Ways to Make the Meetings Industry More Green

Takeaways from the 11th annual Climate Week NYC

Climate Week NYC 2019
Climate Week NYC featured programs on sustainable travel and other eco-friendly initiatives. Photo Credit: NYC & Company

Climate change was the talk of the town last week in New York City. Thousands marched in the streets, teen activist Greta Thunberg made an emotional appeal to world leaders and, via Climate Week NYC, the meetings industry was invited into the conversation and urged to do its part to minimize waste. 

Held from Sept. 23-29, the 11th annual Climate Week was the biggest yet in the Big Apple. It involved more than 150 events, including a new program on sustainable travel hosted by NYC & Company, the city's official destination marketing organization, and The Climate Group, a nonprofit focused on addressing climate change.

The Sustainable Travel and Leisure program, which was held in the Javits Center on Friday, Sept. 27, included a number of speaker presentations and panels on how travel, events and hospitality can go green.

"Within the event industry, we're always talking about how we can raise our profile to be more strategic and tell the story of how an event can have a good impact. I think sustainability is a great way to do it," said Fiona Pelham, CEO of Positive Impact Events, a nonprofit centered on making the event industry more environmentally friendly. "If anyone ever says to you, 'The client hasn't asked for sustainability,' that's now an old excuse and shouldn't be allowed."

Among the program's takeaways were the following steps that sustainability-minded planners can take.

Make Measurement a Priority

A common theme throughout the day was the need for measurement, specifically in terms of measuring food waste and energy consumption. Gathering these numbers is the first step to understanding the environmental impact of meetings and what can be done to make them more sustainable. 

Kathryn Garcia, commissioner of the NYC Department of Sanitation, recommended conducting a waste audit at an event to see how much food is wasted and how many recyclable materials are tossed away. 

Meeting planners can conduct the audit themselves, enlist the help of a third party or ask if the venue is able to provide the information, Garcia noted. Some convention facilities, such as the Javits Center, can create reports on the food waste and energy consumption of an event upon request. Javits Center president and CEO Alan Steel said sustainability is becoming an expectation in the event industry and the venue plans to provide such reports to all of its clients in the future. 

"It makes people aware of what kind of waste they are producing and provides a base for a conversation on how we can reduce it," said Steel. "For us, it's not just something we wanted to do. It's become a business necessity, and I only see it becoming more significant as we move forward." 

For an in-depth evaluation of planners' environmental efforts, the speakers urged attendees to take the B Impact Assessment. This comprehensive tool measures a company's social and environmental performance. It can help identify areas for improvement, as well as track improvement. Companies that meet the necessary qualifications can earn a B Corporation Certification.

Consider Co-Locating

Another way for planners to reduce their carbon footprint is to co-locate their gatherings. This means bringing together two or more events under one roof to share venue space, energy, food and other resources. Co-locating can be particularly beneficial for meetings with similar audiences as it also provides them with more exposure.

In fact, the sustainable tourism program was co-located at the Javits Center with a GreenNY forum and sustainable aviation conference taking place down the hall.

"Co-locating is not something that comes naturally to planners, but if you can sit down with them and show them the benefits and show them examples of where it has worked, they tend to be willing to at least listen and try it," said Steel.

In sum, the Sustainable Travel and Leisure program offered meeting professionals a chance to get involved in Climate Week, learn best practices from their peers and commit to making meetings more green in the year ahead.