In our final interview with green meeting industry leaders, we talk with Rachel Benedick, vice president of sales and services for Visit Denver, the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). CVBs are often the first contact planners have when choosing a site for their meeting or event. In recent years, because of the increase in requests for information about sustainable practices, Benedick has become a champion for her city’s green initiatives as well as a resource for local hotels, restaurants and meeting facilities wanting to “go green.”
Vice President of Sales & Services
10 years in the industry
3 years implementing sustainable practices
What do you see as the greatest influence of change within the meetings industry towards sustainable meetings?
In the current economic climate, the greatest influence seems to be the potential to cut costs. The greatest opportunity with implementing green initiatives is that it can affect many areas: reducing a group’s carbon footprint, [and] reducing cost giving back to local charities or the local community, to name a few.
If a meeting planner could focus on only one area of sustainability, where should they get started?
The beauty of green/sustainable initiatives is that there’s a spectrum, which allows for participation at many levels. The options are endless. Some may have costs associated with them and some are provided complimentary to groups. We encourage our planners to start small and then continue to evolve their green initiatives in time. Going paperless with their annual meeting program, implementing water stations instead of providing water bottles, or donating leftover food to a local shelter are just a few simple steps that planners can implement. The important message is that planners are starting to think green.
How important are metrics? Can you explain which measurements a planner should focus on?
This is an area of opportunity; currently there are not a lot of nationally recognized ways to measure these practices. GMIC [Green Meeting Industry Council] is working in conjunction with APEX [Accepted Practices Exchange] to define industry standards and that will greatly assist this process for the hospitality community. The success of metrics measurement is working with vendors and facilities that are able to accurately collect the data for measurement. Currently at Visit Denver, one of the most useful tools we offer for carbon measurement is our travel and event calculators that can be found on our Web site.
In your opinion what is the greatest challenge faced by meeting planners trying to implement green practices?
In this current economic downturn, the greatest challenge is to implement green practices without increasing bottom line costs. Expense containment is critical right now for many meeting professionals, so the focus has really been on cost-reducing tactics as well as attendance building. A green/sustainable initiative that hits on those two areas is an incredible opportunity for planners organizing meetings in today’s economy.
What do you see as the biggest misconception of implementing sustainable practices?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that all green practices equate to out of pocket expenses. Our hotels, as well as our convention center, have incorporated green practices into their daily operations. These facilities have made large investments into more efficient and sustainable capital improvements, which helps reduce the bottom line costs to the meetings at no charge. A few years ago, “going green” wasn’t mainstream, but today it is a part of doing business.
Have you seen an increase in the environmental questions on RFPs?
Yes. We have seen many groups in the past couple of years include this on their RFPs. To date, the requests have been more global in nature such as “explain the current green practices your hotel/convention center participates in.” Requests from organizations that have embraced sustainability as part of their core competencies can be a lot more specific. For example, US Green Building Council has very detailed requests and benchmarks that a city/convention center must achieve in order to be considered for future years.
What types of groups are looking for these practices?
Most groups want to know what a city/hotel community is doing in the green/sustainable arena. As mentioned above, groups where sustainability is a part of their core competency have more specific guidelines and expectations for host cities and/or host hotels.
How is Denver different from other cities in regards to green meeting policies and practices?
Denver is a natural fit for green meetings. In a recent national independent industry study, Denver was ranked the third “greenest” city in America, with the ability to deliver a green meeting. The city of Denver is also devoted to sustainable development and ecologically friendly practices. From the Colorado Convention Center’s full time sustainable programs manger to the Denver International Airport’s solar panels to Mayor John Hickenlooper’s award-winning Greenprint Denver [initiative], we are committed to being green. With more than 300 days of sunshine and 850 miles of paved bike paths in the city, sustainable practices are more of a way of life in Denver, and we trying to weave [that] into the meetings industry.