Meetings do a lot of good for the Economy. In the United States alone, for instance, face-to-face meetings support 5.9 million jobs and generate $446 billion in GDP, according to an Oxford Economics report, commissioned by the Events Industry Council, and supported by the Meetings Mean Business Coalition. When it comes to the environment, however, events have the opposite effect. Considering the gallons of jet fuel burned by attendees flying and driving to events, the reams of paper wasted on printed conference materials and the billions of kilowatt hours expended to light hotels and convention centers, meetings can be quite harmful to the environment.
To lessen its negative impact, the meetings industry has spent the last 20 years developing and touting sustainable business practices, and progressive partners at hotels, resorts and convention centers are helping more and more planners to lessen the damaging effects their gatherings have.
Among those partners, a leader is the 379-room Portola Hotel & Spa in Monterey, Calif. (pictured), which has been LEED Silver-certified since 2011 and remains one of the first and only LEED-certified hotels on the state's central coast. Last month, the hotel upped its green game even further by launching a new reduced-waste conferences program that seeks to shrink the environmental footprint of meetings that take place at Portola by way of minimizing food- and paper-based garbage.
For participating groups, Portola has agreed to promote the program to meeting attendees through its group reservation system; make recommendations for environmentally friendly vendors; source organic and sustainable ingredients from local farmers and vendors; utilize china, glassware and silverware instead of disposable cups and utensils; track diverted waste on a daily basis across its kitchen, housekeeping and banquet departments; compost pre- and post-consumer waste; separate recyclable and compostable materials to keep them from going to the landfill; and provide meeting planners with a post-meeting recap that summarizes their group's waste-reduction achievements.
In return, meeting planners must agree to confirm menu selections 14 days before the meeting to allow for the selection and purchase of sustainable ingredients; use biodegradable badges and conference materials, or offer an opportunity for attendees to return badges so they can be reused at future events; use A/V equipment for presentations instead of printed handouts; and educate/encourage attendees to practice sustainable behaviors at the meeting, such as using reusable water bottles instead of disposable ones.
"Reduced-waste conferences are a great way to communicate to meeting attendees the importance to conserve natural resources," said Portola general manager Janine Chicourrat. "We partner with the meeting planners to implement a variety of green practices, and we are able to communicate to attendees how they can contribute. A great example of this is offering reusable aluminum-can water bottles instead of plastic bottles. We host groups of over 1,000 attendees, so the reduction of plastic water bottles over a three-day event can be in excess of 4,000 bottles."
Four More Hotels That Embrace Sustainability
Once upon a time, properties like the Portola Hotel & Spa were rare. These days, however, eco-conscious meeting professionals have many choices for environmentally friendly venues. Here are four more with a dedicated green meetings program:
• The Ridgeline Hotel Estes Park (Estes Park, Colo.): This 150-room hotel introduced a green meetings initiative in spring 2018. Neighboring Rocky Mountain National Park, the hotel offers sustainable food-and-beverage options, including reusable, compostable or recyclable serviceware; reusable glassware for refreshment stations; and straws only upon request. In addition, the property composts all food waste in its onsite food digester, encourages groups to use A/V equipment rather than printing paper copies of presentations, and sets up waste stations during meetings to help participants separate recyclable and compostable materials. Overnight guests can opt out of daily housekeeping services in return for a free drink at the hotel's onsite restaurant. Finally, rooms at the hotel feature environmentally friendly amenities like bulk soap, shampoo and conditioner; and meeting planners can further lessen their group's impact by working with the hotel to secure carpool shuttles that minimize travel to and from the airport.
• Rosen Shingle Creek (Orlando, Fla.): Rosen Hotels & Resorts offers its Rosen Green Meetings program across its portfolio, including at this 1,501-room property in Orlando. Conferences that participate in the program are encouraged to use practices designed to reduce their environmental impact. Specifically, the program includes environmental mitigation across five distinct areas: waste management, energy use, water conservation, clean-air practices and recycling. To save water, for instance, Rosen properties offer towel- and linen-reuse programs, as well as water-efficient faucets, showerheads, toilets and laundry appliances. To conserve energy, meanwhile, the hotel uses Energy Star-rated kitchen and laundry equipment, energy-efficient lighting, and a programmable energy system that automatically turns on one hour before a meeting and turns off one hour after. Additionally, all food waste composted, water dispensers are provided in meeting rooms to reduce waste from plastic bottles, all unused items from meetings (e.g., notebooks, binders) are donated to local schools and all used cooking oil is converted into biodiesel fuel for use in golf-maintenance equipment.
• The Venetian, the Palazzo and the Sands Expo & Convention Center (Las Vegas, Nev.): Las Vegas is known for one type of green -- money -- but it also excels at another type of green: sustainability. Among the city's environmental champions is the Las Vegas Sands Corp., operator of the 4,049-room Venetian, the 2,872-room Palazzo and the 2.25 million-square-foot Sands Expo & Convention Center. The company launched its green effort, the Sands ECO360 Meetings Program, in 2011 and it has continued to evolve and grow. Specifically, the program focuses on energy and water conservation, waste recycling, and using sustainable products and materials. Standard practices for all events, for example, include central placement in the meeting rooms of notepads made with 100 percent recycled materials, as well as water stations, compostable cups and recycling bins. Also worth mentioning is the building's rooftop solar-thermal system, which provides hot water for swimming pools, spas and select guest rooms at the Palazzo. There are also 680 solar-photovoltaic panels, which generate 116 kilowatts of electricity; a nanofiltration system, which saves more than 12 million gallons of potable water each year; and the digital-signage system, which reduces waste from static paper signs. The properties also employ Green Meeting Concierges assist planners in their sustainable efforts.
• Fairmont Empress Hotel (Victoria, B.C., Canada): Canadian hotelier Fairmont Hotels & Resorts became a sustainability pioneer in 1990 with the launch of its Green Partnership program. Unique at the time, the initiative consisted of a guidebook on sustainable best practices in the lodging industry and established a commitment to minimizing Fairmont hotels' impact on the planet. Decades later, Fairmont's sustainability program has grown to include Eco-Meet, which helps groups at properties like the 464-room Fairmont Empress Hotel reduce waste and increase environmental stewardship. The program has four components: Eco-Accommodation, which provides in-room information on sustainability, recycling bins, optional sheet and towel replacement, energy-efficient lighting, and water-conserving plumbing; Eco-Cuisine, which encompasses menus of local, seasonal and organically grown ingredients, as well as special menus for meal functions that can include a 50-percent reduction in animal proteins, supplemented by vegetable proteins; Eco-Service, which provides "disposable-free" food-and-beverage services and recycling stations in meeting rooms; and Eco-Programming, which supplies groups with green-themed activities and speakers, as well as paperless services such as a dedicated TV channel to provide information and updates to delegates, electronic paperless check-in/checkout, and e-mailed contracts and information.