Sustain | Offset | Recycle | Renew
Green Meetings First Steps
If you are new to planning green meetings, the SORR Green Meetings First Steps list will get you started evaluating and implementing greener meetings.
- Choose a facility that has a comprehensive recycling program for paper, glass, aluminum, cardboard, wood and food.
- Involve participants via personal responsibility for separating trash into labeled by type receptacles.
- Choose centrally or regionally located cities and venues to minimize travel distances.
- Seek buildings that practice energy and resource conservation.
- Prefer facilities and hotels accessible to public transportation or walking.
- Choose meeting and entertainment venues that do not require shuttle transportation.
- Target choosing re-usable items first. For example, washable coffee cups over one use or non recyclable plastic cups.
- If re-usable is not viable, then try for renewable, such as paper napkins made from recycled paper or post consumer fiber.
- If re-usable and renewable are not possible, then at a minimum, recycle the paper napkins and start the waste on a renewable path.
- Critically review what consumable items are made of. Can you find the item made with more recycled or biodegradable compostable content?
- Use thermal water coolers and glasses instead of individual bottles of water.
- Use china instead of plastic or Styrofoam.
- If non-disposable silverware or glasses are not an option, use cornstarch-based implements that are compostable.
- Eliminate plastic stir sticks. Use washable spoons.
- Serve condiments in bulk dispensers, not individual packets.
- Choose smaller footprint items such as brown bags versus fancy boxes for transportable lunches.
- Donate food-safe surplus food to local groups who serve the needy.
Embrace the locovore concept. First choose locally grown, seasonally available foods over those transported from far away.
- Choose organic produce and hormone and antibiotic-free meats when possible.
- Focus on the taste and nutritional value of food, over a non-blemished, oversized or perfect appearance.
- Use pitchers of water at breaks and meetings instead of bottled water.
- Use electronic invitations and marketing materials for the majority of your message delivery
- Acknowledge that some potential attendees prefer or require paper materials and practice inclusivity and guaranteed delivery of critical materials.
- Offer electronic registration and payment choices.
- Choose name tags holders that are made of partially recycled plastic and/or are recyclable
- Choose adhesive labels and name tags with water-based adhesives.
- Use both sides of paper when printing.
- Select recycled paper (by EPA definition 30% post-consumer or recycle content)
- Use matte, not high gloss or coated paper.
- Make mailers smaller in size and fewer pages when possible.
- Design self-mailers and eliminate envelopes.
- Print with soy or other vegetable-based inks.
- Migrate information to websites and make electronic storage commitments for long term archival and open access.
- Encourage speakers to use electronic presentations and make the materials available on the meeting or speakers web site. Avoid paper hand outs.
Choose hotels that are accessible by proximity to airports, train stations, regional light rail or bus terminals.
- Drive the public transit message by providing transit passes or tokens, route maps and pre-trip planning information to attendees have all the facts to make green choices.
- Strive to eliminate the need for rental cars, taxis and buses by the hotel and meeting facility locations.
- Plan entertainment and hospitality functions that do not require mass bussing.
- Choose hotels that meet the attendees’ needs onsite for food, socializing, exercising and relaxing.
- If you must use vehicles, choose vehicles powered by electric, hybrid, natural gas, propane or ethanol.
- In the hotel RFP ask for a summary of the property’s green practices. Review the response to see if it meets your organization’s minimum requirements.
- Ask your attendees to step up their eco-etiquette during their hotel stay by conserving energy and water. Unplug chargers when not charging a device, moderate use of AC or heat, turn off the lights, reuse linens, be sure everything is turned off when you leave the room for the day.
Give your attendees the opportunity to reuse badge holders and lanyards.
- Reuse packing boxes.
- Eliminate the use of non-recyclable packing materials.
- Make it easy to collect print waste in recycle bins by lots of bins and thoughtful placement in the facility.
Verify, don’t trust the green practices that RFP responding properties report as their green practices. Include penalties in the contract for non-compliance by the property of stated green initiatives. Request on short notice a back-of-house site inspection. See if it looks like the property does what they say they do.
- Consider developing your own organizational statement of minimum green guidelines for properties used for your company meetings.
- Seek LEEDS certified green buildings for your events.
- Ask what renewable energy sources the facility uses.
- If your organization does not have its own green policy, ask the venue to use the Ceres Best Practices survey that can be found at ceres.org
- Select facilities that strive to reduce consumption of resources through initiatives such as recycling, energy efficient lighting, motion-sensor lighting and window coverings and water saving devices such as low flow shower heads, faucet aerators and low or high water volume toilet flush options in guest rooms.
- Ask for metrics reports, such as ton of paper recycled or pounds of waste food delivered for animal feed or composted.
- Ask hotels and caterers what they do to work toward zero waste in the kitchen.
- Choose destinations with shorter travel requirements for attendees. Have several smaller regional meetings to reduce the time, expense and carbon footprint compared to one large centralized meeting.
- Confirm that the hotels you select participate in bed and towel linen reuse programs and that the housekeeping staff honors the quest’s signal (towel hung up) for reuse.
- If your meeting requires rental cars, encourage attendees to use models with high fuel efficiency, such as the Hertz Green Collection of models that are rated at 28 mpg or better.
- Host multiple-session meetings at a central location to limit transportation needs.
- Commit adequate advance planning time to your green initiatives so they are approached in an integrated manner and executed as a plan rather than a piece meal approach.
Consider branding the meeting with the corporate logo and not an event specific logo, which gives otherwise dated items a longer life span.
- Evolve the marketing and educational materials from print to electronic – web-based, CDs, thumb drives, streaming video or audio.
- Provide complimentary computer stations at events to allow attendees to lookup web-based schedules or other content so they can avoid printing with easy electronic access.
- Give precedence to recycled materials when making print and meeting supply purchases.
- Give event attendees checklists when they register for the event with tips on how to green their travel and help keep the event green. Prepare attendees philosophically to be pleased, rather than disgruntled, with green changes.
Use reusable or recyclable signs and banners. Try to eliminate single use foam core signs and vinyl banners. If they can not be eliminated, can they be re-purposed after the meeting by giving them to a school art department or by making overlays to update some of the text for your own company’s use at a future meeting.
- Educate the exhibitors on the benefits of less waste – from packing materials to printed handouts and giveaways. Ship less. Throw away less. Save on shipping, drayage costs and trash disposal.
- Encourage exhibitors to giveaway or sponsor green alternatives such as reusable mugs for coffee breaks, reusable sample bags or wireless access.
- Give extra amenities or promotional items to local charities instead of throwing them out. Keep a record of at-show consumption and reduce the order quantity in the future.
- Encourage attendees to pretend they are home – turn off the lights and TVs when leaving, use air conditioning sensibly, take short showers and only wash the sheets and towels as often as they do at home.
- Source green furnishings – those made with low VOC materials, reused or recycled contents.
- Adhere to the Seafood Watch Guidelines published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium at www.MontereyBayAquarium.org. Avoid the use of any endangered seafood.
- Use Energy Star rated appliances and equipment. Consider using solar-powered stages, sound systems and lighting for outdoor events.
- Rent rather than purchase whenever possible.
- Choose items that can be re-purposed or rearranged at or after the meeting to replace formerly disposable goods. Consider floral centerpieces that are made out of reeds and branches and can be re-used, or vases that are kept and reused for multiple events or giveaways artfully arranged on the table instead of a centerpiece.
- Consider if you can do without any item that has a useful life span of just a few days.
- Is your traveling staff cross trained for several show site tasks? A more broadly trained staff allows for more flexible staffing and may reduce the head counted needing to travel.
- Recognize environmentally conscious exhibitors for their efforts publicly at the event and in post event publicity.
- Work with your general services contractor and request that reused and recycle carpet, table covers, signage and booth framing materials be used.
- Make considered choices – for example powder-coated aluminum framing is less eco-manufacturing friendly and less recyclable than plain aluminum. Do you really require black truss or could you use plain aluminum finish?
- Make sustainable practices visible. Encourage participation. Ask for feedback.
- Communicate to attendees and other organizational stakeholders, the story of how the meeting will be more sustainable. Quantify the change- 1,000,000 pieces of paper saved or 50,000 non recyclable coffee cups eliminated this year.
A greatly simplified explanation of CO2, carbon offset and carbon neutral:
Carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane are greenhouse gases that scientists say contribute to climate change. A benefit of green thinking is achieving carbon neutral impact from your actions. Carbon offset is one way you can seek to achieve carbon neutral impact of your travel. For example, when you fly, the plane burns fuel that makes CO2 as a waste byproduct – so your flight adds CO2 to the atmosphere. When you buy an air travel carbon credits, you contribute money to a fund that collects many small contributions and creates a funding source for a project that sequesters or reduces carbon in the atmosphere. A common project is planting trees. Trees consume CO2 as part of photosynthesis. The CO2 taken out of the atmosphere is sequestered for the life of the tree. Planting trees in Africa can cost as little as ten cents a tree. It is not a perfect system, but a start, to plant trees where they are needed at a cost efficient price, regardless of where we traveled and added carbon, since we share the atmosphere with everyone on the planet.
Dairy cows create a lot of manure and methane gas. A methane offset project that builds specialized covers for the manure pile, traps the methane and burns it off, is reducing methane that would otherwise be released to the atmosphere. Building a methane recovery system at a large dairy farm might cost one million dollars.
Offset environmental impact of travel and meetings by purchasing carbon credits.
- As a first step, encourage attendees to purchase carbon offsets for their personal travel.
- Work toward a goal of an “average attendee’s” carbon offset amount for travel, hotel stay, ground transportation and meeting facility use being included in the price of the conference registration.
- Become organizationally proactive in selecting a carbon offset credit provider that is monitored or audited for delivery of services with 80% or more of the offset fees collected being invested in offsetting projects and no more than 20% administrative costs.
- Consider carbon offset projects that are in some way tied to your industry or community so your organization’s constituents see the results of the carbon offset investment. For example, following their Minneapolis 2008 annual conference, the Specialty Coffee Association of America purchased credits from Trees for the Future that plants tens of thousands of coffee and shade trees in African coffee growing regions.