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Green Meetings Make Good Business Sense

8/2/2006 --

University Event Planners share tips on environmental stewardship.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Event-planning professionals around the country agree: There is a growing market for green meetings.

Local governments, corporations and associations are asking meeting facilities to reduce their waste stream and demonstrate environmental responsibility. Planners are looking for options to reduce waste and increase efficiency as they tighten meeting spending.

To inform area event planners of the best eco-friendly trends in meeting facilitation, the University Event Planners' July meeting at the Ford Library featured a panel discussion on "Green Meetings and Environmental Stewardship."

Moderator Deborah Elmore of the Stephen M. Ross School's Tauber Manufacturing Institute introduced a speaker's panel that included:

  • Cyndy Cleveland, program coordinator of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the Ross School of Business and the School of Natural Resources and Environment
  • Tracy Artley, recycling coordinator, U-M Grounds & Waste Management
  • Lucia Kern, owner of Patisserie Lola
  • Missy Orge, director of outreach and training with Food Gatherers
  • Laura Lemieux, owner of Laura’s Fine Catering

According to Cyndy Cleveland, limiting travel time and distance to meeting sites is important. The use of energy and the resulting carbon emissions from airline and automobile travel are putting long-distance meetings under scrutiny.

"The use of energy has the biggest impact on our Earth," Cleveland said. "As we plan our events, we can make a difference if we keep location in mind."

Giving Back with Carbon Credits
In addition to transporting VIP's via carpools, using mass transit for delegates and selecting a central location to hold meetings, planners can use innovative ways to make green meetings appealing to all involved.

By offsetting the energy or carbon used to get to the event, planners can make even the most environmentally conscious clients happy. Carbon credits are an important way to offset or replenish the Earth's resources.

What are Carbon Offsets?
To balance harmful greenhouse effects of CO2 resulting from travel and energy consumption necessary to host an event, planner/organizers can arrange to purchase carbon credits. Event planners can offer concrete ways to fight global climate change by investing in projects that help to neutralize the negative impacts of their event. Carbon credits support renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation projects that reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Projects have to be verified by experts and must be in addition to projects already slated to occur.

Meeting Changing Needs
More than simply offering a vegetarian meal, dietary requirements have changed drastically among meeting delegates. Today, meeting planners are being challenged to provide organic, local and seasonal food for many meetings. But is this economically feasible?

Panelist Lucia Kern, who became a vegan due to her own health issues, said the assumption that organic foods are more expensive than non-organic is short-sighted.

"In the short term, they are more expensive, but non-organic food costs society more in terms of health problems related to pesticides," she said. "Prices are dropping, however, as demand for organic food increases."

How to Overcome Resistance
Some traditionalists, however, are not on board with green meeting procedures. By educating these decision-makers on the financial as well as environmental benefits, planners can make progress toward creating eco-friendly meetings. Panelists suggested using statistics that point to the cost savings and long-term benefits of green meetings.

For example, green meetings are said to:

  1. Save money by conserving resources
  2. Create and enhance competitive advantage and reputation
  3. Open up new or niche markets
  4. Present positive opportunities for marketing, improve public relations and demonstrate a commitment to corporate responsibility

Just Donate the Leftovers? Proceed with Caution
Though organizations like Food Gatherers exist to serve those who need food by accepting "leftovers" from those who generate it, there are many things to consider. Missy Orge of Food Gatherers said that her organization accepts donations of food but health department requirements must be met. Go to www.foodgatherers.org for more information on what can be donated.

10 Tips for Greener Meetings:

  1. Establish an environmental policy for the meeting (in writing)
  2. Use paperless technology (no printed agendas or handouts)
  3. Meet close by (choose venues close to speakers, delegates, airport, etc.)
  4. Practice the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle)
  5. Bulk up (e.g., use condiments in bulk dispensers)
  6. Lighten your stay (choose hotels that offer linen reuse and bulk supplies)
  7. Eat green (include vegetarian meals and local, seasonal produce)
  8. Close the recycling loop (print on recycled paper with vegetable-based inks on both sides of the page)
  9. Save energy (turn off lights and air conditioning in rooms when not in use)
  10. Spread the word (tell delegates, speakers and the media about your success)
(Resource: www.bluegreenmeetings.org)

University Event Planners is an independent, volunteer organization of the University of Michigan. It is open to anyone involved with or interested in event planning and hospitality. Membership includes hundreds of U-M staff from all job families, as well as University and non-University hospitality and service providers. Contact uepchairs@umich.edu for more information.

Written by Nancy Davis



For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat
Phone: (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847
E-mail: bernied@umich.edu