REPORT FROM THE U.S.—While misconceptions about the ease and cost of planning sustainable meetings run rampant, hoteliers should know it’s a lot easier being green than they might think, sustainability experts report.
Admittedly, meeting clients’ demands might seem daunting at first, said Tamara Kennedy-Hill, executive director at Green Meeting Industry Council, which provides a platform for engagement to make the meetings industry supportive for sustainable events. But there are ways to streamline the process, she said.
“Rather than reinvent the wheel, there are some guidelines out there,” she said. “There are certain basic things (hoteliers) want to include: something around waste diversion, procurement, energy, water conservation and air quality.”
The GMIC, for example, provides a wealth of resources to hoteliers on its website.
But while tangible items for an eco-friendly environment can be easy to enumerate, getting staff onboard takes time and training.
Chris Brophy, VP of corporate sustainability at MGM Resorts International, said employee engagement and education helps staff understand how important green initiatives are to the day-to-day business.
“I’m always amazed by how much a property can do,” said Matthew Sterne, GM of the Fairmont Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. “Often people think it’s recycling, but it’s much more than that. It’s every decision we make.”
Implementing green initiatives
“It actually costs less to have a green meeting,” said Penny Fondy, principal at Wits End Productions, an event and video production company for the hospitality industry. A green meeting produces less output, plus there’s more recycling, she added.
Fondy works with companies to plan meetings and conventions at hotels. “I’ve been planning meetings for 20 years, and it started with completely no regard for anything sustainable. And now, where we are, it’s at the other end of the spectrum. Any time we’re planning a meeting and we sit down with our clients, almost everything we talk about is looked at through that lens.”
The Hampton Inn & Suites Miami Brickell Downtown in Florida, which opened 27 September 2011 and will receive its LEED certification soon, takes a similar approach, said GM Eduardo Chapoval. The hotel employs myriad green initiatives in its meetings business.
The Hampton Inn & Suites Miami Brickell Downtown
“It’s actually a benefit,” he said. Not only because it makes clients aware of the sustainable initiatives the company puts into action, “but also because it saves us money,” Chapoval added.
“We are coming below in water and electricity costs. Compared to hotels in our group that don’t have features, we’re spending less. The savings we can pass along to our guests; it’s beneficial to them.”
At the Fairmont Pittsburgh, “the first step when we’re meeting with clients … is talking about the different things we can do for the group that minimizes their impact on the environment,” Sterne said.
Giving a tour of the property to clients and going through the menus “we talk about the different farms we source from locally,” Sterne said and that is only one small part. Sterne said the client needs to know being sustainable is a priority, which is why he highlights the Fairmont Pittsburgh is LEED-certified at the gold level from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Clients seeking green meetings might initially be impressed with programs already in place, but Kennedy-Hill said hotels that have third-party verification programs such as LEED-certifications validate the hotel’s commitment to sustainability. “They can see what the hotel’s commitment is,” she said.
MGM’s hotels are rated on the Green Key Eco-Rating Program ratings system. The Las Vegas-based company has a three-key distinction out of five.
“If people are asking if we’re green, we can use an independent third party, and we can say, ‘Yes, we are,’” Brophy said.
Reducing the environmental footprint
“We try to encourage (our clients) to start small with low-hanging fruit. You’re going to just pick a few things to invent goals that are achievable so people feel successful. It’s about continuous improvement,” Kennedy-Hill said.
“Our meeting rooms, first of all, have recycled custom-designed trash cans,” Chapoval said of The Hampton Inn. Additionally, meeting attendees are supplied with notepads and pens made from recyclable materials. This, along with meeting rooms that focus on natural light “so light fixtures won’t have to be on” and energy efficient management systems, keep costs down while keeping things sustainable, he said.
MGM’s hotels use enhanced recycling, measuring “the specific waste coming out of the meeting room,” Brophy said. Employees sort out recyclables including food, aluminum, plastic, glass, etc., and they divert food waste to a compositing facility or a pig farm in town. MGM also has sustainable and organic menus, as well as water dispensers opposed to bottles of water to offer meeting attendees.
“We want to reduce our environmental footprint and still provide the unique experience Vegas is known for,” Brophy said.
Making green initiatives a priority makes the clients feel better. “It validates their decision,” Sterne said.
One of the many things Fairmont does to make sustainability a priority, Sterne said, is to compost leftover food, especially after meetings or conventions. “We don’t compost on the property, but we make sure our organic materials are able to be composted,” he said. Fairmont also uses a filtration system on property and glass recyclable bottles verses plastic bottles.
“We love a challenge when (a client) comes up with a new idea,” Sterne said about the constantly-evolving sustainability scene. “There are lots of innovations in the field. We keep our eyes open. If we see a client requests something special, we accommodate it. We see if we can incorporate that in our day-to-day practices.”
A strong green infrastructure
Hotels that are LEED-certified and are already environmentally sound have an easier time of offering green meetings, sources said.
“Really, a green meeting starts with the facility,” Brophy said.
Aria, part of MGM, reduced its impact by 38%, but “all of our facilities have gone through major renovations and retrofits to increase the energy efficiency of heating and cooling and lighting systems,” he added.
Sterne said meeting planners should select progressively-built facilities because they’re “indirectly supporting developers’ decision to make (sustainability) a priority,” he said.
“It sends a strong symbol to the industry. Organizations feel this is important, and they bring business to places that support the industry.”
When CityCenter was being built in Las Vegas, Brophy said, the company’s primary purpose was to work on the LEED certification; CityCenter is the largest LEED-certified new construction in the world, he said.
“With the formation of our (sustainability) division, we quickly realized that it wasn’t about the project but about making the company more sustainable,” Brophy added.