Research: Sustainable Meetings Survey

It's hard to deny that green meetings have gone mainstream. Convention centers and meetings hotels routinely tout their LEED certifications, sustainabile practices, and other "green building" credentials, and upgrade them during renovations. Nearly all third-party planning companies now offer advice on how to make meetings more sustainable in ways that go well beyond replacing individual water bottles with water stations or asking the hotel about its recycling program. A growing number of companies have formal environmental policies in place.

In fact, when we polled Successful Meetings readers in March, nearly three-quarters (72.4 percent) of the 123 stakeholders who responded said they have green policies and procedures in place for at least some of their meetings and events, and nearly one in five (18.7 percent) said they have these policies in place for all of them.

Sustainable policies and procedures are also key factors in selecting third-party vendors and other organizations they work with, these planners said. Nearly three-quarters (73.2 percent) of respondents said it has either some or a great deal of influence on hotel choice, while about two-thirds said the same of event venues (67.2 percent) and convention centers (66.9 percent). Between 50 and 60 percent said this influence extended to restaurants, attractions, convention and visitors bureaus, and destination marketing organizations.

One planner, who works for a major consumer foods firm that has green meeting standards in place, says the reason is simply, "to be environmentally responsible. Simple changes can be made that will impact the future of our planet." That's not the only reason to consider green meetings, however. Many sustainable practices can actually save money.

A planner for a well-known brokerage firm that spends more than $50 million on its meetings spoke of being "fiscally and educationally responsible" as well as "investing in our communities" as its reasons for including green practices. That's why his firm goes beyond post-event surveys, following up with local organizations that benefit from sustainable practices such as using food service vendors who buy locally and recycle, as well as donating excess food and meeting materials like pens and notepads to charitable organizations.

His firm also reduces paper use by handing out electronic documents when possible and printing on both sides of the paper when not. It works with hotels to persuade attendees to reuse things like linens and soaps, and recycles paper and beverage bottles at its meeting venues - although it also sets up water stations and distributes reusable water bottles to attendees. At the same time, the planner says that while attendees react positively to these sustainable practices, they don't notice them if they are missing - a comment with which nearly half (49.6 percent) of his fellow respondents agreed.