3 Ways to Take Sustainable Meetings to Another Level

As attendees demand more sustainable policies and practices within the meetings and events industry, planners should take note of specific destinations, venues and local programs committed to improve every program's legacy.

Hawaii sustainability lead

When it comes to meetings, sustainability is no longer a buzzword; it has become a significant part of today’s program design, representing a core value of many organizations and individuals alike. Nearly two-thirds (60 percent) of respondents queried for a study by PromoLeaf said they prefer to “attend conferences using sustainable practices,” with more than 25 percent “strongly preferring” those conferences. However, the most impactful sustainable meetings advance the cause with creative ways, going beyond the traditional to integrate new opportunities designed to engage attendees and benefit or “give back” to destinations. Here are three ways to embark on that path.

Engage and Leave a Sustainable Legacy

Using recyclable tableware, passing up plastic water bottles, and paying attention to the carbon footprint are great steps toward holding a sustainable meeting. However, many MICE attendees want to see their groups do more — and even take an active role in environmental stewardship themselves.

The American Dental Association (ADA) and the Association For Research In Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) have — through the Hawai‘i Convention Center (HCC) — participated in efforts by the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative, a nonprofit organization, to reforest nearly 600,000 native and endemic trees (“Legacy Trees”) on O‘ahu and the island of Hawai‘i. Each tree grows to more than 50 feet in its natural environment, significantly offsetting the carbon footprint.

Hawaii sustainability group
Through voluntourism efforts, groups can leave a sustainable legacy in their event destination.

ADA sponsored 100 Legacy Trees during its most recent annual meeting at the HCC, which itself has committed to planting one million such trees across the state. Individual attendees are also invited to sponsor and dedicate Legacy Trees and track tree development online. Guests can also visit Legacy Forests on O‘ahu and the island of Hawai‘i to plant trees through hawaiianlegacytours.com.

Partner with a Destination’s Cultural Programs

Planners know that incorporating a destination’s culture into their agenda helps foster attendee engagement. Combining this with a sustainability focus takes it one step further. Some CVBs do so, and Hawai‘i works with local organizations to offer innovative ways to achieve both. The Mālama Hawaiʻi program, led by the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA) in partnership with the Hawai‘i Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB), is a key example. Inspired by the Hawaiian word mālama, which means to “take care” or “give back,” the program affords volunteer opportunities for visitors to support the Hawaiian cultural value of mālama, or “caring for.” Popular voluntourism activities include beach clean-ups through organizations such as the Pacific Whale Foundation and tree planting at Gunstock Ranch in partnership with the Hawaiian Legacy Restoration Initiative, that serve a dual purpose of achieving sustainability and environmental responsibility.

Hawaii sustainability beach
The Mālama Hawaiʻi program gives visitors the opportunity to sustain Hawaiian cultural and environmental values.

            travel2change, a Honolulu-based non-profit organization whose mission entails “providing unique ways for travelers to leave a positive impact on Hawai‘i,” partners with local non-profit organizations with extensive hands-on experiences available for groups to mālama and tie their efforts into sustainability. For example, on O‘ahu, attendees can help restore a coral reef or even sample chocolate on a “sustainable farm” to support its operations.

Team Up with Venues that Prioritize Sustainability Innovations

Convention centers and other meeting venues have undertaken many initiatives aimed at supporting sustainability, including — but not limited to — recycling and composting; installing green roofs and energy-saving fixtures; and attaining  LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, to name a few. 

Hawaii Convention Center
The LEED-certified Hawai‘i Convention Center incorporates sustainability and conservation programs into its event planning criteria.

However, groups can up the ante by partnering with venues to support these initiatives in even more innovative and immersive ways. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) followed this approach when it held its 2016 World Conservation Congress at the HCC. The first IUCN World Conservation Congress to convene in the U.S., the event drew more than 8,000 attendees from around the world.

The IUCN has a set of rigorous conservation parameters for all its events, and “the opportunity to host (the congress) challenged HCC to go above and beyond its strong green business standards,” said Teri Orton, the facility’s general manager. One such standard calls for serving foods grown at local farms whose practices comply with IUCN guidelines. HCC’s culinary team collaborated with farmers and ranchers to provide ingredients and educate conference organizers and delegates about agriculture in Hawai‘i.

HCC’s additional sustainable efforts during IUCN included:
• Water used to hold down tents during the opening reception was recycled for irrigation and cleaning. 
• A composting pilot program was developed to divert event food waste not only back into the earth, but into animal feed.
• Bottle filler dispensers were installed at water fountains, with five units available on the lobby and meeting room levels.
• Volunteer monitors were stationed at many locations throughout the HCC to educate attendees about composting and recycling in Hawai‘i.

The ASM Global-managed HCC holds LEED v.4 O+M: Existing Buildings Gold Certification in the U.S. Four years ago, the HCC commemorated its LEED Certification with the launch of its Hoʻomaluō program; in the Hawaiian language, hoʻomaluō means “to use or manage wisely.” The program calls for conservation and reuse of the center’s resources, maintaining a high quality of operations (e.g., climate, guest comfort and building design), and concerted efforts to reduce waste throughout each stage in the event process, as well as incorporating guest education and participation through the reforestation of native and endemic trees in Hawai‘i.

The HCC also partnered with the Pacific Building Trade Expo in 2019 to execute its first-ever Zero Waste Event. A Zero Waste event aims to divert as much waste from the landfill as possible. Efforts toward zero waste include reducing waste generated, recycling and composting, and educating event organizers, planners and attendees on waste-reduction best practices. The standard is to divert at least 90 percent of waste from the landfill and incinerator.




Hawaii sustainability seaweed

Hawaiʻi: A Model Destination in Event Sustainability

As places around the world integrate green initiatives into their convention and tourism efforts, planners can uncover a destination with deep-rooted sustainability; a place where stewardship of the land and the ocean is an inherent part of Hawaiian culture – and a way of island life.
Unique among such places is Hawaiʻi.
The Hawaiian Islands are some of the most ecologically diverse in a single location. Their renowned beauty, and equal fragility, have been protected through the ongoing commitment of its people, and your attendees can experience and share this deep ethos of kuleana (responsibility) when meeting in the destination.
Learn more about the sustainability programs for meeting in Hawaiʻi.