Making Green Meetings the Rule, Not the Exception

November 22, 2011

By Stephen Lindsley

In October 2008, a new committee was formed at the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) to develop a set of voluntary green standards for the meeting and event industry. The final wording of the standards is now on the verge of being approved. The ASTM, in conjunction with the Convention Industry Council (CIC) and its APEX (Accepted Practices Exchange) initiative, will officially release the new Standards for Environmentally Sustainable Meetings, Events, Trade Shows and Conferences in the first quarter of 2012.

As part of this project, the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) held the first master training program for meeting planners and suppliers at the University of Maryland in Baltimore in May 2011. The 16 graduates of this program are now certified sustainability practices trainers who will train others in the industry.

Hundreds of volunteers helped develop the new standards during the last three years, including Scott McKye, president of Kleertech in Fenton, Mo., which manufactures tag badge holders, ribbons and accessories. McKye is also one of the new graduates of the training program. He anticipates that the new standards will have a major impact on the meeting and event industry as more planners and suppliers recognize the benefits of adopting green practices. “Many of us already reduce, re-use, recycle and repurpose,” said McKye. “Once the standards are released, more planners and suppliers will want to demonstrate that they practice sustainability. I think it will be a trickle at first, then a stream and then a torrent. If we have done our jobs, green meetings will become the status quo in five to ten years.”

A CLOSER LOOK

The new standards are divided into nine categories: accommodations, audio-visual, communications, destinations, exhibits, food and beverage, meeting venues, on-site office and transportation. There are four levels of certification in each category, the first being the use of 25 percent green materials. Each subsequent level increases in 25 percent increments, culminating in the gold standard, which is 100 percent. The standards document for each category is nine pages, and once those standards are released, they will be available for purchase as a one-time-use download at www.ASTM.org. Each individual organization will begin by determining which categories apply to its activities.

The immediate goal is for planners and suppliers to assess their current levels of green practices and work to become level 1 compliant. “If sustainability is your mantra, then you have to be able to demonstrate that your policy reflects that, and your staff follows the policy,” said McKye. “Our goal in developing the standards was to formalize and systematize common sense practices.”

The first step is what he calls “macro-ethical real-time assessment” of current practices and products from top to bottom. Then, a baseline level of sustainability can be established in working toward level 1 certification. Currently, many companies use a third-party certifier in order to truthfully claim that they use green products and practices. Once the standards are in place, a CIC certification board also will be established to verify compliance within the industry. In the future, said McKye, it is likely that there will be CIC awards for outstanding green practices.

FORGING GREEN ALLIANCES

One of the important consequences of the new standards is a stronger partnership between planners and suppliers in adopting the guidelines. As a meeting planner, “If you don’t get your basic materials in a uniform way from a uniform supplier, then you can’t demonstrate that you’re complying with the standards. Suppliers will get contracts because they’re the greenest on the block,” said McKye.

The specifics of the new green standards are still largely unknown in the meeting and event industry, but many people are aware that standards are being developed, and have already been finding ways to maintain green practices. At MAC Meetings and Events in St. Louis, for instance, invitations that were once printed on paper and mailed are now being sent online as e-vites. Not only does this save trees, it also saves money. In this case, the money that MAC Meetings saves on paper and postage is donated to charity.

Susan Gray, DMCP, president of both MAC Meetings & Events and the Association of Destination Management Executives (ADME), says that people in the industry want to be perceived as green, and they are increasingly conscious of ways to incorporate green practices into their operations.

“Using pitchers of water for meetings instead of water bottles is becoming more common, for instance,” said Gray. “And we’re starting to see more recycling containers that are made of recycled cardboard. I think new technology will also play a big part, in everything from reducing or eliminating registration paperwork to new green products that will replace less sustainable ones. Companies are learning what makes sense for them, and they’re looking for ways to make the process simpler and more economical. As a destination management company it’s our responsibility to suggest ways that people can be green.”

There are already discussions taking place about the impact the new standards will have on the meeting and event industry. When properly implemented, the standards should not only preserve valuable resources but lead to cost savings as well. Cutting costs is a consideration in any business, and both Gray and McKye see the potential for green practices to lead to increased savings over time. When it becomes evident that those who are participating are seeing a financial benefit, more planners and suppliers will want to adopt the new standards. “A lot of people will be talking about how much money they have actually saved,” said McKye.

Although there are only 16 certified trainers in North America at this point, that number will rapidly increase once the standards are released and more training sessions are held. As in other industries, many meeting planners and suppliers will want to have in-house people who is trained to coordinate their organizations’ sustainability efforts. Many of these people will take the next step and become certified trainers themselves, so that they can train others. This may even provide a new revenue stream for those who are dedicated to spreading the word. Scott McKye has already anticipated this opportunity. “The big goal for Kleertech,” he said, “is not only to be a supplier but to be a teacher.”

For more information about the new standards, visit www.ASTM.orgMM&E

(Stephen Lindsley is  a contributor from  St. Louis, Mo.)

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