First of all, what is a "green meeting?" It is defined as "a meeting that incorporates environmental considerations throughout all stages of the meeting in order to minimize the negative impact on the environment."
Many myths surround the idea of "greening" a conference. It's too expensive. It's too much effort. If you can't do 100% green, why bother? On the contrary, small changes can actually save you time and money, in addition to contributing to a healthier environment.
Consider this: a typical five-day conference for 2,500 attendees will use 90,000 cans or bottles, 75,000 cups and 87,500 napkins, according to Meetings Strategies Worldwide. Minor adjustments can begin to reverse the negative effect that meetings can have on the environment. What strategies can you employ to lessen the overall environmental impact when planning your meeting or event?
What you can do
Create a green mission statement and share it with all stakeholders, staff and suppliers. Stick with it, practice what you preach, and also share with attendees the efforts you are taking via your website, conference materials and invitations.
Go paperless. Reducing the amount of materials used for information on your meeting. To do so, try the following: use online registration; post information on your website; provide registration supplies on-site rather than mailing ahead of time; use double-sided printing, eco-friendly paper and smaller fonts.
Reuse your materials. provide a name badget drop-off; design the customization on any signage to be removable; and in general, build for permanence and longevity, not disposability.
Consider collateral materials. First, establish the necessity of all the items, reducing when possible and always using eco-friendly paper. Create an FTP site for posting and downloading materials, and consider having a "Print On Demand Kiosk" so attendees can print only what they'd like to have on hand. If you're offering gifts, remember that many companies now have a "green" line.
Think creatively. For instance, consider edible centerpieces and eco-friendly bamboo trade show pull-up banners. For a gift idea, plant a tree in the name of each attendee and share a certificate made of seed paper to share your efforts.
Be smart with shipping. consolidate materials so you are creating a lighter package and shipping more than once, and when possible, reduce shipping period by using local suppliers.
Work with green partners. Inquire about the green initiatives they have employed. Ask if they have an environmental or sustainability policy, how they reduce energy use and waste, and the techniques they employ to conserve electricity. Remember that green goes beyond just products; it includes policies and practices too.
Some specific questions to ask
Venues - Do you purchase reusable and durable products that can be recycled? Do you have a recycling program? Do you have low-flow showerheads and guestroom dispensers for soap and shampoo? Do you give guests choices on having linens changed? Do you employ eco-friendly food and beverage initiatives? A few specific ideas: reusable service items rather than disposable styrofoam or plastic; water service in pitchers versus bottles; and reusable condiment servers rather than individual packets.
Vendors - What recycling techniques do they follow? Do they use sustainable materials? How do they dispose of old materials?
Technical services - How are their services energy efficient?
Sustainable Communities: www.sustainable.org
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: www.epa.gov/oppt/greenmeetings
American Lung Association: www.lung.org
Jensar Associate's PASAE Seminar Reduce, Reuse & Recycle: www.jensarassociates.com/pdfs/pasaebw_020808.pdf