by Sarah J.F. Braley | October 01, 2012
Little by little, meeting by meeting, eco-friendly practices have been put in place by planners for Symantec, the technology company that helps consumers and organizations secure and manage their information. Some use china instead of disposable dishes; others donate leftover food. Gradually, such efforts are becoming more standardized among the company's more than 150 annual meetings.

"I don't think we've done anything super out of the ordinary," says Karen Zunkowski, director of marketing events at the company's Lindon, Utah, office. "But we've noticed that our sustainability efforts have melded with our philanthropic efforts. When we do something greener, we also end up helping the community. Leaving the destination better than when we came has been our underlying goal."

Those results have encouraged Symantec to go ever greener. The planning team is now discussing composting and considering more eco-friendly transportation options. "We don't have a general policy," says Zunkowski. "It's been one of those unwritten, understood things for our group. We are now documenting an internal checklist so we can be more in compliance with the industry." The plan, for now, is to become continually greener, in manageable increments.

That's a smart approach, industry sources agree. Small initial steps are easy to implement, and from there efforts can be intensified. Following is a look at how to jump into the greening process at any point, from elementary efforts to world-class examples in sustainability.

A Hint of Green
Shawna McKinley
"Start with the low-hanging fruit, the easy wins," suggests Shawna McKinley, director of sustainability for MeetGreen, the independent planning firm whose principals, Amy Spatrisano, CMP, and Nancy Zavada, CMP, founded the Green Meetings Industry Council, an organization of suppliers and planners that hosts an annual conference offering education and best practices. These efforts can be informal, similar to Symantec's approach. "In 2007, we started hearing the green buzz," says David Hunt, vice president of global events for Symantec, whose team handles 50 to 60 events each year and is responsible for the company's most high-profile gatherings. "That's when we started wondering, what can we do? How can we minimize our footprint but still maintain a good experience for our attendees and make business sense?"

The company started with reducing water bottles, providing reusable ones alongside the expected plastic bottles. Within two years the bottled water was gone, and Symantec's planners now routinely work with their hotel partners to supply filtered water along with sustainable cups.

Notes McKinley, "These small efforts are going to save you money or are cost-neutral, and they don't cause any pain to attendees." Following are her suggestions for basic elements every meeting can -- and should -- implement.

• Provide water from coolers and pitchers.

• Provide recycling bins for cans and bottles.

• Post meeting materials online.

• Turn off lights in empty meeting rooms.

• Don't pre-plate or pre-pour F&B.

• Eliminate saucers for cups; use mugs instead.

• Collect and reuse name badges.

• Provide paper and pens in meeting rooms on request only.

• Change any one-time-use foamcore event signs to cardboard-based signs.

• Provide attendees with green travel tips before the event (see "Be Gentle, Travelers,").

• Provide a carbon-offset choice in the registration process.