Environmentally Friendly Meetings Move to Center Stage
Thanks to work by ASTM International Subcommittee E60.02 on Hospitality, a set of ASTM standards now helps define best practices for ensuring that meetings and events are greener and more sustainable. Meetings and events are a big business, representing billions of dollars in economic activity for economies around the world, as well as large amounts of spending by corporations, organizations and individuals. To be sure, modern communication tools and "virtual" meetings have reduced some of the need for in-person meetings. However, meeting in person is still critical to sharing information and ideas and conducting business.
The ASTM standards - a joint effort of ASTM Committee E60 on Sustainability and the Accepted Practices Exchange, an initiative of the Convention Industry Council - can assist planners and suppliers in producing more environmentally friendly meetings. The standards (see list on page 22) are intended to be applicable for any planner or supplier seeking to improve the sustainability of their events or events services.
The standards concern a wide range of topics related to gathering, sheltering, feeding and entertaining groups. Each of the standards focuses on separate impact areas, including staff management and environmental policy, communications, waste, energy, air quality, water, procurement and community partners.
Lindsay Arell, LEED AP O+M,1 is on the board of directors for the Green Meeting Industry Council, serves as the sustainable programs manager at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, Colo., and is the current chair of E60.02. "My current focus is on getting the standards into use by industry," says Arell. However, because of the breadth and depth of the standards, organizations aren't always able to make the jump right away, she says. Therefore, Arell explains, she has especially emphasized getting organizations that provide sub-elements of events - food services, for example - to become certified, potentially making it easier for events to then become certified by extension. "We have begun to see more and more suppliers and venues take an interest," she says.
Among the organizations that have pioneered adoption of the standards are McCormick Place in Chicago, Ill., and the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.
McCormick Place, owned by the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, encompasses four state-of-the art buildings and attracts close to 3 million visitors annually. With a total of 2.6 million square feet (.24 square meters) of exhibition space, it is the largest convention center in North America.
According to Kevin Lavin, McCormick Place sustainability manager, the facility is committed to implementing sustainable initiatives. In fact, sustainability is one of McCormick's top five business strategies. Examples include the facility's switch to renewable energy and the LEED certification of the West Building in 2007.
In addition, in April 2013, McCormick Place achieved level one certification with ASTM standard E2774, Evaluation and Selection of Venues for Environmentally Sustainable Meetings, Events, Trade Shows and Conferences.
"The MPEA operations department was performing recycling and some energy sustainability initiatives prior to the decision to attain the level one ASTM standard," says Lavin. However, after reviewing the ASTM standard, "We realized many other areas in which the convention could advance sustainability measures," he adds. Some of the changes that have been implemented since then include:
Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Convention Center, operated by SMG, a venue management, marketing and development company, has also moved ahead with a green program that embraces the ASTM International standards as a natural outgrowth of existing green commitments.
"Our facility is state of the art, with a LEED gold-certified expansion completed in 2011, and part of earning that designation means focusing on the green strategies that are most important to event planners," says Peter Horch, director of event services. Then, when the facility hosted Greenbuild 2013 in November of last year, management targeted four goals: reducing overall materials used, increasing the materials reused, minimizing waste and educating stakeholders about waste generation. "Hosting this event helped to further our overall green goals here in Pennsylvania," says Horch.
Working with Greenbuild organizers, SMG reviewed various industry standards and looked to adopt best industry practices. "We wanted to be sure that we used standards that the meetings industry would respect," he says.
The greatest challenge in moving toward greener practices was in terms of waste removal and devising a system for a 2-million-square-foot (.19 million square meters) building; not an easy task because it required setting up a new waste stream. However, the results have been remarkable: improving from less than 10 percent waste recycling to more than 75 percent.
The PCC able to reduce the amount of waste that went into landfills, and it also managed to significantly change its use of energy, food waste and water. For example, the director of facilities oversaw the replacement of the metal halide lighting system in the city's 12th Street underpass, adding 202 LED lights and reducing energy costs from $40,979 to $7,962 annually. Lighting in meeting rooms is also being updated. "We worked with our food and beverage partner, Aramark SFS, to compost food waste. And our housekeeping director has focused on our use of water through high efficiency toilets and other water conservation efforts," says Lorenz Hassenstein, general manager at PCC.
Looking ahead, PCC has more plans. The facility began 2014 with a power contract that provides 25 percent renewable energy and also will help the bottom line. "Our commitments at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which helped the city of Philadelphia earn a Top 10 Green Cities designation for 2014, is the result of a team effort with our partners focused on improving our standards," Hassenstein says.
"This whole process could be embraced gradually at other venues and in other cities - moving through the greening process in increments," adds Hassenstein, "and it would still have a tremendous impact on reducing waste, improving efficiency and reducing costs for event planners."
For organizations considering a move to sustainable meeting practices, the relevant standards under the jurisdiction of ASTM Subcommittee E60.02 on Hospitality are:
For an electronic subscription to these standards, go to www.astm.org/BOOKSTORE/COMPS/GREENMTGS.
LEED AP O+M is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accredited professional operations and maintenance.ALAN R. EARLS is a writer and author who covers business and technology topics for newspapers, magazines and websites. He is based near Boston, Mass.