Going green has dominated business practices in the new millennium—and the meetings and events industry is no different. Nowadays the words “green,” “sustainable” and “energy saver” have less pull than they used to simply because everyone is doing it. And thank goodness since large events such as conferences, competitions and conventions can be major sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
“Some of the superficial green hype of past events is maturing as the conversation is turning more strategic and practical. You now see more content or educational experiences growing in popularity,” says Jim Hartzfeld, managing director and founder of InterfaceRAISE, a sustainability consulting company created to educate others seeking to implement the necessary steps for becoming sustainable.
So, now that venues and companies have had time to grow their sustainability efforts, what does the next wave of green meetings hold for us?
Melanie Pelouze, director of sales at A&M Meetings & Incentives, sees more service on the horizon. Whereas standard green practices used to be about what to do on-site (recycling paper and using biodegradable name badges or offering reusable water bottles, for example), now the shift has turned to what to do in the community where the group meets, she says.
Meeting planners are now including various corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, such as a service project in the meeting city, or contacting local farms and gardens to use their produce in the catering menus (McCormick Place’s food and beverage providers have been working with the Chicago Botanic Garden and Windy City Harvest in utilizing a rooftop garden, which has been growing steadily on the new West Building since its opening). Another popular option is using green centerpieces such as planted seedlings and donating them to local food banks after the event has wrapped.
Planners can actually make the pre-event experience fun for participants, too. Pelouze suggests reducing your carbon footprint by choosing to host a destination conference closer to home, in Milwaukee for example, rather than further away. “Make the trip interesting with a scavenger hunt on the way to the convention and suggest group travel and carpooling,” she says. She also recommends encouraging attendees to use public transportation where possible and offering an incentive like a small discount or gift for those who opt to do so.
Venues are stepping up their green game, too, including negotiating directly with the supplier sources to see reduction of shipping materials by sending smaller packages.
“It’s very far reaching to go to the source of the product and supplier rather than just focusing on recycling on-site,” says Ryan Wolber, certification manager at the Illinois Green Business Association, which offers a certification program for green-minded businesses. “You can see a reduction to the whole stream of the process to lower carbon footprints.”
His examples include focusing on the venue’s purchasing practices by buying items in bulk and requesting suppliers ship and send reusable or returnable packages that allow for less waste of packing peanuts.
In Chicago, there are more than a few venues putting words into action and leading the new green trends by example. InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile was one of the first to boast dedication to supporting sustainable goals, as the initial Chicago hotel to receive an Energy Star rating, as well as Silver Certification from Green Seal and StayGreen recognition from the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association.
In recent years, the hotel has taken on a new campaign to update its premises for even more environmentally friendly practices. In June 2012,
InterContinental was one of 14 historic buildings in Chicago to join Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s retrofit efforts for energy efficiency. The initiative included retrofitting the light fixtures in the parking garage and placing lights on motion sensors to reduce energy; installing LED lights throughout the property; upgrading the Building Automation System; enrolling in the ComEd Monitoring Based Commissioning program; improving cooling tower efficiency; and a piping insulation survey.
“We’ve made a commitment to the city to be more energy efficient,” says Dan Egan, director of sales and marketing at the property. “We’re working with our clients to make sure their stay is enjoyable, while also giving back to the environment.”
In August 2012, InterContinental celebrated another first: the first hotel in Chicago to install electric vehicle chargers in its parking garage. In addition to benefiting hotel guests, the charging stations are also available to the public.
After its $55 million expansion, making it the largest convention facility in downstate Illinois, the Peoria Civic Center also just recently installed a solar-powered car charging station, offering the only such station in downstate Illinois. As more and more individuals opt for battery-charged vehicles, the rise in charging points will no doubt continue.
The nation’s largest convention center, McCormick Place, is another property riding the Green 2.0 train. When it was built, the West Building was the largest new-construction facility in the country to have Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification. In the spring of this year, McCormick was the second convention center in the country to receive an APEX green meeting certification, which proves to a meeting planner and the community that they are operating in a sustainable manner as it pertains to green meetings and purchasing, energy consumption, policies and customer relations.
McCormick is also trending by fueling 100 percent of its electricity usage with clean, renewable wind energy. McCormick has purchased Green-e Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) through Sterling Planet, which will provide carbon avoidance of an estimated 730,931,248 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.
“Meeting planners wrestle with carbon offsets, and we’re big enough so we can use our buying power to offset all of our usage. We do this on an everyday basis,” says Ryan Thorpe, director of facility operations. “It has been really exciting seeing all the departments pull together—food services, purchasing, the trade show floor and meeting rooms. Everyone is engaged in this effort.”
What a Waste
There’s no need to be hauling garbage bags out to dumpsters anymore. Savvy venues have instituted new policies that cut down on waste. InterContinental, for example, recently added the Marathon Eco-Safe Digester for Organic Waste. This breakthrough in green technology will help the Michigan Avenue hotel break down solid, organic trash into liquid. The impact of using this machine for one year will reduce the hotel’s CO2 emissions by 470,000 pounds, which is the equivalent of taking 40 cars off the road.
Peoria Civic Center boasts a green committee to determine ways to cut waste across the board. The committee meets several times a year and is formed of employees representing each department as well as event front line workers including ushers, event managers and representatives from the catering contractor.
“Everyone sees a different area of the building, so every-one sees different ways we can improve,” says Megan Pedigo, assistant director of marketing. “We, as a facility, really try to connect with local organizations that are making strides to reduce impact to the environment. People come to us with suggestions, and we always take them seriously because we want to help make our facility sustainable.”
Apps have also helped the environment in the digital age, and look for that trend to continue booming—eliminating the need for papers altogether. Meetingapps.com has plenty of options, with more than 40 meeting management and conference apps. One of our newest favorites is SoundNote, which lets you track what you type while recording audio, thereby saving paper.
For many venues and planners, going green is all in a day’s work—and the biggest trend in Green 2.0 is not thinking about it, but just doing it.
A&M MEETINGS & INCENTIVES aandmtravel.com 800.906.3000
ILLINOIS GREEN BUSINESS ASSOCIATION illinoisgba.org 217.531.2179
INTERCONTINENTAL CHICAGO MAGNIFICENT MILE icchicagohotel.com 312.944.4100
MCCORMICK PLACE mccormickplace.com 312.791.7000
PEORIA CIVIC CENTER peoriaciviccenter.com 309.673.8900