by Michael C. Lowe | October 01, 2010

The movement to conserve and replenish the earth's resources continues to build momentum, and meeting planners and suppliers are doing their share to advance the cause.

"Planners are asking for green meetings, but they aren't environmental scientists. They might not have the time or resources to research what the best choices are," says Amy Spatrisano, CMP, principal of the industry consultancy MeetGreen. "The more suppliers can be proactive about educating planners, the easier it will be."

Hotel companies have, in fact, jumped on the sustainable bandwagon with a variety of initiatives, including the creation of brandwide standards, carbon calculators for events and outright funding for innovative eco-efforts (e.g., this past February, the InterContinental Hotel Group gave a $500,000 grant to the MPI Foundation to develop a sustainable meeting and event training program, explore new sustainable techniques for meetings and more).  

What follows is an in-depth look at the efforts some major chains are making to help planners organize eco-friendly meetings and events.

FairmontThe Fairmont Newport BeachToronto-based Fairmont Hotels & Resorts' Eco-Meet program was launched in 2007 as the latest in the company's 20-year history of green initiatives; the effort focuses on four main components at each of its 63 properties.

Eco-accommodation: Information about a hotel's eco-friendly practices is placed in guest rooms to raise awareness. In addition, all rooms are outfitted with recycling bins, energy-efficient lighting and water-conserving plumbing.

Eco-service: Fairmont provides dishes and cutlery instead of disposable paper plates or plastic utensils, as well as linen napkins and centerpieces that either are edible or made from reusable items such as silk flowers. Recycling stations can be found in all meeting rooms, and whiteboards are substituted for paper flip charts.

Eco-cuisine: Local, seasonal and organically grown foods sourced from a 100-mile radius of each property are available at on-site restaurants. Some of the special menus available under the Eco-Meet banner feature a 50 percent reduction in animal proteins, which are replaced by vegetable proteins.

Eco-programming: This initiative offers planners options for green activities and team-building programs, as well as guest speakers offering eco-centric messages and education. Paper-reduction efforts include electronic check-in and checkout and an in-house TV channel dedicated to providing meeting information and updates to attendees. Planners also can offset their event's emissions by purchasing energy certificates, or credits, through the hotels; these go toward
projects that plant trees, promote low-carbon technologies and more.  

According to Fairmont, by following the Eco-Meet guidelines, groups can save up to three plastic water bottles, two aluminum cans, one writing pad, one pencil, two paper cups, three paper napkins, three paper plates and two sets of disposable cutlery per person per day. "To be able to add that up across the chain for thousands of meetings per year would be pretty wild," says Sarah Dayboll, the chain's manager of environmental affairs.

Hilton Hilton International has declared that all of its 3,600 properties will be using its carbon calculator program by Dec. 31, 2011. Known as LightStay, the system analyzes 200 operational practices, including housekeeping, paper product usage, food waste and transportation, and determines their environmental impact in terms of energy and water use, waste production and carbon output.

LightStay's dedicated Meeting Impact Calculator estimates the eco-footprint of an event to be held at any of the chain's properties and allows planners to project in detail the amount of consumption and waste the event will engender. Using this data, planners can modify the materials and operating practices they will use and even change elements of the agenda to reduce impact where possible.

During a recent one-year trial of the LightStay program, implemented for both business and leisure stays at some 1,300 properties, Hilton saved enough energy to power 5,700 homes for a year, conserved enough water to fill more than 650 Olympic-size pools and took the equivalent of 34,865 cars off the road through carbon-emission reductions.