I was analyzing the food and beverage budget for an annual meeting when I noticed that a large line item had been deleted from this year’s program: the logoed bottled water. For the four years I had managed the budget, the custom-labeled bottled water was not only a branding element, it also was seen as a cost savings because the hotel charged the client a nominal corkage fee, allowing them to ship in their own bottles purchased through an outside vendor at a negotiated rate.
I assumed this cut was another cost-saving measure, but soon learned there was a greater initiative at work. The client was “going green,” and opted to use the hotel’s water coolers instead of plastic bottles. While the bottle’s specific branding element was now gone, the overall image of the meeting improved through their environmentally conscious effort, and that step inspired them to look at how they could green other aspects of their meeting.
Once planners take steps towards meeting sustainability, it’s hard to go back to business as usual. If you’re a neophyte, look to your hotel partner to help you figure out what changes you can make. The Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego has an evolving environmental initiative that starts with internal employee education and expands outward to planners and in-house groups. By creating a “Green Team” out of a group of Hyatt executives, managers and supervisors, the hotel committed its workforce to making an environmental difference.
Todd Rushing, partner of Concentrics Restaurants in Atlanta, says green meetings start with a simple question: What steps does the venue take to be environmentally sensitive?
“The key is making yourself aware of what companies are doing to try to assert themselves in the eco-friendly system,” Rushing says. “A lot of our colleagues bring in the same water bottles daily to try to cut back on throwing away disposable ones.”
Rushing’s PARISH restaurant is a prototype of best environmental practices, serving as a model they can expand to all of their establishments. They capture rainwater through umbrella poles and reuse it to water plants and the restaurant’s herb garden. PARISH’s Chef Tim Magee then utilizes these fresh ingredients—from chives and thyme to rosemary and basil—to prepare the restaurant’s daily cuisine.
“We use soy sandwich wraps and source to-go containers and silverware made from corn and sugarcane,” Rushing says. “Environmentally-friendly cleaning products from paper towels to toilet paper are used.”
Even the restaurant uniforms and aprons are made out of organic cotton at PARISH. In addition, Rushing says each day’s menu is verbally recited, cutting down on paper and regular menu reprinting.
“We are most excited about an incredible machine called the ORCA unit which converts waste into water that can be recycled into our plumbing and gardening,” Rushing says. “The machine can dispose up to 2,000 lbs. of food waste per day, reducing it to harmless water.”
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With just one quick phone call to a hotel or special event venue, a planner can get a synopsis of similar steps a facility is taking to be environmentally responsible. These initiatives can give the planner examples of how they can go green with their meeting, and possibly inspire them to bring green initiatives inside their own company.
So what do these varying colorations of environmental responsibility look like?
- Use bottled water
- Use Styrofoam cups, plastic forks and paper plates
- Print handouts on paper
- Ship in food products from out-of-state
- Use flipcharts
- Use foam-core signs
- Use plastic registration bags
- Throw everything away
- Use water coolers with disposable cups
- Use biodegradable disposable serving products
- Print on double-sided recycled content paper with biodegradable inks
- Use organic produce
- Use dry erase boards
- Use durable signs with interchangeable templates
- Use 100 percent recyclable cotton totes
- Have on-site recycling bins
- Use water coolers with reusable water bottles
- Use china and cutlery
- Provide a USB drive or Web site link to download materials digitally
- Use food products that are grown within a 50-mile radius and are organic, if possible
- Use projectors or digital tablets
- Use electronic hotel signage
- Ask attendees to bring their own bags
- Reduce, reuse and recycle, and compost or donate whenever possible
This article was originally published in the ‘09 Plan Your Meetings annual.