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by Sally Braley | November 1, 2012

In my recent writings on green meetings (found here and here), two of the planners I interviewed mentioned hiring Portland, Ore.-based MeetGreen to help them assess what their organizations already were doing and helping them set their next course.

We talked to MeetGreen principal Amy Spatrisano, CMP, recently about setting a baseline, or even just getting started. Spatrisano and her partner, Nancy Zavada, CMP, are finding that most of the planners they encounter during webcasts and chapter presentations, while interested in more sustainable meetings, haven't done anything yet and don't know where to begin. "I just did a session on greening contracts for an industry chapter," says Spatrisano, "but it was clear that the session was helpful for about 5 percent, and for the rest, it was way above the level of conversation they were ready for."

When getting started with a new client, MeetGreen evaluates the meeting against the nine categories that make up the Convention Industry Council's APEX/ASTM Standards for Green Meetings (learn about the standards at bit.ly/UojiMM; buy the official documents for $149 at bit.ly/UK7NhJ). Those categories are accommodations, audiovisual and production, communications and marketing, destinations, exhibits, food and beverage, meeting venue, on-site offices, and transportation. "Depending on what the answers are, we give them recommendations on how to get started," says Spatrisano. "If they've not done anything at all, we don't try to get them to take on the whole enchilada at once. We look at where the event is being held and what the infrastructure is, and make recommendations on what will be the easiest practices to implement."

In this process, Spatrisano helps the client figure out what's important to them, and finds out what they are willing to do to up the green ante. Then MeetGreen helps the client track the progress of the processes they put in place.

She finds that a lot of planners are doing some type of paper reduction by not sending out brochures and putting more information online. A lot of planners also are not putting out bottled water anymore while asking for recycling. "But asking for it and having it implemented to the degree you hope it will be implemented is a huge divide," she says.

To get going on their own, planners should look at all nine areas of green meetings management and zero in on the reliable three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle. Do you really need a 64-page program on-site? You can probably get away with a schedule-at-a-glance. Can you reuse name badges? Can you stop theming your signage so it can be reused? Can you rework your contracts to insist on proper recycling of all possible materials? Can you use larger buses, rather than individual car service?

P.S.: Many of these practices will save your organization money. Providing water in pitchers and coolers costs a lot less than buying bottled water; reducing paper use can represent substantial cost reductions. "Planners still think it costs more money to be green," says Spatrisano. "That myth continues to be a challenge. I thought by now there was enough evidence out there to show people that there is cost savings, and at the very least cost-neutral components, to doing a green meeting. Now, in this economy, is absolutely the time to be doing this. And it's just smart business."

MeetGreen has published a book to help planners get started, called Simple Steps to Green Meetings ($29; available at here), and there are pages of free resources on the Green Meetings Industry Council's website (gmicglobal.org).

What steps are you taking to get started or further your sustainability efforts? Leave a comment below or e-mail me at sbraley@mcmag.com.