by By Hunter R. Slaton | October 01, 2009

1009 recycle iconMeeting planners have a big job on their hands when it comes to greening large conferences. Who handles it best? According to Tamara Kennedy-Hill, executive director of the Chicago-based Green Meetings Industry Council (, some of the greenest meetings currently held in North America are conducted by organizations such as the American Institute of Architects, the U.S. Green Building Council and the Canadian Medical Association.

What makes these groups exemplary? M&C spoke with the key planners for each of these associations' annual meetings (as well as of the GMIC's yearly sustainability conference) to find out specifically how they incorporate progressive, eco-friendly initiatives into their conferences and events. Their strategies will prove worthy of emulation by planners of all stripes.

American Institute of Architects
1009 AIA stationsThis prestigious 152-year-old organization held its 2009 National Convention from April 30 to May 2 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Chris Gribbs, AIA's managing director for conventions, supervises a team of four people who work full time on the mammoth show, which this year had more than 900 exhibitors and 22,400 registered attendees.

"Our national convention wasn't always green," says Gribbs. "But when we were in Las Vegas in 2005, the Green Meetings Industry Council came to look at us to see how we fared, and we got this ridiculously low score, something like 25 out of 300. As a result, we embraced an effort to change the way we do business going forward."

Since then, Gribbs and his team have worked diligently to transform the AIA National Convention into one of the country's greenest meetings.

One key gain has been in signage, which formerly was printed on traditional materials of foam board and vinyl, and now is done with cardboard. At first, Gribbs wasn't entirely happy with the composition and appearance of the new signs, but over time the quality has improved. "One thing that's cool," he notes, "is that we found a substrate of cardboard that has a white face," making it much more appealing to the eye.

Gribbs used to cover the rough edges of these signs with tape but later decided to keep them exposed, in order to better communicate the signs' more natural composition. At the close of the 2008 AIA National Convention, in Boston, Champion Exposition Services recycled all of the signs.

What's next? The biggest item on Gribbs' green wish list is achieving carbon neutrality for the convention. At the moment, attendees are encouraged to donate to groups that do carbon offsetting, but Gribbs does not track how many participate.

"Likewise, I haven't had great success thus far in soliciting offsets from our exhibitors," he says. "Though carbon offsetting can be expensive, I'd really like to accomplish this."