May 01, 2015

If there remains any doubt that sustainability has assumed crucial importance for the meetings industry and the people it serves, consider this: 

➢ Nearly three-quarters of global corporations have made sustainability a strategic priority.

➢ The vast majority of people now believe companies should be engaged in preserving the environment.

➢ Today's meeting attendees expect sustainable meetings. Tomorrow's attendees will demand it. 

The benefits of sustainable meetings are far-reaching--from cost savings for your organization, to more engaged attendees, to a healthier planet for future generations.

"Meetings and events are also a fantastic way to reach our client's sustainability goals, show company's values and make a positive impact on the environment" says Rocio Hammershaimb, sustainability - the Americas, for Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

Whether your organization is already committed to sustainability or just starting down the path, as a meetings professional you can play a valuable and highly visible role. 

"By making good choices, we can continue to "create a better way to experience the world" Hammershaimb says.

By now, most planners are already taking steps to green up their events through simple measures such as setting out blue recycling bins in meeting rooms, printing double-sided documents, and doing away with bottled water.

Committing to sustainable meetings means going further. 

It means balancing the needs of your events with their environmental, financial, and social impact on future generations. "This balance addresses the current meeting needs while ensuring that tomorrow's environment will be better to be able to meet and exceed future requirements," Hammershaimb explains.

It sounds complicated, but it needn't be.

Outdoor green space at the Westin Harbour Castle - Toronto allows guests a chance to unwind in the city.

The Sustainable Meeting Practices program at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide is an example of a supplier initiative that eases the way for planners.

Offered globally across all brands and hotels, Starwood's Sustainable Meeting Practices lets planners implement sustainability through the entire meeting cycle--from planning to execution to post-meeting follow-up.

Starwood's program integrates ingredients that should be central to any well-thought-out sustainable meetings initiative:

Paperless Meeting Planning: Fully electronic sales and planning process, including digital proposals and contracts, online menu selection, and rooming lists, etc.

Sustainable Meeting Services: Including environmentally friendly supplies, smart resources such as LED signage, clutter-free meeting setups, green transportation options, plus Starwood's guest incentive program, Make a Green Choice.

Sustainable Food & Beverage: Locally sourced foods, linen-free tables, bulk dispensers for condiments, eco-friendly alternatives to bottled water, food donation programs, priority for local vendors, and more.

Socially Conscious Activities: On-site and off-site community-based activities, creating fun, meaningful experiences for attendees as they give back.

Tracking and Accountability: Starwood's Meeting Impact Report is a critical tool, a report card that shows planners how their choices make a difference and points the way to future improvements. Starwood's assessment report also links to an easy and affordable tool for offsetting your carbon footprint. 

Running on Bull Frog power, the Westin Harbour Castle - Toronto utilizes 100% green electricity for both the lobby and Chartroom Bar.

• Let meeting venues know your organization is serious about sustainability.
• Include sustainability in your RFP process. 
• Ask hotels to document their sustainability initiatives and outcomes.
• Look for vendors like Starwood that make it easy to incorporate sustainability in all phases of event planning. 

Finally, pledge to do business only with hotels that are doing everything they can to improve the environment and their communities.

Look for telltale initiatives like the Westin Seattle's local sourcing of ingredients for its menus, its donation of surplus food, and its community service programs.

The Westin Seattle features clutter-free meetings in an effort to cut down on waste.

Look too for programs like those at the Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto, where planners can opt for emissions-free "Bullfrog Power" or choose meeting breaks where attendees pitch in on Clean the World's global soap project.

"It is so important for all of us to live and breathe sustainability," says Karen Bannerman, director of group sales and event management at the Westin Harbour Castle. "I believe it is the expectation of all delegates."