Toward More Sustainable Meetings
It's a meeting at an inn in Vermont designated as a "Green Hotel in the Green Mountain State" that, among other benchmarks, composts leaf and yard waste. It's a corporate event by a firm that checks for needed products in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Environmentally Preferable Purchasing database. It's a meeting arranged by a planner who considers a destination's public transportation system and a venue's recycling program. A green meeting may be any one of these things, and more.
Increasingly, greener - or more sustainable - meetings are occurring across the landscape. Today, more sustainable meetings, encouraged by EPA guidance on the topic and also available with the help of professional planners, mean more than what's green. Sustainable meetings, in addition to the environment, consider social factors; they also make good business sense.
And now, through the work of ASTM International Committee E60 on Sustainability and its Subcommittee E60.02 on Hospitality, and the broad industry representation on the group, eight recently released standards, with one more coming soon, can assist planners and suppliers in producing more environmentally friendly meetings.
"We as human beings have a need to meet," says Amy Spatrisano, principal of MeetGreen®, Portland, Ore., and an ASTM International member who served as a catalyst to begin the work on the new sustainable meetings standards; she also chaired the Convention Industry Council task force for its 2004 Green Meetings Report.
And meet we do. From local business gatherings to large industry conventions, meetings represent billions of dollars to the U.S. economy, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study for the Convention Industry Council.1 These billions also represent employment: the industry directly supports 1.7 million jobs.2
At the same time, tighter travel and business budgets, and soaring fuel costs are making virtual meetings a more attractive option for companies and corporations alike. Meeting virtually saves time and money, as evidenced by a Forbes Insights study, yet "amazing things are created and have happened in the world when people come together," says Spatrisano.3
The Forbes survey also speaks to the importance of face-to-face business meetings. According to the survey, responding executives say that meetings build stronger, more meaningful business relationships, provide the ability to read body language and facial expressions, allow for more social interaction and promote more complex strategic thinking, among other benefits.4
The bottom line, however, is that if an in-person meeting will be planned, it can be done in a way to be more sustainable. "It's about rethinking how you can do your meeting in a way that‘s less wasteful of resources," says Sue Tinnish, Ph.D., Kendall College, Chicago, Ill., and chairman of E60.02. "What we're trying to do is change the way we hold meetings."
What is a green meeting anyway?
Karen Kotowski says that green meetings attempt to minimize adverse environmental effects. Kotowski, CEO of CIC, Alexandria, Va., tallies a few ways to green a meeting: not using bottled water, making handouts and programs available online instead of in printed form, using locally sourced foods and choosing hotels with towel reuse programs. That's just a start.
In a more sustainable meeting, one that considers economics and social aspects, your luncheon tables might not be set up with salads waiting for attendees, and the desserts might be served buffet style. Water and iced tea might be available in pitchers, not already poured into glasses. The hotel might use energy efficient appliances; the destination city is chosen because it recycles and operates a mass transit system. And the list can be expanded.
Making meetings greener helps the environment, but more than that, it can make economic sense. "We feel it's smart business," says Spatrisano, who co-founded an organization, Green Meeting Industry Council, based on the model.
For example, according to MeetGreen, collecting 1,300 name badge holders from a conference can save close to $1,000 for the event organizer. Using china instead of disposables for meals and breaks at a five-day gathering of 2,200 can keep 1,890 pounds (860 kg) of plastic from going into landfills. And, not pre-filling water glasses during three days of served lunches for 2,200 attendees can save 520 gallons (1,300 L) of water.
Many checklists exist to help hold an environmentally sustainable meeting, but checklists tend to skew to one perspective, according to Tinnish. "Nobody to date had said, here's what planners have to do and here's what suppliers have to do to create an environmentally sustainable meeting," she says.
That's a difference in the ASTM International standards - both planners and suppliers can refer to individual standards for requirements on their part of the meeting equation.
The interest in green meetings is not new.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency dates its work on the topic to more than a decade ago. "EPA's involvement in green meetings dates back more than 10 years and has been motivated by the agency's continuing desire to promote environmentally preferable purchasing for the federal government," says Harry Lewis, attorney adviser, EPA, and an ASTM International member.
EPA worked with the Convention Industry Council on its 2004 Green Meetings Report, which lists minimum and strongly recommended best practices for suppliers and planners in holding more sustainable events.5 "It's all that we had out there prior to having these more robust ASTM standards," Kotowski says.
EPA and CIC/APEX developed draft standards that address destinations and transportation, audio visual and communications, and more, all integral parts of meeting arrangements, and approached ASTM in 2007 to propose consensus standards that would apply across the industry. An October meeting ensued, kicking off the ASTM standards effort.
Spatrisano recalls, "People spanned nine time zones in the original team that worked on the standards." Input came from stakeholders across North America and Europe, from government agency representatives both American and Canadian; convention centers and visitor bureaus; exhibit booth makers, audiovisual experts, and transport companies; independent and corporate planners.
The result? A group of standards that shares the responsibility between both planners and suppliers to make a meeting more sustainable, and to do so in such a way that "people can engage at the level where they are in their journey," says Kotowski.
The standards, available as a compilation are:
A ninth standard still under way details choosing hotels and accommodations: WK22056, Practice for the Evaluation and Selection of Hotel and Meeting Accommodations Related to Meetings, Events, Conferences, Conventions and Trade Shows.
The standards work individually or as a package depending on the supplier's or planner's needs. A shuttle company would likely be most interested in E2743 on transportation. E2773, the food and beverage specification, would be useful to a caterer. A planner or a supplier making all arrangements for a meeting would potentially refer to the entire group of standards.
Designed with levels of requirements for both planners and suppliers to accommodate degrees of sustainability, "the standards recognize that it's a path," says Tinnish. To achieve each level, the standard's user must comply with 100 percent of the elements in that level.
For example, the E2741 destinations requirements for both suppliers and planners address staff management policy, communications, waste management, energy, air quality, procurement and community partners. Regarding waste management, planners would include a contract clause about recycling or composting for level 1; suppliers - i.e., the destinations in this standard - would divert at least four waste/compost items, from paper to plastic and more. With E2773, planners must include a clause in a request for proposals about suppliers' water management practices; suppliers need to create a 12-month baseline of water use.
This year's Summer Olympics in London, England, are drawing on, among other materials, an events standard from the International Organization for Standardization, according to Tinnish. That standard is ISO/FDIS (Final Draft International Standard) 20121, Event Sustainability Management Systems – Requirements with Guidance for Use.
Tinnish explains that the ISO standard is a management system, one that describes how to create a way to measure event sustainability whether a meeting is a fair or a festival. She says ISO 20121 can also work hand in glove with the ASTM International standards.
"The goals that need to be set for an event could use the ASTM standards," she says, "There's nothing in the ISO standard that tells you about what level your meeting has to be at." In that way, the management system could be ISO/FDIS 20121 and the goals could implement the ASTM standards.
Subcommittee members agree that the publication of these meeting standards marks a milestone but not the journey's end for sustainable meetings. The way meetings are held may change; new green cleaning products, name badges or other products will become available in the marketplace. Technology will likely change as well. And E60.02 will consider any changes for possible revisions to the standards.
For now, GMIC is rolling out training about the standards' purpose and use, and E60.02 is looking to increase awareness of the standards' availability. "We need them tested and used in the market to see that we have the right balance," Tinnish says.
1. PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Convention Industry Council, "The Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy," Feb. 2011.
2. PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Convention Industry Council, "The Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy," Feb. 2011.
3. Forbes Insights, "Business Meetings: The Case for Face-to-Face," 2009.
4. Convention Industry Council, Green Meetings Report, 2004.
5. Convention Industry Council, Green Meetings Report, 2004.