Every month I interview leaders within the various sectors in the meetings and events industry, focusing on the steps they are taking towards implementing sustainable practices. This month, I talk with Tim Stein, the director of operations for Levy Restaurants, the food and beverage contractor for Denver’s Pepsi Center.
In 2008, Tim had the unique opportunity to work on the Democratic National Convention, which had the goal of being the “greenest convention in the history of conventions.” That presented many unique opportunities and challenges.
Director of Operations, Levy Restaurants
20+ years industry experience
9 years implementing sustainable practices
What do you see as the greatest influence of change within the meetings industry towards sustainable meetings?
The greatest influence of change is the overall demand from event organizers and groups who are requesting “green” meeting facilities, materials and service. If these organizers increasingly request and require sustainable practices, I am sure that every venue will try to find a way to position themselves as the most sustainable to win the event. Everyone in this industry should pursue these practices and find ways to make their operations more sustainable. If they don’t, they [will be] dead in the water, so to speak.
If a meeting planner could focus on only one area of sustainability, where should they get started?
Of course I would love to say food and beverage, but really, from a global environmental perspective it would have to be energy use. Currently, our primary energy use and sources are what drive greenhouse gas emissions, [which] are the primary cause of global climate change. By focusing on this one area, a meeting planner could potentially have the most impact on reducing the footprint of their event. Through the use of renewable energy alternatives and conservation measures, we can reduce the amount of energy consumed from fossil fuel sources.
At the Pepsi Center, our building is 100 percent wind-powered through a partnership with Xcel Energy. We also have solar panels on the roof of the Blue Sky Grill, as another source of renewable energy. Carbon offsets can also be purchased, which help support new energy efficiency and renewable energy projects targeted towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Visit Denver also has a neat carbon calculator tool on their Web site that can be used to calculate the amount of carbon emitted for travel, transportation and accommodations. Visitors are then provided with the option to purchase carbon offsets.
In your opinion, which is better… composting or recycling? How does a meeting planner choose which to implement?
Tough question, and I don’t know whether one is actually better than the other unless you know the energy and carbon impacts for specific comparative products through their lifecycle — such as a plastic cup that can be recycled versus a compostable cup that can be composted. Some comparison studies have been conducted.
Many businesses start with recycling, which is much more prevalent and available in many locations. The implementation of both composting and recycling are good and necessary for any event to take into account all of the products that come into play during an event. Some products are easily recyclable, and some can only be composted or put into a landfill. (Food waste is an example of something is compostable but not recyclable.) Also, some recyclable items with food waste on them may not be acceptable for recycling, but they may be able to be composted. Within the entire mix of materials, packaging, and food waste, there are many that may not be able to be recycled or composted, so it is important to make sure that all of these opportunities are being maximized.
Levy Restaurants certainly is a proponent of recycling, but we are also implementing composting procedures at several facilities, including the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta and Dodger Stadium in L.A.
How important are metrics? Can you explain which measurements a planner should focus on?
I am definitely a proponent of sustainability metrics, because they provide such a great way to measure and demonstrate the environmental performance of an event. They also allow event planners to compare one event to another event, if they are different types of events. If this is the first time for a particular event, sustainability metrics will also provide a great baseline measure from which to strive for future improvements.
There are many measures that can be assessed from an event including feedback from attendees. The primary sustainability metrics that a planner might include are:
- Energy use and mix of renewable energy used
- Greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint
- Water use
- Waste management (total waste and waste diversion through recycling and composting)
- Construction material use and reuse
- Food and beverage
In your opinion what is the greatest challenge faced by meeting planners trying to implement green practices?
Trying to do too much for one event and not succeeding with any one piece. Work from a knowledge and comfort base and continue to build and add new practices as the venues and attendees begin to embrace more of these practices in the future. In other words, start with small measurable impacts that can be easily managed and build from there.
What do you see as the biggest misconception of implementing sustainable practices?
That by doing one “green” thing, the event can be labeled as sustainable. It really is more of a sustainability continuum with many options and choices that can be applied to each event. As new benchmarks are being developed, we are all working and striving to improve our performance. It will continue to be an evolving process with new best practices becoming available all the time. A process of continual learning and willingness to challenge the status quo will better serve everyone to advance the levels of sustainability. If we continue to do all that we can to improve our environmental performance from one event to the next, we will see more progress on the sustainability continuum.