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Green + Lean Meetings

Events put sustainability on their agenda, and meeting planners and suppliers suggest every green effort is worth it

By Sherryll Sobie

Is it more expensive and labourious to go green for meetings and events? Some meeting planners say yes. But here are three innovative companies and their suppliers who shared with Ignite Magazine how they found a sweet balance between creating a green meeting and staying lean.

1. Pfizer goes green for good

In 2008 Pfizer Canada created a Green Initiative Committee to address growing concern about the company’s impact on the environment.

Behind the scenes: Bruno Allary, senior manager work environment, Pfizer Canada, Kirkland, Que.; Maria da Cunha, vice-president of operations, HRG Events and Meeting Management, Toronto.

Green meeting planning highlights:

  • Web-based event registration system to save resources and costs
  • Meetings hosted at a central event venue to limit transportation needs
  • Decreased paper and plastic by using real china for food and beverages
  • Selection of buffet-style menus, donating leftovers to charities
  • Presenters urged to use electronic communications

Take-home lesson: Push through fears of rejection. “We feared at first that people would complain about some of the initiatives such as water fountains instead of bottled water,” says Allary. “But according to responses from our electronic evaluation form, this has not been the case. Support has been tremendous. Although we have just recently begun, we are off to a good start. We know we still have a fair amount of awareness and education to conduct, but we are committed."

2. Conservation Council walks the green talk

For the Conservation Council of Ontario, it’s not just admirable to execute green meetings, it’s crucial for the charitable organization—whose mission is to transform the province into a conserver society—to get it right. And of course be thrifty with dollars spent. A Conservation Summit at the Fairmont Royal York for 100 delegates in December 2008 was the perfect chance to practice what they preach.

Behind the scenes: Chris Winter, Executive Director, Conservation Council of Ontario, Toronto; Rose Swagemakers, vice-president of operations, Innovolve Group, Toronto.

Green meeting planning highlights:

  • “The food is the big-ticket item,” says Winters. “Our meal was predominately local; at the moment local food can be more expensive—it’s counter intuitive, I know—but sticking to in-season fare helps a bit.”
  • Rose Swagemakers: “We chose the Eco-Meet Buffet. It was the second lowest price of all buffets the hotel meeting facilities offered and the delegates raved about the food!”
  • Eco-conscious givaways: “We kept the giveaways simple," says Winter. "Instead of silly trinkets, which eventually end up in landfill, we used two eco-friendly gift baskets as door prizes.”

Take-home lesson: Baby Steps Count. “Some things cost more, such as recycled content folders and biodegradable badges, but we saved on re-using lanyards and going with a buffet over sit-down service,” says Winter. “Any green meeting measure is a step in the right direction: you don’t have to be perfect, but you should be honest.”


3. An Expo that offsets its footpriint


Ottawa’s Go Green Expo, produced by National Event Management, is a showcase of products and services for a green lifestyle. By partnering with event sponsor LivClean, March event will aim to be carbon neutral. Carbon offsets are typically generated from projects that reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases such as wind farms and hydroelectric dams.

Behind the scenes: Christina DeVries, marketing manager, LivClean Corporation, Mississauga, Ont.; Patti Gammon, director of sponsorship, National Event Management (NEM), Markham, Ont.

Green meeting planning highights:

  • Use of non-plastic, biodegradable sampling cups and utensils made from corn.
  • Electronic or re-usable signage and online ticketing.
  • Carbon offsetting. “We start by analyzing the emissions generated from an event or a meeting, and what can’t be eliminated through other initiatives like recycling, for example, can be offset,” Christina DeVries.
  • LivClean provides carbon calculators and offers exhibitors the option to offset their travel.

Take-home lesson:

Easy peasy: “There really isn’t a lot of time involved for event planners,” says DeVries. “They simply fill out a one-and-a-half page questionnaire so we can calculate the carbon footprint. There is a cost, but we encourage companies to recoup offsetting costs through ticket fees, if applicable, or if they make a referral to another company, we provide a finders fee.”

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