by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | October 01, 2007

Tiffany Schermerhorn

I came to work for the EPA
because I believe in what it stands for.

--Tiffany Schermerhorn

As federal entities go, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, established in 1970, is a relative newcomer. The Department of Energy traces its start to World War II, the National Safety Council to 1913, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has roots dating back to 1803. Nevertheless, at 37, the Washington, D.C.-based EPA has proven one of the most active agencies of all, and its most recent move continues a record of initiating highly influential change.

On May 1 of this year, in an effort to green its meetings and put some muscle behind its name and mission, the EPA rolled out a new agencywide acquisition rule requiring that any employee responsible for securing a meeting facility should evaluate the venue against a 14-point environmental checklist.

“We want to encourage venues to start going green, but we also want to reward those that have already made advances,” says Tiffany Schermerhorn, procurement analyst, Policy, Training and Oversight Division, Office of Acquisition Management at the EPA, one of the key players in developing the agency’s green meetings policy. “We are motivated because we are the EPA.”

The checklist is unique within the federal government, and not only because it is the first of its kind, or because of the immediate financial implications -- the EPA has an annual travel and meetings spend of $50 million -- but because of the unexpected recognition it has garnered in government and the wheels of change it already has put in motion.

On July 12, Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D.-Pa.) introduced bill H.R. 3037 in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Cited as the Green Meetings Act, the measure’s stated purpose is “to ensure that all federal agencies consider the environmentally preferable features and practices of a vendor in purchases of meeting and conference services.”

If that bill passes and is enacted this coming January, it will require the Office of Federal Procurement Policy to mandate that a green meetings plan is instituted by every federal agency “in a manner substantially similar to that required of the Environmental Protection Agency.” Considering that the federal government generates $14 billion a year in travel and meetings spend, the consequences of H.R. 3037 could be far-reaching.

Schermerhorn, a five-year veteran at the EPA who spoke at length with M&C on the development of the new green meetings policy, says the official introduction of the bill was sweet validation of the years of work she and fellow colleagues spent researching and developing it. “I came to work for the EPA because I believe in what it stands for,” she says. “This is very exciting, because I feel I have a direct link to this particular environmental program.”

The EPA’s Green Checklist

The following 14 points comprise the EPA’s new agencywide acquisition rule that gives priority to hotels and conference centers that can demonstrate environmental progress and achievement.

1. Do you have a recycling program? If so, please describe.

Just as millions of American households now routinely recycle items such as aluminum, glass, plastic and newspaper, it is incumbent on the hospitality industry as well to recycle to help reduce consumption of natural resources and the production of waste.

According to the EPA, hotels that implement recycling programs stand to reap significant cost savings. “One hotel told us that in the first year of implementing a cardboard-recycling program, they had cost savings in the tens of thousands of dollars,” says Harry Lewis, attorney advisor for the EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxic Pollution Prevention Division, who helped develop the agency’s green meetings policy.

2. Do you have a linen/towel reuse option that is communicated to guests?

More and more hotels, resorts and even cruise lines are getting the message out: Reusing linens and towels saves water and the energy used to operate the laundry machinery.