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by Sarah J.F. Braley | December 2, 2014

Kathy McGuireIt's always interesting to ask people in our industry what fuels their passion for sustainability. Kathy McGuire, manager of sustainable development at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is very straightforward about the reasons she became the property's green champion: "I was poor growing up. We didn't waste anything. We didn't use anything once and then throw it away. Waste of any kind strikes me as absurd."

McGuire joined the resort nearly nine years ago as executive assistant to the managing director; four months later the property was sold. When the new general manager asked her what she'd like to see at the property, she said she wanted to start a recycling program, and she's been improving that program and adding new elements ever since. Now a member of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals and the Green Meetings Industry Council, McGuire is a USGBC LEED Green Associate and even took a class in "Corporate Sustainability Strategies" through Harvard's Extension School. "It was a very rigorous course, but I got a B+, and that astounded me," she says.

Recently, the resort teamed with a client to apply the APEX/ASTM standards created by the Convention Industry Council and ASTM International. The client, the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, whose mission is to protect coastline ecosystems and rescue sea turtles, was holding its Go Blue Awards at the property, to recognize leaders in the community. "We decided to partner with them and learned to apply the standards as we were going along," says McGuire. "For example, lighting in the meeting room was reduced to 50 percent during move-in and move-out. All the cans, bottles and wine corks were recycled. Any bags provided for the 500 guests that weren't used were taken back to reuse. And we had a poster showing guests how they could help with what we were doing."

Extending to F&B, initiatives included serving certified-humane chicken breast. Royal Cup Coffee, looking to get a foot in the door of the resort, supplied fair-trade Rainforest Alliance coffee. No disposable items were used other than the cocktail napkins for the pre-event meet-and-greet. Stir sticks and straws were supplied at guest-request only. (By the way, this year's keynote was Fabian Cousteau, grandson of the famous oceanographer, who had just broken by one day the record his grandfather held by living in an underwater laboratory 63 feet below the surface in the Florida Keys for 31 days.)

The property now is working toward being certified by iCompli, which partners with the GMIC to provide third-party assessments. "We're going for the venue category, tracking utilities and waste. We've been doing that for five years," says McGuire. "One of the reasons we would like to get this certification is that a lot of people are saying they're green, but we want to be able to go out there and show people that we really are green. We are really following these practices. We've invested the money. I'm documenting everything."

Next at the property, McGuire would like to see a new way to get a handle on all the scraps coming out of the kitchen. "Hotels have an awful lot of food waste; we host a lot of events that aren't even related to guests," she notes. "I would like to see us get one of those food-waste digesters. It's very new, and a little scary. It turns the waste into gray water. It's just the neatest thing. It would dramatically reduce our waste and our footprint. I believe this work can not only bring us additional business, but show people that they should be doing it, too."