biofuels derived from corn, soy and recycled cooking oils, ethanol blend fuels, biodiesel, bio-alcohol (methanol, ethanol, butanol) chemically stored electricity (batteries and fuel cells).
Carbon Emissions: The production of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. CO2 is produced by combustion of fossil fuels (coal and petroleum for example), through the decay of animal and plant matter and by respiration of all living organisms. Carbon dioxide is naturally reabsorbed by plants and trees. However, the rate at which humans are creating carbon emissions is greater than the rate at which the current volume of trees and plants can reabsorb the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Carbon Footprint: the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by a particular person, group, etc.
Compost: Humus (organic matter that has reach the point of stability and can no longer breakdown) rich matter made of mostly plant and vegetable matter. Composting is the process of breaking down or the decomposition of organic matter. Inputs to composting include food wastes, water and aeration. Aerobic bacteria, fungi and earthworms help to breakdown the organic matter into humus.
Employee Engagement Score: “an employee’s involvement with, commitment to, and satisfaction with work. Employee engagement is a part of employee retention.” (Schmidt et al 1993)
Green Space: Open space with trees, plants, grasses and or shrubs. Undeveloped landscapes or public spaces in an urban environment.
Local: According to Congress in the 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act, the total distance that a product can be transported and still be considered a “locally or regionally produced agricultural food product” is less than 400 miles from its origin, or within the State in which it is produced.
Organics Recycling: Refers to all activities that collect, process, and use organic waste derived materials. This can include activities such as composting, anaerobic digesters and non-composting options.
Renewable Energy: Energy obtained from a renewable or perpetual source such as wind, solar, ocean (tidal, wave current and thermal) and geothermal.
Waste Diversion or Diversion: waste materials diverted from traditional disposal such as landfill or incinerator to be recycled, composted or reused. The diversion rate is the percentage from the total materials that are diverted.