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Green Event Trends

What you need to know to ensure your next meeting is low-impact, eco-friendly and good to the planet

By Doug O’Neill

“Over the next several years, the ability to offer green meetings will become one of the most important factors in generating attendance, participant satisfaction and overall success of meetings. The question is not whether or not to go green, but how to be the best at it.”
— Susan Sarfati, CEO of High Performance Strategies and one of Meeting News’ 25 most influential women in the meetings industry

“Too many businesses are too quiet about their commitment to sustainability,” says Jill Doucette, founder of Victoria-based Synergy Enterprises, which helps businesses embrace sustainable best practices. “It’s the opposite of green-wash­ing. There are those who hesitate to publicize their sustain­ability policies for fear it will shine a light on what they’re not doing. It’s vital to understand that current and potential customers like to see authentic coverage of what a brand is doing in terms of sustainability. Highlighting green policies leads to brand trust.”

It’s no longer enough to recycle towels and min­imize linen changes. The Inn at Laurel Point, the first carbon neutral hotel in British Columbia and the 2016 winner of the EcoStar Award, earns kudos for its innovative hydrothermal technology, which uses cool water from the ocean—rather than elec­tricity—to cool the rooms. The Inn also keeps 71 per cent of its waste out of the landfill, compared to 40 per cent attained by many other hotels. Visit the inn’s Corporate Social Responsibility policy.

For many meeting planners in Canada, the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton is the gold standard of green-friendly meeting ven­ues. It’s the first conference centre in Canada to earn the Green Key level five status. The centre is known for exceeding industry best practices for building operations and main­tenance, and it’s one of only five conference centres in Canada to carry the prestigious International Green Meeting Certification. In addition to offering free waste audits, staff help clients plan waste-free, paper-free, low-impact conferences. Download the Sustainable Meetings Toolkit.

Did you know? By not pre-filling water glasses at banquet tables during three days of served lunches for 2,200 attendees, organizers can save 1,968 litres of water. Source: Meeting Strategies Worldwide

“There’s often an assumption—even fear—that going green will cost you money,” says Professor Rachel Dodds, a sustainability expert who teach­es in Ryerson University’s Hospitality and Tour­ism Management program in Toronto. “Reducing waste and encouraging reuse can save dollars. There’s a need to assuage that fear that grips so many business owners and operators.” An exam­ple from The Convention Industry Council: reusing name-tag badges for 1,300 conference attendees can save a meeting planner $1,200.

Keep costly banners free of dates and sponsor logos so they can be reused at the next conference.

Offset your carbon footprint. Encourage attendees to offset the envi­ronmental impact of their journey (for example, the greenhouse gas emissions emitted by air travel) to the conference or meeting. Offsetters, which helps con­sumers invest their money in projects that reduce green house gas emissions elsewhere, was the official supplier of carbon offsets to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Avoid traditional event bags filled with needless paper and plastic. Consider virtual swag bags, which can contain electronic coupons, discount offers and conference literature.

Treat conference attendees to zero-emission city tours. CVS Tours in Victoria uses electric double decker EV550 GreenPower buses. Benefits: no emissions and a quiet ride.

Deirdre Campbell, managing director of Beattie Tartan Integrated Communications, co-hosted the 2018 IMPACT Sustainability Travel & Tourism conference in Victoria: “Green policies and sus­tainability practices must be financially viable for a business to succeed. Consider this example: Guests at a conference were given the option of having their room cleaned only once during a three-day stay. The goal was noble—to lessen the use of soap, cleaning supplies and energy consumption. But two factors were ignored: Firstly, a room left uncleaned for three days gets really dirty and can ultimately take as much soap and energy to clean. Secondly, reducing the number of cleanings meant hotel workers were losing shifts—and income. True sustainability includes support for the local community.”

Jill Doucette, of Synergy Enterprises, urges conference organizers to identify—at the outset of their event-planning process—criteria to be met by all potential suppliers and service providers. Doucette vets suppliers who support her team’s sustainable commitments:

1. To encourage environmentally and socially responsible products and services

2. To support local

3. To limit waste production

4. To limit greenhouse gas emissions and reduce carbon impact

5. To give back to the community.


  • Plan meetings in a central location or near public transportation.
  • Ensure gifts or handouts are environmentally friendly and useful.
  • Publicize the fact that your meetings are green, and be prepared to share your learning.
  • Provide reports or other materials on USB drives and encourage the use of personal laptops. Only print what is necessary.
  • Use an LCD projector when necessary, being mindful of energy consumption.
  • Reuse or recycle name tags, binders, pens and other materials.
  • Add ‘green’ responsibility statements to your constitution’s executive duties.
  • Prepare a set of questions to ask suppliers to determine the extent to which they are able to service your meetings in a way that meets your green objectives.

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