“Goodness is the only investment
that never fails,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in Walden,
his ode to nature and self-reliance. It seems that, both personally
and professionally, many meeting planners seem to get what Thoreau
was talking about back in 1854.
For instance, at an education session
on producing “green” events at the recent annual meeting of the
Professional Convention Management Association in Toronto, a
standing-room-only group of planners was asked what compelled them
to attend a workshop on reducing waste and being better
environmental stewards. Were they attending due to their
organizations’ mission? Three hands were raised.
Who was there because their
organizations’ competitors were going green, and they wanted to
keep pace? Five or six hands went up.
Which planners were in the room because
they felt personal passion for protecting the environment?
Nearly everyone in attendance suddenly raised their hands in
unison. There was astonished laughter as planners in the room
realized their shared desire to bring about change for the better
with their professional lives.
Indeed, organizers of the estimated 1.2
million meetings, conventions and exhibitions held each year are in
an ideal position to invest in “goodness” as primary decision
makers in the hospitality and travel industry. And imagine the
social, philanthropic and environmental impact of planners who
together pour some $107 billion into the U.S. economy each year.
(Figures are from M&C’s 2006 Meetings Market
“Planners don’t understand exactly how
powerful their dollars are, or how hyper-competitive the meetings
and conventions industry is, or how much hotels, suppliers and
destinations are competing for their business,” says Jason Ortiz,
director of strategic initiatives for the Washington, D.C.-based
Informed Meetings Exchange. “Planners do, in fact, have a lot of
power and leverage. If your dollars are sent to companies you’re
happy with, those that behave responsibly, then those companies are
more likely to continue that behavior.”
Aside from the power of planners’
spending, there’s a viral quality to their efforts: By shaping the
experience of the estimated 136.5 million people who attend a
meeting or convention each year, planners can raise awareness of
poverty and hunger, inspire more volunteerism or motivate people to
demand environmental responsibility on a mass scale.
This ethical-minded approach to
planning can be incorporated into all aspects of an event, so that
the decisions a meeting planner makes are in line with his or her
desire to do good.
Where and when planners decide to hold
an event influences economies and the consciousness of
participants. Besides eyeing the dollar value of a destination and
gauging which location would prove most attractive to attendees,
planners can choose to place their meetings in destinations that
are in dire need of business or are environmentally
For instance, in the wake of Hurricane
Katrina in late August 2005, groups such as the National
Association of Realtors and the Air & Waste Management
Association have booked major events in New Orleans and affected
areas of the Gulf Coast, intentionally giving vital support to
these devastated communities. Additionally, New Orleans and its
battered environs offer groups a meaningful platform for
“Every client is seeing opportunities
related to their field or expertise, or things that have a real
need,” says Stephen J. Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans
Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Maritz had their
meeting and committed to relandscaping a city park. The American
Library Association has been refurbishing libraries. A lot of
associations and corporations are realizing they have great
opportunities for branding and community participation that are
very good for their organizations.” (A listing of volunteer needs
in New Orleans is available at www.neworleanscvb.com.)
Other destinations might appeal to
planners because of their reputation as environmental stewards.
Pittsburgh and Portland, Ore., for example, have the only two U.S.
convention centers that are LEED-certified (for Leadership in
Energy and Environmental Design) by the U.S. Green Building
Council, the most stringent environmental certification offered.
Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center is the world’s
largest green building, using skylights, glass walls and natural
ventilation to provide light and heat, and with a water-reclamation
system that reduces potable water use by 60 percent. Other
features, such as sensors that determine levels of occupancy per
time of day, allow the facility to allocate energy in smarter
For its part, Portland “has always had
a green reputation,” notes Michael Smith, vice president of sales
with the Portland Oregon Visitors Association. “The city has done
garbage recycling, green roofs, you name it. Our green approach, to
be honest, started out as a marketing strategy, but it has turned
into a passion. It’s hard not to get personally involved once you
learn what’s at stake.”
Indeed, the POVA itself practices what
it promotes. The bureau’s printed materials are made with recycled
paper and soy-based ink; its website is partially powered by
renewable energy, and it has established a “green team” that meets
once a month to optimize the bureau’s environmental efforts.
SustainLane, an organization based in
San Francisco that sets sustainability benchmarks for city
governments, provides an online ranking of green cities at www.sustainlane.us/overview.jsp.