Not Another Whitewash

Conference centers get real about going green.

Unfortunately, —when something is called environmentally friendly that can't be proven to have a net positive impact on the environment—has become part of some marketing programs in the meetings and hospitality communities.

In order to ensure greenwashing does not occur in the conference center industry, the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC) has implemented a Code of Sustainability, that encourages member properties to follow environmentally sound practices.

The industry has to get serious about the issue. Going green is no longer a fringe concern. A recent survey of corporate travel managers by the National Business Travel Association indicates that nearly 30 percent of the hospitality industry incorporates green issues into their travel policies and that nearly 25 percent prefer green meeting suppliers.

The fourth annual "focus group" survey on the greening of business tourism coordinated by the Frankfurt-based IMEX exhibition revealed that buyers saying that they, or colleagues, "would deliberately avoid destinations or venues known to have a poor environmental record" increased to nearly three-quarters (73 percent) compared to a figure of 66 percent in 2006.

Business and organizations that are committed to sustainability find they are not just surviving—they are thriving. According to "Global Hospitality Insights," a December 2008 Ernst & Young report, "green programs can provide a competitive advantage as long as green activities are still optional in the market ... over time, green practices will become a baseline requirement to doing business in the hospitality industry. Those companies with business models that revolve around green practices will have the strongest opportunity of achieving a sustainable competitive advantage."

Code Breakers

IACC sent its Code of Sustainability to members, asking them to determine their status with regard to 59 practices that include waste management, recycling, water conservation, energy management, air quality, and food and beverage.

Members who had at least 75 percent of the environmental practices in place are invited to sign the Code of Sustainability. Facilities earn a platinum, gold, or silver designation, recognizing 100 percent, 85 percent, or 75 percent adherence to the code, respectively. The code is voluntary and not required for IACC certification.

Only one property—The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, which operates the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, WI—has achieved platinum status; 16 have qualified for the gold designation, and 14 others have earned silver status.

Wingspread is a private conference center Benchmark Hospitality operates for The Johnson Foundation. This Frank Lloyd Wright architectural masterpiece demonstrates that historic buildings can indeed be green.

The Johnson Foundation has a long tradition of sponsoring Wingspread conferences that address issues of environmental quality and community—helping people live in harmony with their environment.

Practicing What They Preach

"It is not enough, however, that we support others in their work to make the world cleaner and more sustainable; we must also manifest the change that we are calling for," says Lois Berg, director of administrative services for The Johnson Foundation and chair of IACC's Sustainability Committee. "We therefore pledge that our own actions will bear witness to our environmental values and goals. While we will always strive to live up to our unique standards of hospitality and conference productivity, we will also work to limit our environmental impact and carbon footprint and to adopt environmentally sustainable practices."

In addition to its IACC platinum status, The Johnson Foundation is seeking LEED certification for its residential facility, the Guest House.

Some of The Foundation's green highlights include 16.15 kW solar electric panels that were installed in July 2007. Electricity generated by the array is sold back to WE-Energies as part of its Energy for Tomorrow renewable energy program. Environmentally friendly products and services, which include Green Seal-certified cleaning products, non-toxic paints, recycled-content paper products, and Energy Star-rated copiers, computers, and equipment, are used whenever possible.

The Stonewall Resort in Weston, WV, is another facility that takes environmental excellence seriously. Its Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course was recently recognized as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary through Audubon International's Cooperative Sanctuary Program.

"The Palmer Course at Stonewall Resort has shown a strong commitment to its environmental program," said Jim Sluiter, staff ecologist for the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Programs. "The team is to be commended for their efforts to provide a sanctuary for wildlife on the golf course property."

Stonewall is also operated by Benchmark, a company that includes its Evergreen Program as a core value. The program provides differing levels of green hospitality best practice compliance within Benchmark's portfolio of properties, and specifically addresses green meetings and events.

"Evergreen is designed to minimize our environmental impact on the planet and introduce and disseminate within our company environmental best practices," says Greg Parsons, Benchmark vice president. "Our Evergreen Program is dynamic; it will continually evolve as we integrate new information and ideas into the program."

Garrett Creek Ranch Conference Center in Paradise, TX, is in the midst of a unique undertaking that will transform 400 acres back to the original grasses that fed the region 100 years ago.

"It's more than just an effort to be 'green,' " said Garrett Creek Ranch owner Jaynie Schultz. "We're really trying to think through and apply sustainability wherever possible."

This is part of the overall environmental stewardship program developed by Garrett Creek Ranch leadership that includes a complete sustainability initiative for the conference center facilities and farming for the center's kitchens.

Visit for IACC's Code of Sustainability, Environmental Policy Statement, and a list of properties that have signed the code.

Originally published Oct. 1, 2009

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