Green in More Ways Than One

Real estate giant CB Richard Ellis makes sure its incentive travel programs are friendly to the environment, and the company's bottom line.

In these challenging times, corporate America is turning to sustainability, not just because it's good, but because it's smart. Over the last few years, executives and meeting and incentive planners have embraced going green in a big way. But as the global economic crisis evolves, the benefits of sustainable practices are being scrutinized more closely. In the process, going green is now as much about saving money and keeping morale up as it is about doing the right thing.

"Whether it's for ecology, or economics, or your own business environment because your neighbors or competitors are doing it ... there are a whole host of reasons why people are getting into [sustainability], but they're all doing it," says David Pogue, the national director of sustainability for institutional and corporate services at Los Angeles-based real estate services giant CB Richard Ellis (CBRE).

Pogue should know. As the world's largest commercial real estate services firm, CBRE is not only a major company engaging in green practices, it also works closely with other companies in their energy and environmental conservation efforts. Managing 600 million square feet of property and handling facilities services for an additional 500 million square feet of space, CBRE's leadership estimates that 2 percent of America's workers are in offices that the company manages.

Setting the Standard

The winner of numerous environmental accolades including the U.S. Green Building Council Leadership Award and the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star Partner of the Year Award, CBRE has distinguished itself in the arena of corporate responsibility.

This green orientation extends to its corporate incentives. Working closely with the Newport, CA-based Ambassadors LLC (an industry green leader in its own right), the company has kept environmental and social responsibility front and center. Last year's annual Recognition Conference for CBRE's top 200-plus brokers provided an opportunity for some very clever green practices. Instead of delivering printed material to guests, Ambassadors equipped each room with a digital picture frame and a USB drive containing the information attendees needed, with details already saved and ready to read.

"You just need to be creative," says Leslie Saeta, a founding partner for Ambassadors LLC. "We need to educate people that being environmentally responsible does not mean being not luxurious ... People can have a wonderful experience and not leave a footprint."

Ambassadors has been working with CBRE for a number of years, and like its client, the incentive house has not only set high standards for its own activities, it has motivated those it works with to boost their environmental and social responsibility as well.

In 2007, the company formally introduced the PlanIt Green program for sustainable incentive programs and events. It now requires properties under consideration for a program to fill out a form verifying how green they are and—perhaps more significantly—how green they can be by the time of the program.

Saeta expresses concern that in the wake of the economic crisis, companies may be putting green efforts on the back burner. She believes the smart thing is to do the opposite. "To date, every green meeting we've done has been less expensive than one that wasn't," she says.

Many incentive houses and destinations are encouraging companies to eschew luxury in favor of a more responsible type of incentive trip. Last December, TBA Global, the San Diego-based incentive event company, announced the formation of a Corporate Social Responsibility Council to further its efforts in this area.

Many incentive trips now include some kind of socially responsible or "voluntourism" program in which the incentive winners donate time to the local community—helping construct housing, clean up a school, or build bikes to donate to local children. Not only do winners describe these programs as impactful, but they present plenty of affordable activity ideas for executives and planners.

All Hail The Green Knights

For CBRE, the goal is to make people more aware of the impact they have in the workplace. The smart ones may then expand their green behavior both in their home life and office life. Through informational events and e-mailed notices aimed at creating a sense of fun around the green efforts and informing tenants of specific successes and accomplished goals, CBRE puts out the message that "good action anywhere has good impact everywhere."

Among client employees, there are many who get involved just because they feel it's the right thing to do. Much of the energy behind CBRE's early green efforts came from property management employees who had an interest in environmental responsibility outside of work. Dubbed "The Green Knights," they helped drive forward results.

"It's really about engagement," says Pogue. "This is helping clients develop an internal group of motivated, engaged early adopters because then you start getting ideas and pressure from the bottom, as well as ideas and mandates from the top."

Originally published Oct. 1, 2009

For more ideas, tips, and tools for better meetings and events, get Successful Meetings' weekly e-newsletter delivered to your inbox.