According to a recent PYM LIVE survey, most meeting planners choose a venue because of its location (33 percent) or the way the sales staff treated them (33 percent). Cost is the deciding factor for only 22 percent. An unusual amenity persuades 11 percent to sign a contract. Whether the venue has sustainability initiatives didn’t even rank. That’s not to say that meeting planners don’t find eco-friendly venues and vendors important. It just highlights the conundrum they face: Being sustainable often is a personal commitment rather than an organizational priority. Until it becomes a priority, other requirements will always carry more weight. Next to the construction industry, meetings and events create more waste than any other in the United States. Planners can drive change, but how can they gently nudge companies or clients into seeing the value of eco-friendly operations? We’ll tell you.
Offer key meeting stakeholders simple choices that eliminate waste while saving time and/or money. For example, using pitchers of water rather than water bottles during a typical three-day conference can save $12,000. Choosing off-site venues and activities within walking distance of the host hotel can eliminate $30,000 to $40,000 in shuttle expenses. Think about how much money could be saved by moving from a paper-based conference to a digital one or reusing supplies from year to year. Track that and share the information with the executives.
Think about internal policies your office or client may already have in place. Do they recycle? Turn off lights when a room is empty? Require that all printed copies be double-sided? Use recycled groundwater for landscaping? Support local businesses? Use low-flow water and Energy Smart appliances? Encourage biking to work or carpooling programs? Donate excess materials to charity? Work with local charities? Why, then, wouldn’t they want vendors and attendees to follow the same practices at their meetings and events? Management loves consistency. Marketing departments love a good story. By extending internal corporate policies to external meeting and event policies, you’re feeding both needs while generating goodwill and perhaps some good press.
3. Make sustainability a vendor-search priority
Articulate sustainability initiatives and requirements to vendors and venues early and often. Try inserting sustainability clauses into your request for proposals. Lucky for you, GMIC already has a toolbox full of ASTM/APEX-compliant RFP addenda for categories ranging from accommodation and audiovisual to destination management and exhibits.
4. Communicate early and often to ensure compliance
Long before anyone steps foot on-site, determine your communication strategy for each initiative. How will you make sure vendors realize the important of complying? How can you tell attendees what they’ll experience and what they should do? If there are penalties for noncompliance, how can you make sure vendors and exhibitors know about it without sounding like a jerk? Once you’ve answered those questions, create a communication timeline with deadlines for materials, emails and other essential communication. After the event, share news about the final outcomes so people understand how their hard work paid off.
Once policies are in place, figure out how you’ll track each initiative, when measurements could be taken, and who’s responsible for reporting results back to you. After the event, you should be able to compile a benchmark report to share with executives, clients and/or your communications department. Knowing your baseline measurements is critical because it gives you goals to shoot for year after year. Understanding how your sustainable choices have positively impacted the community and the environment is key. But probably the most important thing you’ll need to learn how to articulate, if you want corporate buy-in, is how sustainability impacts the bottom line and customer sentiment.
6. Sell sponsorships to cover the cost
Being responsible sometimes means choosing the more expensive option. If you don’t want your eco-conscious decisions reduced to a line-item liability, find an exhibitor/sponsor to pay for the program in exchange for recognition at the event as well as in the local or global community.
For more tips on creating more sustainable meetings and events, check out these video broadcasts from the Green Meeting Industry Council’s 2014 Sustainable Meetings Conference on PYM’s YouTube Channel. You also may want to pursue certification in sustainable meeting and event design.