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by Sarah J.F. Braley | October 3, 2014

Greg ButlerFor planners who are passionate about going green, the ultimate goal is a net-zero meeting, where all the waste is diverted and nothing — not a scrap of paper or food or a piece of plastic — is sent to the landfill, where the carbon footprint is offset, where there is no impact on the environment at all. Gregory Butler of Becton, Dickinson & Co., which makes medical devices, has achieved this sustainability nirvana with one of the firm's annual meetings.

As director of global supply-chain stewardship for BD's office of global sustainability, Butler, who works out of the company's Franklin Lakes, N.J., office, plans the biennial BD Global Sustainability Forum for representatives from most of the 84 worldwide locations. About 100 people gather for the three-day event to discuss the company's green policies. This year's, to be held in November, will be the third. Here is how Butler minimizes the group's impact on the world.

Venue: To pick the perfect place to gather, a couple of years ago Butler conducted a search through bestplacestomeetgreen.com, a service from independent planning firm MeetGreen of Portland, Ore. "I was looking for a warm-weather destination," he says. "If you go into the website's calculator and put in how many people are coming and where they are coming from, it helps determine which city works, based on your carbon footprint." From that, Orlando emerged as his destination of choice. "I have bid other cities each time, but I keep coming back to Orlando."

To narrow the facilities list, Butler taps into the Florida Green Lodging Program, which recognizes hotels that have made a firm sustainability commitment. "Then I go out with my RFP priorities: Do they have the weeks I want? Do they have the space I want? Can we walk to our evening functions? Do they have paperless check-in and checkout? Are they using environmentally preferable procurement practices, driving the purchase of reusable goods, etc.? In the rooms, do they have a program to recycle the amenities? Are they recycling glass paper and plastic? Do they have occupancy sensors on the lighting in the rooms? Is there a linen-reuse program?"

Food and beverage: For the event, all food has to be local (sourced within 200 miles) and in season. "When I did my first sustainability meeting back in 2010, that was a bit of a challenge," says Butler. "Now when you ask the hotel, they say, oh yeah, we have farm-to-table in the restaurant. It's no longer a problem." BD also requires condiments to be provided in bulk at all meals and breaks: no little sugar packets, no little tear-off-top cream containers. "We've also gotten rid of bottles and cans at breaks," Butler adds. "We roll in a bar and serve fountain drinks. It's a trade-off. You'll pay for the bartender, but you eliminate all that glass and plastic, and the fountain drinks themselves are less expensive." For breaks, the coffee has to be fair trade, shade grown; if that's not available, it has to be organic.

No disposable plates, cups, napkins or cutlery are used, just china, glass, silverware and linen. "If we have to use disposables because we're having a poolside reception and you can't have glass, then we require biodegradable products," says Butler.

BD also asks that there be a program in place to donate extra food. If it can't be donated, it has to be composted. The Disney Boardwalk Inn, which will host the sustainability event this year, sends its food waste to a pig farmer, which is even better than composting, according to Butler.

In the function space, water stations are placed in the back of the rooms, and every attendee receives a refillable bottle with the company logo.

Paper: Butler discourages the hotel from providing pens and pads at all, unless they are made from recycled material. And they are never put at each individual seat in a room. "We put them in the back where the water station is," he says. "We've really cut way down on paper. We take the agenda down to its bare minimum, showing where you need to be at what time, and we print it on the back of the ID badge. We use the reader boards for everything else." He looks for properties that have flat-screen reader boards built in, which not only saves paper but gives planners the flexibility to handle signage changes on-site. "And we have one poster with the company logo and a Velcro arrow that we can turn in any direction. We use that from conference to conference," Butler notes. "We don't want to generate all that signage. This practice also cuts down on having to ship boxes of posters and signs." No copies of the proceedings are printed; they are posted online.

Carbon footprint: After all this, BD calculates how much electricity is being used both in the guest rooms and in the function space, and what the carbon-emission total is for all the guests flying to and from the meeting. "This year we're working with EarthEra Renewable Energy Trust. We're using their certified renewable-energy credits from their wind projects and their verified carbon standard emission-reduction credits to offset 100 percent of the electricity consumed and all the travel," says Butler. "That's how we get to a net-zero meeting. Reduce what you can and offset the rest. The thing I like about EarthEra is that 100 percent of the proceeds go into a trust fund to build future renewable energy projects. So it's a great product."

It takes a lot of due diligence to leave no carbon footprint, but that ultimate goal can be reached.