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With its boundless natural resources and forward-thinking approach to sustainability, the state of California provides myriad options for MICE events with a positive impact on the planet.
The Golden State leads with a variety of environment-friendly initiatives. The Office of Sustainability, which is part of the California’s Executive Office, provides sustainability-related services for stage agencies that include everything from policy development to energy-saving retrofits, from electric vehicle infrastructure to clean energy generation projects. And the Environmental Defense Fund, meanwhile, has recognized California’s leadership role in curbing climate change.
In California, both the public and private sectors have shown their dedication to sustainable practices. That bodes especially well for meeting planners looking for innovative ideas and solutions for their next event.
To get the inside scoop on how the state helps planners with sustainability goals, we spoke with Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, and Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association. They discussed the state’s numerous green initiatives and venues as well as future plans for making the state even more attractive for groups that prioritize sustainable practices.
Why is California a great choice for sustainable meetings and events?
Caroline Beteta: Sustainability is inherent in California’s DNA. It’s simply part of our lifestyle. And it’s something travelers expect to see in action when they visit, whether they’re coming on vacation or on business. California leads the nation in many ways, and there’s a lot to celebrate, with eight LEED-certified convention centers, compared to Florida’s three. When it comes to meetings, destinations are looking at the bigger picture when assessing the impact events have on their communities and the environment.
Joe D’Alessandro: The pandemic especially highlighted the need to strengthen the tourism sector’s resilience against the unexpected for visitor-dependent destinations like San Francisco. This period of rebuilding has been an opportunity to reset and create a more balanced version of the industry — one that continues to deliver economic benefits, while also addressing environmental and sociocultural impacts.
While it’s natural for the travel industry to focus on positives such as economic impact and room nights, it’s equally critical to examine overall effects and ways to alleviate any negative impacts. Our understanding of those factors continues to grow and that has sparked innovation throughout the industry. Our ability to find solutions that ensure meetings benefit not just the tourism economy, but also the environment and — most of all — our communities, is crucial to our future success.
Lots of destinations say they can help planners create sustainable events. What makes California different?
JD: We view sustainability in the broadest sense: Living up to our well-deserved reputation as the best stewards of the environment and working collaboratively with businesses, residents and civic leaders to improve destinations for everyone.
CB: California has long been a magnet for innovation due to its combination of creative people, abundant resources, embrace of diversity, and the high quality of life that can be achieved here. As a result, the state’s hospitality industry has embraced sustainability best practices such as green buildings, waste reduction, energy conservation, efficient transportation, offsetting carbon emissions and more.
Plus, when you factor all the other elements that have drawn visitors to the Golden State over the years — the beaches, the mountains, the iconic cities, the theme parks, the outdoor recreation opportunities and more — it’s easy to see why California is such an amazing destination for professional meetings and events.
What are some examples of how California has taken a leadership role in sustainability?
CB: Visit California is leading the way primarily through education and research. By developing guiding principles for all visitors and an official Responsible Travel Code, California encourages visitors (including meeting delegates) to be mindful of their environment and to respect the destinations they visit. These initiatives provide a foundation to encourage sustainable practices throughout the hospitality industry, including large meetings.
Industry tools such as TravelMattersCA.com spotlight industry-led sustainability initiatives and provide resources for businesses searching for examples and inspiration for how to integrate more sustainable solutions into their efforts.
Our organization is conducting a comprehensive program to develop strategic tourism plans in each of California’s 12 regions. That initiative will bring together tourism stakeholders, residents and civic partners to create a clear path forward in their destinations, particularly regarding sustainability principles.
What partnerships have helped California further its sustainability goals?
JD: Visit California partnered with the Travel Foundation on a smart and sustainable destination stewardship how-to guide that’s available at industry.VisitCalifornia.com so that all destinations can access best practices for building a better industry moving forward. When meeting planners are working with destinations, they will see these practices in action.
Meeting planners know to look for LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council when determining the impact of their events and California has more than twice the LEED certified buildings than any other state — including over 200 hotels.
California is not only the greenest state overall. It is among the greenest per capita. For the last 11 years, California has been in the top 10 states for most LEED-certified projects per capita, measured by certified gross square feet.
The Moscone Center in San Francisco recently completed a $551 million expansion, that exceeded the highest LEED standards. The facility produces less carbon emissions per delegate than any major convention center in North America, and has zero-emissions electricity, along with the largest solar panel roof in the city.
When 87 percent of people say they want to travel more sustainably, those kinds of distinctions can mean the difference between inspiring delegates to attend a meeting, or them choosing to stay home.
How can meeting planners work with destination officials in California to assure a truly sustainable meeting?
JD: California DMO leaders are the go-to experts in their individual markets. They know all the meeting spaces, from convention centers to hotels to the abundance of outdoor and other unique venues that make meetings in California so special. But it’s more than just knowing about the spaces. Our meetings and event partners can provide planners with important sustainability information, as well including environmental programs, transportation, catering practices, and more.
CB: Part of being a sustainable destination is focusing not just on the economic impact of a meeting, but also finding the groups that benefit the community environmentally, socially and culturally. Due to its forward-thinking policies and breadth of offerings, meeting planners can find a perfect destination to host memorable, impactful and sustainable meetings and events across California. We look forward to welcoming all delegates as they experience what separates California from the crowd.