The Case For...Sustainable Meetings

June 7, 2012

Our world as meeting professionals has changed, the economy is still struggling and meetings themselves continue to be under intense scrutiny. So why haven’t green meetings become a thing of the past? Why are they instead moving into the mainstream and becoming a part of the “new normal?”

That’s easy…sustainable meetings offer five very important benefits in addition to treading lightly on the Earth. Once considered just the right thing to do, sustainability has become a key business strategy propelling organizations into today’s economic climate.

The five top benefits of green meetings are:

  1. Cost-savings: Both planners and venues alike have figured out that environmental savings and economic savings often go hand in hand. The budget savings for eliminating handouts, bottled water, shuttle service and conference bags is a driving force for planners. Meeting venues have found that energy-efficient lighting and low-flow fixtures have a very quick ROI.

  2. Image and risk reduction: Corporations and associations are increasingly required to be more transparent. Consumers and members want to align themselves with good corporate citizens. Nowhere is this more apparent than at an event where conspicuous consumption is no longer considered the “VIP treatment.” Events are now including community projects that allow participants to both look good and feel good instead.

  3. Competitive advantage: As a planner, if my vendors offer similar rates, space and products, I will definitely choose the one with the added value of being sustainable. Several years ago, green policies were not usually requested on an RFP. According to hoteliers today, environmental initiatives are a very common request.

  4. Delegate satisfaction: Delegates know they have the power to determine which event to attend, and most are limited to one or two. They are looking for experiences with fresh, local food; are closer to home; in hotels that have not been cleaned with toxic chemicals; and are using technology to make the best use of their cherished time. In short, they want events to align with their values and make them feel good about themselves.

  5. Employee retention: As a new generation of employees joins the workforce, they are looking for more than past generations and employee retention becomes a key issue. As with delegates, employees look for organizations that support their environmental and social values. Recent polls show that over 80 percent of all employees want to align themselves with sustainable organizations.

If these five benefits aren’t enough to sway you, let me tell you a story. On a recent cross-country airline flight, I was bouncing along in coach and ordered a cup of tea. The tea arrived in a polystyrene cup with a plastic stir stick and packet of sugar—not very gracious. On the return trip I was upgraded to first class. That same tea request arrived at my seat in a china cup with a silver spoon and sugar cube—I felt special. Interestingly, the more sustainable option was also the highest level of service. Don’t we want all of our guests to feel special, too?

Gone are the days when green meetings conjured up images of serving participants granola on a burlap bag while sitting cross-legged on the floor. Today’s smart industry professionals understand sustainable initiatives provide first-class service, cost savings and so much more.


Nancy J. Zavada, CMP, president of MeetGreen and a co-founder of the Green Meeting Industry Council, recently co-authored her second book, Simple Steps to Saving Green by Going Green. You can follow Zavada’s blog, “Pretentious Musings of a Green Meetings Martyr,” on MeetGreen’s website is located at

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About the author
Nancy J. Zavada | President, MeetGreen

Nancy is a leader and entrepreneur in the events industry focusing on sustainable business practices. She founded MeetGreen in 1994 after beginning her career as a corporate health care planner in 1978.