Amanda J Dennis | What Does Green Really Mean? Give Me More Than Lip Service
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What Does Green Really Mean? Give Me More Than Lip Service

It’s the fashionable thing to do today—going green. I’ve seen t-shirts telling me to “Go Green,” “Think Green” and that “Being Green is Sexy.” I’ve heard that my LBD (little black dress) should be replaced because “green is the new black.” There’s good green: four-leaf clovers, Georgia pines, emeralds, money. And, there’s bad green: slime (unless you’re Nickelodeon), the Grinch, spinach, jealousy.  Some things are actually green: Kermit, Oscar the Grouch (though he’s pretty whiney about it), Elphaba the Wicked Witch, Shrek. But what does “green” really mean?

Take a poll around your office. Ask a friend or co-worker if they have gone green. Then ask them to define it for you. Green meetings are the latest trend in our industry, both with hotels and with meeting planners. It’s trendy. It’s politically correct.  But, deep down, are we really serious about it?

Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t invent green. The green movement as we know it today traces its roots back to Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring and the flurry of legislation that followed it. The truth is, environmentalism is considered an American philosophy dating back as early as the 1830’s. The 70’s gave us the Clean Air Act, Earth Day and the end of DDT. Love Canal and Three Mile Island got the public’s attention as did the Exxon Valdez oil spill in the 80’s. The issue became more emotionally charged in the 90’s with PETA, Earth First and “tree huggers.” And, since 9-11, environmental concerns have become more mainstream. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth brought the climate crisis to a theatre near you.  And being green became a badge of honor.

Do we really mean it? Benchmark Hospitality released its “Top 10 Meeting Trends of 2011” last week. Number 6 on the list: “Cost still trumps green.” They go on to say that meeting planner’s feel being green is important; they look for green hotels, but with many “budgets still take precedence in 2011.” And on the hotel side it isn’t much different. A chain hotel in Maryland promotes itself as a green leader but if you want the green meeting package, you have to look under the green section of the website. Several hoteliers that I spoke with said that being green was just too costly. Some Fairmont hotels give green a shot by providing green meetings at no extra charge. I was still confused. If we have a green philosophy (and promote the heck out of it), then why aren’t we committed to it on a daily basis? Then it occurred to me….the question is not IF you are green, the question is WHAT SHADE of green.

Keeping that in mind, a light shade of green can be achieved with a few minor changes.  Here are a few tips for those who, at the very least, consider themselves a celery green:

  1. Be a softy when it comes to collateral materials. Send electronic versions of program handouts rather than printing a big, glossy book. If that’s too drastic, at least reduce the amount of paper by posting as much as possible on your website. Generally, your attendees will thank you.
  2. Have recycling bins available for paper, plastic and can disposal. This is practically a standard today.
  3. Hand out reusable water bottles. At the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, delegates were given refillable water bottles and the city provided “filling stations,” eliminating the need for plastic water bottles.
  4. Use recyclable signage and white boards instead of flip charts.
  5. Substitute business cards slipped into badge holder instead of paper name tags. Most trade show attendees have discovered the value of storing their business cards in the plastic sleeve anyway. Collect holders at end of conference to re-use.
  6. Use glass instead of plastic (just say NO to Styrofoam), condiments in bulk containers (sugar, creamer, butter, cream cheese, etc.), cloth instead of paper whenever possible.
  7. Consider public transportation as a first option and ensure that the meeting is centrally located for attendees. Encourage carpooling and, if the meeting is within walking distance of the hotel, encourage attendees to walk instead of hopping on a shuttle.
  8. Consider how much food you really need. At many meetings, there is almost always a ton of food left on the buffet and break tables. Aunt Bee had it right when she told Opie to finish his milk. “We can’t put it back in the cow, you know.” And if local laws allow, ask if leftover food can be donated to a shelter or food bank.

These suggestions are just a starting point, but the impact of even these few adjustments can be striking. Hotels, meeting facilities and meeting planners are partners in planning more sustainable events. And as Dr. Seuss said: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

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