Transportation, Food Waste Top Concerns for Meetings and Travel – and the World

Sustainability experts outline key steps toward global sustainability goals for meeting planners and suppliers.

Scaletta Sauvage Sustainability Destination Caribbean
Jane Scaletta and Ben Sauvage at Destination Caribbean Photo Credit: Ketara Gadahn, Studio Alani

Sustainability is a notable part of the agenda at Northstar’s Destination Caribbean event, taking place now at Paradisus Palma Real in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. The leftover food for the three-day event, for example, is repurposed to provide meals for employees. And Puntacana Resort & Club, host of Monday night’s dinner, served edible straws with the group's cocktails.

This morning’s educational session, “How to Be a Sustainability Champion,” discussed global imperatives for sustainability. Presenters Jane Scaletta, DMCP, CIS, president of Dolfin Destinations, and Ben Sauvage, DMCP, CMP, founder and CEO, Connect DMC, emphasized why -- and how -- our industry is uniquely positioned to lead the charge on environmental practices.

Travel is a US$1.6 trillion global industry, representing 10 percent of the world’s employment, noted Sauvage. It is our collective responsibility to take four key steps.

  • Identify: How are our actions affecting the environment?
  • Apply: Use best practices to minimize our impact on the environment
  • Measure: What is the global carbon footprint of our actions?
  • Improve: Implement changes and track progress.

The United Nations Climate Neutral Now initiative, supported by 198 countries, aims for climate neutrality by 2050, and established 17 sustainable development goals that are deemed to be achievable by 2030. “These are not easy goals,” said Scaletta. “Number one is ‘no poverty.’ That is a huge goal. Number two is ‘no hunger.’ These goals are intended to better our world. And number 17 is to work together as nations. You will see these mandates filtering through all of our systems. You as an individual need to learn and live these goals.”

6 Steps to Sustainable Site Selection
With “flight shaming” becoming a factor for a growing number of travelers, ease of access to and within a destination is more important than ever. Among considerations when choosing a destination:

1. Direct airlift (to minimize the need for attendees to take two or more flights)
2. Direct, convenient train service
3. Public transportation services
4. Hybrid or electric transit systems
5. Sustainable hotels
6. Venues and hotels within walking distance

Minimizing food waste is a key component of neutrality initiatives. In the United States alone, 63 million tons of food is wasted annually, according to the World Wildlife Fund. For the meetings and hospitality industry, “food donations are very important,” said Scaletta. “You cannot be sued if you do a food donation in the U.S.,” she stressed, citing the Bill Emerson Act of 1996, which protects donors from civil and criminal liability regarding any outcome from food that was donated in good faith. More information about the safety and logistics of food donation can be found at

Dubunking another common misconception, the presenters emphasized that sustainable operations should represent cost savings. “Forty percent of the food we produce never reaches a plate,” noted Sauvage. Repurposing that would-be waste is a critical step toward minimizing world hunger – and it does have economic benefits. One example: Nordic Choice Hotels, which operates 194 properties worldwide, now provides smaller plates for buffet-style meals, which effectively reduced food waste by 19.5 percent.

10 Ways to Reduce Food Waste

Scaletta and Sauvage offered ten helpful tips that will help to cut down on waste.

  1. Reduce meat and dairy.
  2. Use smaller plates for buffets.
  3. Serve smaller portions.
  4. Offer fewer options.
  5. Serve or repurpose blemished food that would otherwise be thrown away.
  6. Establish recipes for leftovers and surplus food.
  7. Serve more vegetarian meals.
  8. Pre-set only 80 percent of the room.
  9. Establish a food rescue program.
  10. Use seasonal and local ingredients.

The Events Industry Council offers additional sustainability guidelines and resources for meeting planners and suppliers.