Running a "Green" Conference or Meeting
What do we mean when we talk about a "green" meeting? A "green" meeting is a meeting where an effort is made during the planning sessions to ensure that the amount of waste generated is kept to a minimum, items used during the course of the meeting are of recycled content, and the waste generated is recycled or reused to the maximum extend possible. "Green" meetings do not just happen. They require careful and thoughtful planning.
Convention bureaus, restaurants, hotels, and convention halls should all be informed in the first correspondence and planning session that a preference will be given to facilities that have procedures in place to reduce waste generation and recycle waste materials. This should be reemphasized in subsequent discussions and included as an item in the contract to ensure compliance.
Food services should be informed of the need to use reusable dishes, flatware, and glassware. If napkins and table coverings are not reusable, they should be made of a material that is compostable. It should be specified in the food service contract that these waste streams be composted after use. Beverages served on the exhibit hall floor should be served in reusable or recyclable containers. If recyclable containers are used point of generation recycle bins should be provided.
The handling of unserved portions of food is a facet of conference activities that is frequently overlooked. The accurate determination of the number of portions needed for any meeting can be a real challenge. Charges for unserved portions can represent a significant portion of the meeting budget. While unserved portions cannot be eliminated, a benefit can be realized from the expense. Arrangements should be made well in advance of the actual event to deliver unserved portions of food to local soup kitchens or food banks. The receiving facility should be informed of approximately how much food will be available so they may make provisions for storage and distribution.
Health regulations will require that food waste be handled separate from unused portions. Animal shelters should be contacted to determine if a portion of the food waste may be fed to sheltered animals. Any part of the remaining food waste that is compostable should be sent to an approved composting operation. Only the portion remaining after these options have been exercised should be sent for landfilling or other sanitary waste disposal.
Occasionally, the regulating authority will have regulations in place that will not allow food waste to be sent to locations other than permitted solid waste management units. In these cases, the regulating authority may be petitioned for a specific exemption for the handling of the food waste generated from the meeting. Be sure to include in the petition as many specifics as possible regarding the type, volume, and proposed disposition of the waste.
A large amount of paper is distributed and used in conjunction with meetings. Printed materials for the meeting should be printed with soy based ink on post consumer recycled content recyclable paper. This should include registration materials and report covers as well as any handouts for the meeting. Many professional organizations are finding it very cost effective to provide their proceedings on compact disc rather than in printed form. Restrooms in both the convention facilities and the associated hotel rooms should be stocked with post consumer recycled content paper products.
In the meeting rooms, exhibit hall, and convention hallways, recycle bins should be available for the ready sorting and collection of any waste generated. Waste streams to be specifically targeted would include paper, newsprint, glass, plastic, and aluminum. Frequently, a higher level of participation is realized in these situations if it is indicated that a particular charity, a food bank, for example, is receiving any benefit from the proceeds of the recycled material.
Exhibitors should be encouraged to include a reduce waste/recycle waste attitude, too. They may be provided discount vouchers for the next year's exhibit space if they distribute items that are particularly useful and of recycled content, minimize waste from their booth, or demonstrate some other innovative method of waste minimization.
Should transportation be an element of the meeting that is being handled by the planning committee, the greenest modes of transportation should be promoted. The use of existing public transportation for commuting between hotels and exhibition halls can be encouraged by providing free or discounted passes. Providing schedules and fare information will increase use by meeting participants.
While "green" meetings do not happen on their own, careful forethought and planning can ensure that they do happen. Organizations are realizing an increased cooperation from service providers as more and more groups encourage and require "green" meetings. Meet and be "green.