by Sarah J.F. Braley | October 01, 2007

Nancy J. Wilson and Amy Spatrisano


Leading the charge:
GMIC founders
Nancy J. Wilson (left)
and Amy Spatrisano

Back in 1998, Dallas-based Meeting Professionals International convened a green meetings task force, headed by former president of the board Kathleen Ratcliffe, who was then president of the Jacksonville (Fla.) and the Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau. But when the committee sent the first draft of its report and recommendations to the association’s board in April 1999, the organization began backing away from the findings, finally releasing a watered-down white paper in December of that year, largely written by MPI’s then president and CEO, Edward L. Griffin Jr., CAE.

Apparently, the meetings industry was not ready to begin incorporating green practices, but the cause was taken up by a new organization, the Green Meetings Industry Council. Founded in 2003 by Amy Spatrisano, CMP, and Nancy J. Wilson, CMP, of Portland, Ore.-based Meeting Strategies Worldwide (MSWW), GMIC dedicated itself to improving the environmental, social and community performance of meetings and events through education and advocacy.

Today, the council is gaining a reputation as a font of information for the green meetings market, working with the Environmental Protection Agency to set government meeting standards and being asked to support a green meetings bill introduced in the House of Representatives by Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.). The language of the bill was included as part of the House’s New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security and Consumer Protection Act, which was passed on Aug. 4. At press time, the House and Senate were working to reconcile their versions of the act.

Solid pedigree

Spatrisano and Wilson come by their expertise organically. From the inception of their 12-year-old planning firm, environmental responsibility has been one of its tenets. “We always asked for recycling; we didn’t know it was green,” says Spatrisano.

About seven years ago, MSWW became more aggressive with its clients and events, pushing facilities and suppliers to provide environmentally friendly products and services. “We went to an event, and everything served at the breaks was in Styrofoam. We felt we couldn’t do this anymore,” says Spatrisano.

The cup order alone for that event was 75,000 items. “We were stunned by that number,” says Wilson. Realizing the huge impact made by the switch to biodegradable paper cups, MSWW’s two principals began researching the footprint of a meeting. “We wanted to see if there was any turnkey information online for green meetings, but there was no one source for that,” Wilson adds.

One of the reasons the two women wanted to offer meeting planners help in going green, Wilson says, was to make it easy for them, “because the easier it is, the more likely they are to do it.”

They started building business cases for going green, working out the cost savings. This work eventually morphed into GMIC, when the two realized none of the established meetings organizations -- such as MPI, the Professional Convention Management Association or the industry’s umbrella organization, the Convention Industry Council -- were ready to support their ideals.

Kathleen Ratcliffe“There hasn’t been any real leadership by any one particular industry organization on this issue, because each of those organizations has broader interests,” says Ratcliffe, right, now president of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, who adds that she applauds MPI for making an effort in 1999. “I’m sorry they weren’t able to see that leadership through. But I’m glad somebody was willing to carry on this message.”