The environmental impact of the GWS Conference
The George Wright Society recognizes that holding a national face-to-face meeting brings with it many environmental impacts. The energy expended to bring 600800 people from around the country (and beyond) to a single location is significant, and of course with that energy expenditure comes emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, as well as pollutants of other kinds. And the environmental impacts of running a conference hotel or convention center are also very significant.
What we do to try to reduce that impact
As park professionals it is incumbent on us to minimize these impacts, and the GWS is working on several fronts:
- Paperless communications. We have designed our conference management system to be as paperless as possible. Our registration process is 100% web-based, and virtually all of our routine correspondence with registrants is via e-mail (the exception being the hard-copy receipts we mail out for fee payments). We print only one hard copy of all abstracts received, and this is used by the Conference Committee in their selection meetings. Our primary publication medium for the conference proceedings is now on CD rather than as a paperback book.
- Use of recycled materials. Whenever we do produce paper materials, they are printed on stock made from at least 50% recycled fibers. (The portion of this 50% figures that is made from post-consumer fiber varies.) Similarly, wherever possible we choose packing and shipping materials, and conference giveaways (such as folders), that are made from recycled materials.
- Minimizing disposables. In our Request for Proposals (RFPs) to hotels, we specify that refreshment breaks be served on china wherever possible.
- Water/energy conservation (towel and linen re-use). Most hotels now have a program in which guests can specify that their towels and bed linens not be changed; we insist upon it in our RFPs. All new hotels have low-flush toilets installed; some also have water-saving showerheads and other fixtures, and energy-efficient lighting (e.g., compact fluorescent bulbs).
- On-site recycling. In our experience, all conference hotels claim that they recycle extensively. However, from our personal observations (you can learn a lot by hanging around the “back of the house” service areas and loading docks), the reality is that a lot of potentially recyclable material ends up being discarded. We try to impress upon hotel staff that recycling and other green practices are a serious matter to us, but when all is said and done we can only control a small portion of the recyclables stream. At our registration area we provide a bin for recycling office paper (we take the contents home with us and recycle it there), and also urge registrants to recycle name tags.
Can we do better?
We sure can. Here are some things other organizations are doing to make their meetings as green as possible, and which the GWS will be seriously considering in our planning for GWS2007 and future conferences.
- They are making their meetings “carbon-neutral” by (1) estimating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the air and ground travel of their attendees, and then (2) paying for some activity that either sequesters an equivalent amount of carbon (e.g., tree-planting) or doing something else that would prevent or displace GHG-producing activity (such as installing solar electric panels in developing countries).
- They are booking at venues that have achieved LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
- They select host cities that have good mass transit systems. (The Twin Cities qualifies on this score.)
- They choose hotels that donate leftover food from conference events to local food banks or shelters.
- They include a comprehensive green meetings preference clause in their RFPs, and can use an environmental practices questionnaire in their RFPs.
- They choose menu items that are in-season or come from local producers.
- They work with hotel housekeeping departments so that the housekeepers turn off lights and heating/air conditioning units when occupants are not in their rooms.
- They leave a positive environmental legacy in the host city by making a contribution to a local environmental charity.
All of this comes with a price, of course, and ultimately we have to make decisions about whether the (generally) higher cost of green services begins to push the cost of the conference outside of an affordable range. We can only hope that more consumer demand for green practices will make them the norm in the conventions industry.
The idea of holding “green meetings” is just beginning to get off the ground within the conventions industry. According to a recent article in the trade magazine MeetingNews, 52% of the meeting planners surveyed were aware of the concept but hadn’t acted upon it, 37% had not heard of it at all, 7% had planned green meetings but it wasn’t a priority, and 4% called it a priority.
The Green Meeting Industry Council (which also runs the website BlueGreen Meetings) is a leading organization in promoting a greener conventions industry.