Going Green - South July 2010

June 14, 2010

“The key to wisdom is knowing all the right questions.”

This quote is especially accurate in planning sustainable meetings. When determining the green meeting practices of your vendors and entire supply chain, asking the right questions will save you both time and money, but sometimes the most difficult part is determining what questions to ask.

With that in mind, here is a quick reference guide of questions for different situations you may encounter. You may want to add them to your checklist or RFP.

New APEX standards for sustainable meetings.

Questions to ask during a meeting venue site inspection:

  • What are the venue’s environmental policies? Including energy conservation practices?
  • How is the staff trained to implement these policies?
  • Do you have low-flow toilets and other water-saving devices in restrooms?
  • Do you purchase environmentally responsible cleaning products? Do they have an eco-label?
  • What do you recycle? What is your diversion rate to landfill, recycling and compost?
  • What mass transit lines serve the property?
  • Has the property been certified by a third party? Which one(s)?
  • And most importantly, can I see the back of house areas where the sorting and recycling actually takes place?

Questions to ask during an accommodations venue site inspection:

  • Is the hotel within walking distance to the meeting venue, restaurants, shops and nightlife?
  • Do you have a linen and towel reuse program? How frequently are linens changed as a standard?
  • What do you do with unused amenities?
  • Do you have in-room recycling? If not, how is guest recycling handled?
  • Do you have energy-efficient lighting?
  • Do you have low-flow toilets and shower heads?
  • How is staff trained in environmental practices?

Questions to ask chef when selecting menus:

  • Is it local (within 100 miles)?
  • Is it in season?
  • Is it certified organic? (Ask for a minimum of 20 percent at no additional cost.)
  • Did it come from a sustainable fishery?
  • Do you have vegetarian dishes that even meat eaters will love?
  • Is the coffee fair-trade and shade grown?

Questions to ask about how the meals will be served and removed:

  • Will the food be served on china and reusable flatware?
  • Will the beverages be served from pitchers instead of individual bottles or cans?
  • Will water for banquet tables be served by the waiter instead of pre-poured?
  • Are the condiments served in bulk instead of individual packets?
  • Are linen napkins used for breaks, or are paper napkins 100 percent recycled and recyclable or compostable?
  • Are the centerpieces reusable, edible or recyclable?
  • Will composting be available? What can be composted?
  • Where will leftover food be donated to?

Questions to ask when purchasing conference bags:

  • Where was the bag fabric produced?
  • Where was the handle strap materials produced?
  • Where is the zipper produced?
  • Where is it assembled? What are the factory’s labor practices?
  • What inks are used?
  • Are these materials sustainable? Recycled, organic, etc.?

Questions to ask when purchasing gifts for employees, clients or event participants:

  • Is this product something worth keeping? (If not, it’s just contributing to the landfill.)
  • What is the ecological footprint?
  • Where was it assembled?
  • Are these materials sustainable? Recycled, organic, etc.?
  • What is the packaging involved in the product? Is there a way for the packaging to be more environmentally responsible?
  • Is there a choice of production locations that would mean less transportation required? (For example, do they have the option of ordering from a warehouse on the West Coast versus the East Coast?)
  • What are the labor conditions where it is made?

Questions to send to participants before they leave home:

  • Did you plan your trip using the most environmentally responsible form of travel?
  • Do you plan to take mass transit or a shuttle from the airport instead of renting a car or taking a taxi?
  • Did you turn off all lights, unplug appliances and stop the newspaper delivery?
  • Did you remember to bring your favorite water bottle and coffee cup?

Questions to ask if you are sponsoring an event:

  • What if you are sponsoring an event instead of planning one? (The media has been all over organizations being taken to task for sponsoring events seen as wasteful or excessive. As a sponsor, remember how your image becomes closely linked with the event—good or bad. Now more than ever your good reputation is on the line. You will probably want to ask a few questions of the event organizers.)
  • Do the organizers have sustainable policies? What are they?
  • Is the event being planned using green meeting standards?
  • Are the results of these efforts being measured?
  • Is the event being audited by a third-party?
  • Have the organizers calculated the carbon footprint? What have they done to minimize the footprint?

Take time to ask these questions as early in the planning process as possible. The answers are vitally important to the decisions you will make and the level of sustainability you will be able to attain.
Remember, however, it is a journey. If a particular vendor doesn’t have practices in place, ask them what they could do by the time your event will be there and what their intention is moving forward from there. It is important to support companies that are working toward being more environmentally efficient as well as the ones that are well on the way.

Nancy J. Wilson, CMP, is a leader, innovator and entrepreneur in the meeting planning and events industry. She began her career in the industry in 1978 and is now a principal with MeetGreen, a Portland, Ore.-based conference management and consulting firm that she founded and which specializes in green meetings. Wilson served on the Live Earth Global Green Team and is cofounder of the Green Meeting Industry Council, currently serving on the Board’s Executive Committee. Wilson is also the coauthor of Simple Steps to Green Meetings and Events. Her blog, “Pretentious Musings of a Meet Green Martyr,” shares resources, tips, ideas and funny stories about the life of a green meeting planner. To enquire about purchasing a checklist and other tools for planning a green meeting, contact MeetGreen.

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About the author
Nancy J. Wilson