Sometimes, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting. Unfortunately, conferences, meetings, and other events require electricity, heating and air conditioning, ground transportation, and air travel, and they produce paper, food, and water waste. The good news is that there are ways to minimize the environmental effects, particularly as facilities become more aware of the need to provide sustainable solutions.
Choose a Green Facility
The first, and perhaps most important, step to “greening” an event is to work closely with your potential meeting facility early in the planning stages. Communicate your organization’s desire for an event with a reduced environmental impact, and make it clear that preference will be given to facilities with environmental goals that align with yours. Then, once a facility is chosen, incorporate environmental priorities into the contract.
Some things to look for:
- Natural lighting and a comprehensive recycling program.
- Mass transit services and bicycle parking.
- Energy management system to reduce electricity and HVAC demands.
- Certification (e.g., U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED) or energy- and water-efficient equipment and practices.
- Conveniently placed recycling containers in all key meeting and gathering areas.
- Clean-up crews trained to keep recyclables out of trash.
- Facility staff trained to close blinds, turn off lights, and HVAC in unused areas.
Reduce Emissions from Travel
To reduce the impact of travel, try to select a destination city that is close to the majority of participants and is served by direct flights. Multiple take-offs and landings result in higher emissions from air travel. For smaller meetings, consider attendee incentives like reimbursed public transportation costs or a special drawing or recognition for car-poolers.
- Choose a destination city with good public transportation that connects the event venue with major transportation hubs and accommodations.
- Offer a videoconference option.
- Use alternative fuel vehicles in a guest shuttle service.
- If taxis must be used, select companies offering hybrid vehicles.
Help Guest Go Green
Choose hotels with environmental certification, such as from Green Seal (www.greenseal.org). For larger meetings, look for conveniently located hotels that are either within walking distance of the venue or close to public transportation. And be sure to provide guests with information about accommodations with environmental certification or policies and practices. For example, ask guests to participate in hotel linen reuse programs andshut off lights, televisions and air conditioners or heaters when leaving their rooms. You can also work with hotels that employ laundry water-saving programs and ask them to reduce frequent replacement of linens, soaps, etc.
Consider Food and Beverage
Look for food service providers that use reusable service ware and that serve water, beverages, condiments, and other food items in bulk to eliminate packaging. Other ideas include:
- Request locally produced food and beverages to cut transportation emissions.
- Ensure the venue has a food donation program for leftovers.
- Conduct a careful head count of attendees to minimize waste.
- Consider providing refillable beverage containers for attendees.
Minimize Conference Materials
Waste reduction options include digitizing event literature so that it is available online, rather than handing it out on paper. Such measures may only save minimal amounts of waste in the context of the whole event, but can quickly add up.Other options include:
- Use certified paper (Forest Stewardship Council or Sustainable Forest Initiative) or paper that is processed chlorine free and made from a minimum of 30% post-consumer recycled content.
- Use printers and photocopiers that are Energy Star certified.
- Choose suppliers that provide low-carbon products or services.
- Match print runs to registered attendees.
- Ask speakers not to include written materials, but to provide upon request.
- Use materials that are reusable and/or contain post-consumer recycled content.
- Double-sided printing for promotional materials and handouts.
- Avoid mass distribution of handouts and allow attendees to order copies.
- Cardboard recycling in exhibit area.
Once conservation and carbon reduction strategies are exhausted, emissions that cannot be eliminated can be offset. Renewable energy certificates (RECs) may be used to offset electricity used during the event and carbon offsets can emissions from air travel, energy use, and vehicle use. It is essential to choose a certified provider to ensure that reductions in greenhouse gases actually occur (such as from http://www.green-e.org or http://www.nativeenergy.com).
Communicate Your Efforts
From the beginning, make sure attendees are aware of your environmental efforts so that they too can become stewards. Your event’s website, program, press releases, opening, signage, and post-event publications can all deliver your message. Large event organizers may want to set up an onsite sustainability booth to provide information about the event.
U.S. EPA’s Green Meetings Initiative
Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Conferences
Government Canada’s Green Meeting Guide
Meeting Professionals International
Convention Industry Council
Blue Green Meetings
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