As this issue of Meetings & Conventions heads to press, there is new urgency about the earth’s growing climate crisis: The venerable National Academy of Sciences has issued a report concluding that “recent warmth is unprecedented for at least the last 400 years and potentially the last several millennia,” adding, “Human activities are responsible for much of the recent global warming.”
Equally sobering is research from the Arlington, Va.-based Nature Conservancy, a respected environmental group even within conservative business circles. (In fact, President Bush recently tapped its board chairman, Henry M. Paulson Jr., to be his new Secretary of the Treasury.) According to the group, “Data indicating global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions are compelling and unassailable.”
Perhaps most om-inously, renowned scientist and author Stephen Hawking has made recent headlines by predicting that Earth “might end up like Venus, at 250 degrees centigrade and raining sulfuric acid.”
Does any of this sound beneficial to the future of the $107 billion meetings industry? Could environmental damage worldwide, manifested as pollution, higher temperatures, wilder weather, rising sea levels and costal erosion, actually threaten the very existence of meetings and events?
“People are avoiding the issue,” insists Steven Hacker, CAE, president of the International Association for Exhibition Management in Dallas. “We all think that the Gulf Coast is the place that needs special thinking and attention, but if it’s hurricane trouble that you need to avoid, you’d better eliminate anything along the East Coast, too, because it’s simply a matter of time before it gets whacked with something comparable to Hurricane Katrina.”
As the evidence for global warming and other environmental problems has mounted, meetings industry organizations have turned a spotlight on the impact of face-to-face events to help planners lessen any environmental damage attributable to their meetings. For example, in 2003 the Convention Industry Council formed its Green Meetings Task Force to create “minimum best practices” with input from planners, the Environmental Protection Agency, hotels, and convention and visitor bureaus. (A major result of this effort was CIC’s 2004 Green Meetings Report, available online at www.conventionindustry.org/projects/green_meetings_report.pdf).
Such efforts are of critical importance, since meeting planners are positioned to make choices and buying decisions that could lessen the negative environmental impact of their events.
In other words, this industry can help head off climate change, waste and pollution. Meeting and event planners choose hotels, off-site venues, transportation suppliers and destinations; as they increasingly think green, their buying power can shape the marketplace, encouraging suppliers to take environmental impact into consideration.
“When we go in to do business, the conversation we have with a venue is pretty specific,” says Kyle Schmit, show and production manager with Blaine, Minn.-based Aveda, an environmentally focused personal-care products company. “We try to be as sustainable as possible, but a lot of venues aren’t there yet. Hotels want to work with us, but if they don’t recycle, or allow guests to avoid daily cleaning of linens, or help us to avoid plastics, chances are we won’t be working with them. On the other hand, hotels know that if they get it right, they stay in our good graces -- and that matters. We do enough shows and events that hotels want us back.”
Other conscientious corporations and associations have adopted green meetings policies to guide their decision making. According to Portland, Ore.-based BlueGreen Meetings (www.bluegreenmeetings.org), such policies should aim to achieve the following goals.
* Decrease the amount of solid waste produced by the event;
* Reduce energy and water consumption at the event;
* Minimize or offset harmful emissions resulting from vehicular transportation and energy consumption associated with the event;
* Dispose of waste in an environmentally responsible manner; and
* Eliminate the use of harmful chemicals at or for the event.