by Sarah J.F. Braley | October 01, 2011

Not long ago, when organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund tried to plan green meetings, finding suitable hotels, venues and suppliers was a challenge. "When I asked questions about their practices, often I was told, 'We do these things behind the scenes,' " says Beverly Atkins, EDF's senior meetings and events manager. "My biggest fear was that they were just saying what I wanted to hear to get my business."

But in recent years, hotel chains, convention centers and others have created solid environmental policies that satisfy even the greenest gatherings. Planners for five very eco-conscious groups recently shared their practices and experiences with M&C.

Sprint Environmental stewardship has become an integral part of doing business for telecommunications giant Sprint. For instance, the company's new e-waste policy aims to recycle 90 percent of all its phones, tablets and yet-to-be-invented gadgets by 2017.

"We already take old phones for recycling during events," says Erin Tate, an event manager for the Overland Park, Kan.-based company, which ranked number six on Newsweek's 2010 list of the greenest publicly traded companies in America. "Internally, we plan to have 100 percent recycling of our e-waste."

Tate works with a team of about 10 planners, arranging product launches, incentive trips, local meetings, media announcements, trade show participation and sales meetings. "From the get-go, we negotiate green concessions into our contracts," she says. "This includes recycling language, turning off air and power in rooms that aren't being used, and composting or giving away extra food. We select venues based on how they can comply, and put language in the contract to make sure they apply those practices." Following events, Sprint planners ask for a scorecard from the venues they use showing how their green needs were met, so they can track savings and compliance.

Sprint's green practices touch all elements of events. Display stands are made of recycled plastic or bamboo and are carefully recovered for reuse. Production elements and décor are repurposed. Invitations are sent electronically. Briefing books are found online, as are press materials. Green products are the first option for amenities or gifts. Vendors that Sprint uses regularly are subjected to a rigorous green audit.

If it's a question of more money or less green, the company's environmental conscience wins. "When we're booking flights, we always use the most direct option, even if it's more expensive, because it cuts down on carbon emissions," Tate points out. While the company is centrally located, the planners are stationed around the country -- Tate is in Chapel Hill, N.C. -- and the closest employee is deployed where needed. "It's very strategic," she says.

For F&B, ingredients are locally sourced, and leftovers are composted or donated. "We've also developed a really strict attrition policy for our events," adds Tate, "carefully monitoring how many people are going to show up, so we don't order too much and won't waste food."

If disposable serviceware is unavoidable, Sprint groups use bamboo or corn-based products that are 100 percent biodegradable.

At a Sprint incentive trip held last October at the eco-friendly Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes, Calif., group gatherings were held outdoors to limit energy use, furniture was made from soy-based foam and reclaimed wood frames, all florals came from a local grower and the same décor spruced up three separate events.