The Meeting of the Future is Green and Looks Like This

Your members care about sustainability, here are four low-impact, high-return ideas to embrace it.

People who are looking to leave a smaller carbon footprint like to associate with businesses and organizations that feel the same way. In fact, 84 percent of consumers worldwide say they seek out environmentally and socially responsible products whenever possible.

So, if your association can up the ante on its sustainable meeting practices, you might earn some genuine member kudos—in addition to doing Mother Earth a solid.

Here are four ways meeting planners go outside the normal avenues—recycling, printing on both sides, digital-only session handouts—to conduct a greener meeting.

1. Consider going zero waste.

This might sound really daunting, but don’t tune out yet.

First off, the definition of zero waste is actually 90 percent of waste diverted from landfills. And accomplishing that usually comes down to offering composting for uneaten food.

Jessica Davis, director of the Office of Sustainability at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), took her first stab at a zero-waste event when IUPUI’s natatorium hosted the 2016 U.S. Olympic diving trials.

In planning the event, Davis found that “If you give [attendees] waste they will generate waste,” she said. So she worked with food services to create less waste and offer composting. For example, the venue switched from plastic to wood coffee stirrers (which can be composted) and offered condiment pumps instead of individual plastic packets.

“At the end of that planning meeting with food services, we were able to eliminate almost all of the trash we would be giving to people,” Davis said.

In the end, the event’s diversion rate was 93 percent, which earned it the “Green Sports Alliance Innovators of the Year” honor.

2. Upcycle meeting banners into VIP gifts.

Imagine turning that massive banner that says “Welcome to the 2017 [insert your conference name here]” into tote bags for your VIP members. Not only are you diverting material from the landfill, but you are transforming it into something your members will likely get a kick out of.

That’s exactly what Michael Bricker, chief innovator at People for Urban Progress (PUP), does. This Indy-based nonprofit uses discarded materials to create products for individual use or for the city’s benefit. Old baseball stadium seats become bus stop seating. The roof from the old football stadium provides shade on an urban farm. Banners from the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra become cool duffel and executive bags.

“We can help elevate the swag that you give to VIPs,” Bricker said. “When you have an upcycle product you think about it as you are carrying it. There’s a little bit of a mental shift; this thing had a different life.”

Bricker is working with Visit Indy to connect with organizations holding conferences in the city. Ideally, he’d like to point these organizations to banner materials that will be easier to turn into products after the conference.

3. Choose venues that are committed to clean energy.

As more cities add green energy to their electrical grid, the option to choose a conference venue that’s using green energy increases.

In downtown Indianapolis, six convention hotels have committed to using wind power for some portion of their energy needs. The Hyatt Regency Indianapolis went whole hog, committing to 100 percent wind power as a celebration of its 40th anniversary in May.

The Hyatt Regency Indianapolis is touting its commitment to wind power on all RFPs. “We’ve given our sales people a cool tool: A 500-room hotel in downtown Indy is running on 100 percent wind energy,” said Joe Pinto, general manager of the hotel. Pinto said the hotel’s annual energy usage is equivalent to the annual output of 1.1 windmills.

4. Offer attendees alternative transportation options.

After a long day at a conference, attendees usually want to get outside for a bit. Cities with a bike share program—an increasing number these days—provide your attendees great green transportation option.

Indianapolis now offers the Indiana Pacers Bike Share, which has 29 downtown stations and 251 bikes. Attendees can purchase a 24-hour pass to see the city sights or meet up with friends and colleagues.

For Indy visitors who need to travel further than their legs can take them—or simply want a sweat-free but still-green transportation option—electric car share BlueIndy fits the bill. There are 85 charging stations/parking spots throughout the city, and a fleet of 20 zippy electric cars at the airport. Just feed your credit card and license into the enrollment machine where a car lives, and away you go.

Yes, going green can take a little extra legwork—both literally and figuratively. But with some advance research on a city’s sustainable offerings, associations can highlight how the meeting itself is going green along with how attendees can act sustainably when off-site.

(Handout photo)