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How to plan a green meeting or conference

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Frightening statistics in America show that during a typical five day conference, 2500 attendees will use 62,500 disposable plates, 87,500 napkins, 75,000 cups or glasses and 90,000 cans or bottles.  In addition to this, there are the materials used for promotion and conference packs and of course the greenhouse gases which accumulate from delegates travel to and from the event and the inevitable food waste.

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No wonder then that there is increasing pressure on us all to adopt sustainable practices.  Going “green” is not only good for the environment, it is also very good for business.  Green businesses that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability can stand out from their competitors and impress like-minded clients with their green image.  Planning a sustainable event does not have to be difficult and it can in fact save you money in the long run.

Where do you start?  Start with the venue – many hotel groups have adopted sustainability as the standard, so if you use one of these you will automatically be planning a meeting that is thoughtful to the environment, to your budget and to your attendees’ experience.

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Starwood  Hotels have gone one step further and send you a Meeting Impact Report after your event, which recaps all of the sustainable initiatives that you selected related to energy and water consumption, waste management, sustainable food choices and meeting services.

Once your MIR is calculated using the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative, you can offset the carbon footprint of your meeting. They willl provide you with a list of donation opportunities through South Pole Carbon, their global carbon-offset partner, that advance emission-reduction projects around the world.

Many other venues and hotels have followed suit, so you can easily find and check venues’ green credentials before you decide which one to use.

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Destination, venue selection, transportation options and procurement decisions will all impact the carbon footprint of the event.  The nature and size of the event will influence how best to reduce it’s greenhouse gas emissions, but there are actions that you can take that will have a big impact.

Destination

Select a destination that is close to the majority of the attendees and if applicable served by direct flights.  Multiple take-offs and landings result in higher emissions.  The destination should also have a good public transport system.

Transport

Offer attendees the choice to attend the event via video conferencing.  Encourage attendees to travel together wherever possible, sharing taxis from airports, using hybrid or electric cars and renting cars from companies who offer a sustainable rental car option.

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Venue selection

Choose a venue that is LEED , BREAM or ISO 14001 certified, or at least one that employs energy and water-efficient equipment and practices and also schedules heating and/or air conditioning around your meeting requirements.

Food and beverage

Locally sourced ingredients and produce should be used wherever possible to reduce transportation emissions.  Organically grown fruit and vegetables do not use synthetic fertilisers or chemicals which come from fossil fuel.

Use Fairtrade coffee and environmentally friendly crockery. During the meeting session, rather than putting bottled water on tables, provide jugs of water or refillable glass bottles.

Ensure that the venue has a waste food composting policy – if it is sent to landfill, then it produces methane which is a potent greenhouse gas.  Alternatively any leftover food could be donated to a local charity.

Registration

This can be done electronically. Name tags can be made from recyclable material and returned at the end of the event.

Go Paperless

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Meetings can result in a lot of paper waste when handouts and other copies are produced in excess or discarded after the meeting. To avoid this common occurrence, make agendas and other materials available electronically before and after the event. Use PowerPoint presentations and whiteboards during the event. Be sure to inform your participants beforehand that there will be no copies so that they may make the best decisions about their own meeting preparation.

Exhibition Production

Provide exhibitors with guidance on sustainable design and construction of stands and recycled at the end of the event.

Make recycling easy

Inevitably people will arrive with canned drinks or water bottles, so be sure that recycling bins are available and visible.  If you do have handouts, ask for them to be handed in at the end of the session and they can either be used for scrap paper or recycled.

What are the key advantages of going green for your business?

Using green meeting and conference spaces shows that your business is committed to sustainability.

It gives you something to be proud of and shout about; because your business is becoming more eco-friendly, it gives you a unique selling point, so be sure to tell your clients and customers about it.

Impress your business partners; clients and business partners alike will be keen to associate with a like-minded business.

Save some money; any small steps you can take, such as sharing transport to meetings can add to substantial savings in the long term.

Look to the future: sustainability is here to stay and is the future for most businesses, so make sure that your business doesn’t get left behind.

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