It’s becoming easier being green

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As more meeting planners request green meeting venues and items, the increased demand has not gone unnoticed in the region

Story by Bob Warde

MEETING PLANNERS INCREASINGLY SEARCH out opportunities to “green” their meetings by seeking venues that take steps to offer green alternatives, offering green promotional products, and even holding meetings closer to their operations in order to decrease their companies’ carbon footprint. Demographic changes tend to reinforce the trend and portend it strengthening in coming years. 

According to a survey conducted by Meetings & Conventions magazine, 56 percent of meeting planners inquire about green initiatives for meeting venues, while another 15 percent say they intend to start. With this kind of interest, venues across the New North are developing programs to meet that sustainability requirement for meeting planners.

Heidel House Resort & Spa in Green Lake, in addition to being certified by the state Department of Tourism’s Travel Green Wisconsin program since 2007, is participating in the Green Key Eco-Rating Program, achieving a 4 Green Key rating. The Green Key Eco-Rating Program ranks, certifies and inspects hotels and resorts in North America based on their commitment to sustainable “green” operations. The program was originally developed for the Hotel Association of Canada by an environmental engineering firm specifically for hotel operations. The program is an environmental audit. 

The group running the program says it allows each participating property to benefit via cost savings, increased bookings from environmentally conscious consumers and meeting planners, and responsible corporate citizenry.

More consistent offerings

STARWOOD HOTELS, owner of the Aloft Hotel in Green Bay, is in the process of introducing sustainable meeting guidelines for its properties that will be standard in all its hotels globally in 2011. Starwood’s guidelines are intended to standardize green practices for all of its North American hotels.

The guidelines cover five areas, including: paperless meeting planning, sustainable meeting services, sustainable food and beverage practices, impact assessment tools, and socially conscious efforts. Among the five components are what the chain calls 18 cost-effective and efficient practices that will be incorporated into every on-site event. They range from sustainable menu choices and alternatives to bottled water, to energy-efficient digital signs and potted plants in place of fresh-cut flowers. The hotel group also will offer a Meeting Impact Report, an online client tool that details the environmental impact of each meeting.

Some of Starwood’s sustainable meeting offerings are:
• When using printed material, post-consumer recycled paper products are incorporated into the meeting and double-sided printing is available;

  • Recycled content paper flip charts and environmentally friendly non-paper supplies are available;
  • Use of non-paper resources such as LED signs and white boards;
  • Offering a selection of either potted plants or organically grown flowers;
  • Access to green transportation services;
  • Recycling bins provided in all meeting spaces.

Though anecdotal evidence is that interest in green meetings is growing but not yet the majority of inquiries, hotel managers see a variety of benefits in offering them. First, they can save money in their operations. Bulk water for refreshment can be less expensive and more sustainable than bottled water, as an example.

Michelle Van Kirk, marketing manager at the Heidel House, said their green certification efforts help the resort and conference center deliver on its brand promise. “We are in an area that is not highly populated and on Green Lake. It’s quiet and beautiful and increasing our sustainability helps us keep up with that,” she said.

“Our goals at Heidel House are to reduce waste, improve energy efficiency, and conserve natural resources. The Green Lake area and Heidel House Resort & Spa are surrounded by natural beauty and wildlife. It is up to us to make sure that these resources are here for years to come,” said Heidel House General Manager Scott Krause.

Van Kirk added that general interest and demand for green meetings has increased over the past few years. Attaining its 4 Green Key status also helps market to those meeting planners who are searching for greener venues. In fact, Wisconsin Department of Tourism officials include a designation next to directory listings in print and online for those venues certified in its Travel Green Wisconsin program. Heidel House also includes those symbols in all its marketing materials.

Here to stay

GREEN MEETINGS are likely not just a fad.

“Green meetings are here to stay. There are varying levels of concern for the environment and a growing number of meeting planners are seeking some element of a green meeting,” said Lisa Marshall, spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

Marshall noted there isn’t one definition of a green meeting, but rather a spectrum of items and approaches to sustainability from which meeting planners can choose. She noted one venue in southern Wisconsin has added charging stations for hybrid vehicles.

Autumn Hill, president of Autumn Hill Creative in Kimberly, started a marketing agency focused on green marketing more than six years ago. As she and her mother, co-owner Yvonne Kehl, began planning events for their clients, they noticed they were making choices that weren’t necessarily green, despite the clients’ desire to green their own efforts.
“We saw them making choices, like giving out plastic bottles or serving water at meetings in plastic,” Hill said, adding clients would also hand out plastic bags at conventions and trade shows.

That incongruity, combined with early inquiries from a handful of clients, prompted the women to begin another division called Viva El Verde, or “long live green.” Viva El Verde offers an entire catalog of sustainable promotional products ranging from aluminum water bottles to canvass tote bags to an insulated paper bag that keeps beverages cool. Promotional items and gifts made of recycled petroleum products are also available.

One of the top ways to green a meeting is through minimizing transportation. A growing number of meeting planners schedule their events at venues closer to the office or plant to reduce the effects of travel on the environment.

Autumn Hill also takes distance into account when ordering promotional giveaways and other event materials for her clients. “We use local sourcing as often as we can. We try hard to use local manufacturers and printers whenever possible,” she said. Local sourcing is also used for food, when possible.

While demand was somewhat infrequent when she first started Viva El Verde, Hill has seen a steady increase in the number of planners either making casual inquiries or including green requirements in their requests for proposals.
“We now get calls from out of the blue. That’s fun,” she said.

Standard in meeting proposals

PROPOSALS FROM AUTUMN HILL CREATIVE always include green aspects, whether in promotional products, venues or other aspects, Hill said. “Often, planners see the green component and a light bulb goes off. They appreciate the thought of having a green offering and many say their attendees are likely to appreciate it as well.”

One concern for meeting planners is cost. According to the aforementioned Meetings & Conventions magazine survey, 13 percent of planners indicated green meeting practices are a priority even at a higher cost; 31 percent said they might spend a little bit more to be green, and 24 percent said they would not consider any green policies that add to the cost of the meeting.

In many cases, the promotional products Hill offers through Viva El Verde are about the same cost or just a few cents more expensive than traditional items not made from sustainable materials.

But cost may not be the only consideration. Marshall from the Department of Tourism said green efforts are successfully used to differentiate a venue from others as well as enhance its image as a good corporate citizen. It also saves the hotel or meeting place money on energy use and other expenses, including items like containers.

There are two trends that seem to be gathering steam and are likely to increase the popularity of green meetings. First, Marshall said that tools are being developed to measure the “return on green,” or the amount of money saved by conducting green meetings. The second, as Hill pointed out, is that younger generations are much more concerned with ecology and preserving the resources existing on the planet.

These trends combined are creating a powerful value proposition for green meetings to continue to grow in popularity.