Greening Your Hotel Meetings and Conferences
By Diana Driscoll, LEED AP, B, D & C
Wednesday, 9th June 2010
Does your hotel offer meeting and/or conference space?  Have you noticed a trend in the RFP's you receive from groups, asking about your "green" or "sustainable" initiatives?  All signs are pointing in the direction of a widespread increase in this trend. 

Even with the current recession, business meetings in the United States alone constitute an amazing $175 billion industry, and Americans make more than 400 million long-distance business trips each year.  Don't let your hotel miss an opportunity to garner its share of group business.

Despite a global recession, investment levels in energy efficiency have remained strong, according to the Energy Efficiency Indicator (EEI) released June 3, 2010 by Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI).  As stated in this report, the primary motivation driving sustainable investments is cost savings, with 97% of respondents identifying it as significant. 

Or, as stated by Dennis Quaintance, CEO of Proximity Hotels (the first platinum LEED certified hotel), "It ain't sustainable to go broke." 

What is a "Green Meeting"?

The Convention Industry Council (CIC) presented this definition: "A green meeting or event incorporates environmental considerations to minimize its negative impact on the environment." There are almost a limitless number of ways to green a meeting – and many of these offer opportunities to save money and increase efficiency.

Event planners will look at numerous aspects of your hotel's efforts toward sustainability, including such areas as:

  • Food and Beverage:  Do you maximize the use of reusable, rather than disposable glassware, flatware, tablecloths, etc?
  • Registration and Exhibitions:  Do you use electronic communication over paper as often as possible?  Do you encourage exhibitors to do the same?
  • Location:  Do you offer shuttle service or mass transit?  Are areas of interest and entertainment nearby in order to decrease vehicle emissions?
  • Do you have an energy and water use conservation program currently in place?
Why are Green Meetings becoming more Prevalent?

There are many reasons that this green trend is growing exponentially across the globe.  Consumers and businesses are becoming much more aware of their "carbon footprint" and as more companies feel the pressure to create sustainability goals, they increasingly are asking their employees to stay in green-certified hotels. 

Companies that are closely scrutinized by the public sector (government agencies, for example) do not want to present a mixed message to the public – stating they want to help the planet, but ignoring a hotel's approach to sustainability when planning for a company meeting. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, an amazing 93,000 federal employees are traveling on any given business day to 8,000 locations across the country.  Federal travelers alone use 24 million room nights of hotel space in the United States annually.  Now add to this number businesses both large and small who are making efforts toward sustainability, and the totals can be staggering. 

Are Green Meetings an Example of "Greenwashing"?

When a product or building (such as a hotel) extols its virtues of being "green", but does so in a misleading or exaggerated way, it is described as "greenwashing".  That can be a difficult label to shed, as guests and/or groups may feel as though they've been misled, or worse.  Many green standards are in their infancy and thus still ill-defined. 

There is no need to try to fool meeting and event planners, as many of them are looking for some effort toward sustainability, and will be happy with the progress you've made so far and the goals you have set.  Much like social media, it is important to be transparent.

Green meetings can have a tremendous impact on our environment.   Most hotels purchase more products in one week than 100 families typically purchase in a year.  By initiating green goals such as recycling, reducing and reusing, you can feel good that you are helping the environment in a big way, helping your revenue stream, and reducing many of your operating costs. 

Who Supports Green Meetings?

Depending on where your hotel(s) are located on the globe, various government, for-profit and non-profit organizations are jumping in to assist and encourage hoteliers to go green.  There is a plethora of information available to help you (some excellent web-sites are posted for you at the bottom of this publication), and the number of green experts available for consulting or commissioning grows every month.  

It has been through such collaborations that some hotel brands are now "pre-certifying" a few of their prototypes.  For example, Marriott has launched such a prototype for their Courtyard Hotels.  By taking advantage of "volume certification" or "portfolio certification", Marriott may be able to save property owners approximately $100,000 in design and other costs, and about six months in design time.  More prototype brands are expected to follow.

As Michael Kawecki, LEED AP, GA and owner of Axiom Sustainable Consulting, LLC states, "with volume certification, each credit is documented based on regions, and then further documentation is provided during construction.  For example, rather than energy modeling each store, a prototype is modeled in each climate area, and then that model is good for all future stores."   It is obvious how this type of certification could save a significant amount of work for hotel owners, and flow into their group meeting venues. 

Hyatt Hotels is also making numerous green initiatives.  Jim Milkovich, corporate vice president of purchasing for Hyatt Hotels Corp. explains that Hyatt has won group business to its convention hotels in part because of its green initiatives.  In an interview with Beth Kormanik of Buyer Interactive, Milkovich states, "If you can show a meeting planner how you are reducing, recycling and reusing products throughout the hotel and how your associates are engaged in the process – it's not something you're doing for this meeting, but it's in your culture – that is what is really evident to those meeting planners."

A terrific example of how a hotel has monetized and calculates an ROI for their green meetings is the Willard InterContinental Washington, D.C.  As Herve′ Houdre′, GM of the Willard InterContinental states in HotelNewsNow.com, "The hotel carefully tracks its individual and guestroom bookings that result directly from its sustainable practices.  I gave myself and my team a goal to generate $1 million in extra revenue (in 2009) due to our sustainable development strategy.  Guests are impressed with the development strategy because they believe the strategy corresponds with their own culture."

Keep in mind that prospective clients won't know what your hotel is doing to limit its impact on the environment if you don't tell them. "Don't be shy," advises hotel consultant Daniel Edward Craig. "Advertise your green initiatives on your website and in sales kits, proposals, your in-room directory and social media activities. Meeting planners and travelers want to know."
What is the Future of Green Meetings for Hoteliers?

The landscape is changing quickly.  In the United States, the meetings industry is working closely with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop a green meeting industry standard.  

With such standards, hotels will have common goals to reach to win group or convention business.  Because the EPA is a government-based organization, and the green meeting planning associations are not, such joint efforts are rare and cannot be ignored.

What Groups Can Help My Hotel With Green Meeting Initiatives?

There are a growing number of organizations eager to help hoteliers with sustainability and green meeting initiatives.  The following limited list does not address the numerous and qualified private enterprise consultants:

  • Green Meeting Industry Council:  info@greenmeetings.info
  • Meeting Professionals International (MPI): btess@mpiweb.org
  • International Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus (IACVB): meetingsnet.com/contact
  • The Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) – Green Hotel Initiative:  617.247.0700 X 21
  • "Green" Hotels Association:  green@greenhotels.com
  • NW Pollution Prevention Resource Center (PPRC) – Hospitality Sector:  pprc.org
  • Green Seal – Environmental Standard for Lodging Properties:  greenseal@greenseal.org
  • Hotel Association of Canada – Green Leaf Eco-Rating Program:  info@hotelassociation.ca
  • U.S. Green Building Council:  USGBC.org
  • Is there a cost to "going green" for your hotel and group or conference meetings?  Yes.  Is there a larger cost involved in ignoring the trend?  Absolutely.  Don't allow your hotel to languish in meeting sales.  Get educated on "green", and pencil out the numbers.  Or let an expert guide you.  You will be surprised and delighted to learn - 
Green is for Go.

Diana Driscoll, LEED AP B, D & C, has found her passion in "green" hotel development, and working with other CRE and hotel developers on LEED and social media projects. As CEO of Ridgeline Hospitality, LLC, and the founder of
HotelRescue.com, she heads up a team of experts to offer immediate assistance to developers in this tough economic climate.  Her message?  "Go Green Gradually!".

Dr. Driscoll recently received the B, D & C LEED specialty, meaning she has been specialized in green Building, Design and Construction. Philanthropy plays a large role in her work, as does public speaking and writing, where you may find her addressing topics from social media to medical research and LEED developments! 

Diana Driscoll, LEED AP, B, D & C                              

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