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by Sarah J.F. Braley | September 9, 2013

Stacked next to the desk in Kristin Clarke's home office in Virginia is a pile of pith helmets, rubber snakes, lizards and palm fronds, all ready to go when she heads out on her next safari. Clarke, the director of ASAE and The Center for Association Leadership's Convene Green Alliance, works hard with her team to be a conduit between industry members and association meeting professionals so they can understand each other's sustainability needs; green safaris — educational treks through sustainable hotels — are one of her favorite ways to get the message out.

On Aug. 5 in Atlanta, during ASAE's annual meeting, Clarke took more than 30 association and nonprofit meeting professionals on CGA's latest such safari, a behind-the-scenes exploration of the silver Green Seal-certified Westin Peachtree Plaza. The group was led by pith-helmeted hotel representatives throughout the property, including a hike to the loading dock, where, among the usual recyclables, each year about nine tons of kitchen oil and grease are saved to be turned into biofuel. In the kitchen, executive chef Russell Sleight talked about the hotel's relationships with local suppliers of seasonal, organic, and sustainable food and beverages. Steve Grayson, director of banquets, discussed the Westin's practice of promoting clutter-free meetings, using linenless tables to cut down on laundry, putting notepads and pens on a side table to reduce their usage, and decorating tables with living or dried plants rather than fresh-cut flowers.

Other events the CGA has hosted include a green-printing event, held in June at the Washington, D.C., Marriott at Metro Center, allowing planners to learn about eco-friendly papers, inks, varnishes, and other paper and printing treatments. "We covered the great innovations in that industry, debunked myths that printing was by nature not environmentally sound and that it was automatically more expensive to 'print green,'" says Clarke. Response was so positive, CGA has proposed holding another such event at the ASAE 2014 Membership, Marketing & Communications Conference next year.

Green roof-garden parties are another way CGA is talking to the industry about sustainability. "We'll be doing that again in Nashville during the annual meeting [Aug. 9-12, 2014]," says Clarke. "The Music City Center doesn't usually allow tours on their roof, but they're going to let our group up there."

Since ASAE bought the Convene Green Alliance, a branded community of green-minded association meeting professionals, almost three years ago from IMN Solutions, the educational programming has been expanded outside of just the D.C. area (all of the events are free). A new website will launch this month, and a new advisory group of consultants, association professionals and industry members is now generating ideas for Clarke and her staff. "We’re seen as a great community for experimental learning formats for ASAE," she says.

"I think meeting planners don't realize what an environmental impact they can have by encouraging their attendees and making it fun," Clarke adds.