How In-Person Meetings & Conventions Can Reduce Carbon Footprint

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How In-Person Meetings & Conventions Can Reduce Carbon Footprint

By Beth Buehler

Reduce carbon footprint and sustainability are major items on meeting planners’ checklists today, perhaps more so than ever. The 2022 Global Meetings and Events Forecast, based on a survey of 500 meeting and event professionals and produced by American Express Meetings & Events, revealed that 83% of organizations take sustainability into account with planning gatherings.

More than a decade ago, I met Lindsey Arell, principal and sustainability strategist at Crested Butte-based Honeycomb Strategies, in her role as sustainable program manager for the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

“When we started back in 2007, there wasn’t much happening in the way of sustainability for events. The need and urgency are now here!” She says, “We are a creative and innovative industry with influence in every city and area of business. Even small changes we make can cause a huge ripple effect. And big changes can help change the world.”

Arell shared how in-person meetings and conventions can reduce carbon footprint

You have worked with the Colorado Convention Center in Denver for a long time, explain the progress made at that venue over the years.

Each year we try to build upon goals from the previous year to grow the program at Colorado Convention Center. To accomplish this, we work with key stakeholders (both internal and external) to identify areas of focus for the upcoming year. Data tracking and metrics management are incredibly important for our team to understand the impact of our programs and initiatives. It is also important to share our success with team members.

Raising fresh produce in Centerplates's Blue Bear Farms at the Colorado Convention Center Denver eliminates the environmental impact of transportation. Courtesy Centerplate.

What are some first steps a venue or event can take to begin reducing carbon footprint?

Meet with each department to get an understanding of current efforts and opportunities at a department level. Often, there is more going on than may have been understood previously. In addition, as mentioned previously, establishing a system to track impacts is important. This includes obvious data points like energy, waste and water plus metrics such as volunteer hours, purchasing, etc.

How can destination marketing organizations (DMOs) work in tandem with event planners to help make meetings and conventions more environmentally friendly in their communities?

DMOs like VISIT DENVER are the key to connecting event planners to the location community. This includes providing resources and directions for organizers to understand what options are available for a particular city. For example, VISIT DENVER dedicates a section on their website to share information about sustainability in the city. This includes a Voluntourism Directory, annual Sustainability Survey of Hotels, Green Vendor Directory and Carbon Calculator.

Instead of throwing away or shipping back product samples or swag, donate items to a local cause. Courtesy Honeycomb Strategies.

What does a sustainable meeting and convention look like?

Just like a venue, the first step to reduce carbon footprint is to establish goals and then track to those goals. From there, it truly varies from one event to the next and one city to the next. For example, for a food show the biggest impact may be food donations; for electronics show it may be energy consumption; and for a design show it may be materials. It is also important to incorporate the mission and values of the organization into the program to make it authentic and create buy in from the members and attendees.

At Honeycomb Strategies, we work with a wide range of shows in multiple industries, each one with their unique challenges. Some of our favorite include Greenbuild, Natural Products Expo, Waste Expo, Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition, and Sustainable Brands to name a few.

Is there more attention being paid to this topic as meetings and conventions are coming back in person after COVID?

There does seem to be a greater awareness and desire to plan safe and sustainable events. This is coming from both the planner and supplier perspectives. We are seeing venues like ASM Global taking a lead in implementing more sustainable practices for their venues, which in turn leads to more sustainable meeting options for planners.

What are some tools planners can use when planning a meeting and convention that is more environmentally friendly?

The most important tool is to begin inserting questions around sustainability into RFPs and contracts. This is the best way to understand what options are available and how to take advantage of them.

The topic of how in-person meetings and conventions can reduce carbon footprint is much larger than what was discussed, but hopefully this will serve as motivation to get started if you haven’t already done so.

Breakfast service reusables, courtesy of Honeycomb Strategies.

Top Photo: Dishwashing station, courtesy of Honeycomb Strategies. 

Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 17 years and helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine in 2013. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.