Gauge Your Greenness

Planning a meeting close to home is the first step toward making it green. The shorter the distance attendees have to travel, the less fuel they consume to reach their destination, the lower their carbon emissions, and the smaller the stress (on both the attendees and the Earth). So it's good news that there are a growing number of venues in North America, Latin America, and the Caribbean demonstrating a world-class effort in environmental conservation and sustainability.

"Your meeting facility is your point of departure for greening a meeting," says travel sustainability consultant Megan Epler Wood of EplerWood International. "Everyone wants a LEED-certified venue, and they're becoming more common, although they're not abundant."

At least not yet.

According to a January 2008 report from the Pinnacle Advisory Group, there were then just eight hotels in the United States with LEED certification, but more than a hundred properties have applied for certification, including several from major international hotel groups, such as the Marriott New York Downtown and Starwood's element brand, so the chances of finding a LEED-certified hotel for your meeting in 2010 and beyond seem very good indeed.

Even if a venue is not LEED certified, there are ways to gauge its "greenness." Many states and local municipalities have their own green certification standards. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, for instance, awards Green Lodging certificates to hotels that have demonstrated commitment to waste reduction, water and energy conservation, and other green standards.

Planners also should create their own checklists of eco-friendly criteria. BlueGreen Meetings (www.bluegreenmeetings.org), an initiative of the Oceans Blue Foundation, offers a list of questions to ask a green vendor or supplier, as do the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Ceres, a sustainability coalition.

In many instances, green meetings tend to be small meetings—the fewer the attendees, the less impact on the environment. Similarly, many green hotels and resorts tend to be small hotels and resorts that can efficiently manage and offset their environmental impact. Case in point: the Lodge at Sun Ranch in Cameron, MT, which offers "whole-lodge buyout packages" for up to 18 guests (double occupancy) and provides luxury accommodations in green-built lodge facilities made of eco-friendly and recycled materials, gourmet organic meals, and tours of its sustainable ranching operation. General Manager Lara Morris says that the ranch's meeting space can be configured for formal and informal gatherings, which appeals to its Fortune 500 clientele.

While most green resorts are located in out-of-the-way places, green meetings are not necessarily rustic meetings. Arenas del Mar in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, is a luxury eco-resort in the Central American rain forest. It can host as many as 30 guests, but according to Hans Pfister, president of the resort's parent company, Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality, it specializes in high-end board meetings of 15 to 20 attendees. During meetings, attendees take notes on paper made from locally sourced banana or coffee leaves, snack on organic chocolates and coffee, and sip water from refillable bottles made from biodegradable plastic.

Several years ago, Delaware North Companies instituted its corporate-wide GreenPath program to promote environmentally conscious and sustainable business practices within the company. Its success spawned the award-winning GreenPath Meetings program that debuted at the company's Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite in California earlier this year.

"Green meetings are being pushed from the corporate market sector; working green practices into the goals of a meeting is a good way to introduce employees to those practices," explains Pam Rudd, senior sales manager at Tenaya Lodge. "We offer to provide speakers to explain [our corporate green practices to attendees] and how they can bring that back to their offices."

Yet that's just one of myriad options the 244-room hotel offers through its GreenPath Meetings program. It also provides "disposable-free service," which limits or eliminates the use of throwaway plates, napkins, and cutlery. It serves locally sourced organic and/or sustainable food, and it even arranges hybrid vehicle transportation for meeting attendees to and from the hotel and within the park.

Venues that have made a bona fide commitment to environmental sustainability want the opportunity to demonstrate what they're doing to make a meeting or event greener. Tenaya's Rudd advises: "Everybody is saying they're green; ask your hotel to explain their own policies and challenge them to help you."

Originally published Nov. 1, 2008

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