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Feb 052010

By Tom Kessler
Green Right Now

Much as a forest fire clears the land and leaves behind essential nutrients to enrich a new generation of growth, the devastation of the travel and meetings industry caused by a global economic collapse has left a few seedlings. One of them is the nascent green meeting industry, which has more than gotten a foothold. In many respects, green meetings are fast becoming the only kind of meetings.

The Addison Conference Centre in Texas features large windows to let in light, yet overhangs help block out mid-day heat. (Photo: The Town of Addison)

The Addison Conference Centre in Texas features large windows to let in light, yet overhangs help block out mid-day heat. (Photo: The Town of Addison)

This new reality is driven in part by the needs of cash-strapped corporations and associations to trim costs and eliminate waste – an approach that’s central to the green meeting industry. And as large corporations increasingly measure the carbon footprints of all their activities – travel to meetings and conferences is getting more  scrutiny.

But the green meeting industry suffers the same identity issues facing any adolescent. For one, the terms “green meeting” and “sustainable meeting” can have different meanings to different people. That’s why the industry is moving to release a new standard in the coming weeks – a set of requirements that will finally get everyone in the event-planning industry on the same page. At least, that is the hope.

That standard, and its underlying components, will be the key topic of discussion when the Green Meeting Industry Council holds its 2010 Sustainable Meetings Conference in Denver from Feb. 9-11. The council, formed in 2003, has seen a recent surge in membership, jumping from 135 members in 2008 to more than 500 members in 17 countries today. 

“The number of planners and companies planning green meetings has been increasing every year for the last few years,” said Tamara Kennedy-Hill, executive director of the GMIC. “According to meeting industry surveys, about 51 percent of meeting planners – corporate and association – say that they’re planning or expect to plan a green meeting.

“So we’re seeing that the awareness is increasing but the actual practice of ‘what does that mean’ – the definition has been changing each year and creating confusion in the marketplace. People will say they are planning a green meeting and they’ll think that means just recycling or cutting back on bottled water usage – and those are elements – but the sophistication of what that really means as the integration into their events has really shifted, and that’s why there’s been such a push for standards.”

With support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the new standard is being drafted by the Convention Industry Council’s Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX) and will be voted on by the venerable standards-setting agency ASTM International.

The standard will focus on nine sectors within the planning process:

  • Accommodations
  • Audio/Visual and Production
  • Communications and Marketing
  • Destinations
  • Exhibits
  • Food and Beverage
  • Meeting Venue
  • On-Site Offices
  • Transportation

“It will be a way for planners to go through and get a strong checklist for facilities and comparing them to each other,” Kennedy-Hill said. “It’s really going to help define what it means to have a green meeting because there will be a benchmark comparison.”

Green meeting make use of sustainable products, such as biodegradable cups.

Green meetings make use of sustainable products, such as biodegradable cups.

And once the standard is finalized, it will fall to the non-profit Green Meeting Industry Council to help put them into practice. “What we’re focusing on is making sure that once these standards get launched, they’re getting used in the marketplace,” Kennedy-Hill said.

To that end, GMIC’s upcoming conference will not only cover the concepts outlined in the green meeting standard, it will implement them within the event. For example, to reduce paper for the event, the bios of the speakers are not listed in the program but rather uploaded to social media sites in advance.  Denver was selected to host the event because its Colorado Convention Center has a lengthy list of green features and is located in a pedestrian-friendly area.

All of this activity comes amid a growing shift in the corporate environment, where meeting planners are now asking frequent questions about green practices.

Rob Bourestom, who manages the Addison Conference Centre and Addison Theatre Centre in Addison, Texas, said he’s seen requests for sustainable meeting practices increase significantly in the last year and a half. The center, which hosts about 650 events per year, has responded by seeking out more green vendors and caterers (especially those that offer local and organic choices); adding wi-fi so attendees can distribute documents electronically and adding energy-saving lighting and low-water plumbing fixtures.

“That’s really required to host someone like the U.S. Green Building Council,” he said, recalling a USGBC event at the North Texas facility just north of Dallas.

Addison’s conference center, like many newer styled meeting facilities, features large exterior windows to let in natural light, but with overhangs that block the heat from the mid-day sun.  The adjoining theater has been adding LED stage lighting, which is vastly more energy efficient than the previous lights.

It’s not just city centers that have moved to attract the greener-thinking convocations. Major hotel chains are beginning to offer more options for meetings, such as washable linens in place of paper tablecloths, pitchers of water to replace the bottled variety and “back of the house” changes such as food waste recycling that lower the carbon footprint of events.

Marriott, among others, is facilitating greener gatherings by presenting planners with a menu of alternative actions so they craft an event within their own eco-comfort zone. “A lot of big companies have meeting planners that bid out conferences,” said spokeswoman Stephanie Hampton. “We’ve seen more and more of those meeting planners asking about our environmental initiatives.”

Kennedy-Hill says many corporations now have sustainability reporting requirements or they are part of carbon disclosure projects, so they have to track all their areas of impact.  “And first they are looking internally, if they produce widgets or whatever they are looking to reduce their emissions, but then they also are looking at their business travel. They’re starting to look and measure and asking more questions about green hotels and business travel expectations because they’re going to have to put that into their own sustainability report.”

None of this would be happening if the economics didn’t work. But event planners are usually able to identify cost savings that make holding a green meeting a lower-cost or, at worst, a break-even proposition.

“For the most part it’s cost saving, especially for the planner side,” said Kennedy-Hill. “Different things you’re doing are costs savings. You’re looking at technology and innovation to enhance your event. There are trade-offs in some areas. You might spend a bit more on organic food choices, but you saved on your printing costs because you’re not having a big program and you saved on your mailing costs.”

Facilities see an upside as well, from not only the ability to attract groups looking to hold a green event, but also from energy savings. In Orlando, the Orange County Convention Center, the nation’s second largest, has rolled out a wide range of green initiatives. In one project , new low-wattage LED lights from Albeo Technologies replaced aging 400-watt metal halide fixtures that cut 325 watts of power per fixture. The combined energy and maintenance savings achieved a  payback in less than one year, and the installation is estimated to eliminate more than 1,400,000 lbs of carbon over its life.

“This needs to be part of your business model,” said Kennedy-Hill. “Green meetings – sustainable meetings – should be an integration of looking at  where can you minimize your impacts, how can you reduce overall and how does that save you money. It has to be connected.  It doesn’t make sense to do something that’s going to put you out of business.”

Copyright © 2010 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Jan 272010

By Harriet Blake

Mary Kay – home of the pink Cadillac and many things pink — is going green.

Mary Kay headquarters in Addison, near Dallas

Mary Kay headquarters in Addison, near Dallas

Turns out the skin care and cosmetics mega sales business that was born in 1963 and elevated and launched the career of the at-home beauty consultant has an environmental bent.

The company recycles compacts, builds nature classrooms at domestic violence shelters and for the past 20 years has been moving the culture at MK towards a greener future.

Crayton Webb, director of corporate responsibility, says Mary Kay Inc. was one of the first corporations in the U.S. to have internal recycling, as early as the late ‘80s.

“Our president at the time was Dick Bartlett, who believed that it made good sense for a business to be good stewards for the environment,” says Webb. “What we do today affects future generations.” Founder Mary Kay Ash also believed in doing well by doing good, Webb says.

A Mary Kay compact that can be customized.

A Mary Kay compact that can be customized.

In 2008, the global company, based in Addison, Texas outside of Dallas, introduced a new compact. But staff fretted about what women would do with their old ones. In keeping with the company’s new sustainability initiative, Mary Kay put together a compact on compacts — making compact recycling a part of its larger recycling program called Pink Doing Green. The makeup consultants brought old compacts to company events to be recycled. The compacts were broken apart and the end products went to a recycling contractor, thus avoiding the landfill.

“For every one we got back,” says Webb, “we planted a tree.” The company had partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation, the nonprofit conservation group whose mission is to nurture trees. Webb says the goal was for 200,000 compacts to be collected, but they received 300,000 by the end of last year, when the program ended.

As a result the company planted 200,000 trees in the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana. “It’s more than planting a tree,” says Janelle O’Haugherty, manager for corporate communication. “This area had been destroyed by fire. We are restoring the benefits that trees provide.” The reforestation will help clean the air and water and resore important environmental benefits to the area, said John Rosenow, chief executive and founder of the Arbor Day Foundation.

Mary Kay, which had worldwide sales of $2.6 billion in 2008 and operates in 35 markets around the globe, also recommends that women refill their compacts. The company suggests that women buy a compact for the long term and then reuse it with refills.


A Mary Kay "Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom" at Shelter Our Sisters in Hackensack, N.J.

Mary Kay’s involvement with the Nature Explore Classrooms and domestic violence shelters evolved from the company’s longtime interest in domestic violence. Mary Kay’s workforce and clientele are predominantly women and domestic violence is an issue the company takes  seriously. Statistics show, says Webb, that one in three women are affected by domestic violence at some point in their lives.

Since 2000, the Mary Kay Foundation has donated $22 million to shelters. (The foundation also contributes to causes fighting cancers affecting women.)

The concept of a nature classroom evolved much like music therapy which has been shown to improve kids’ outlook. “Nature is therapeutic to abused kids,” Webb says. “The nature classrooms were created as safe, fun places where kids could learn, play and heal from abuse at home.” Nature has been shown to lessen stress on kids who have faced adverse situations.The Arbor Day Foundation also partnered with Mary Kay on this project.

“These are not just playgrounds,” says O’Haugherty. “There is a curriculum, music, planting, digging and a lot of learning about nature that goes on.”

The company has built five nature classrooms so far. They are located in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Hackensack, N.J. In October 2009, the classrooms opened in Chicago, Hackensack and Atlanta. The ones in LA and Dallas will open in the first quarter of this year.

“As an organization, we believe that violence against women is simple unacceptable,” said Anne Crews last October during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Crews is vice president of government relations for Mary Kay Inc. and a board member for the Mary Kay Foundation. “We know that helping women and children connect with nature during the healing process will empower them.”

Mary Kay’s hope, Webb adds, “is that these children have the opportunity to heal. If the nature classroom can play some small role in what they do, we’ve done our job,” he says. “It’s more than just writing a check.”

In addition to the compact recycling and nature classrooms, Mary Kay has introduced green initiatives in its Addison-based headquarters. Just by turning off the lights when leaving the office, Webb says the company has reduced its energy consumption by 13 percent. There are motion sensors in the offices and conference rooms that automatically go out after people leave the room.

Initially, says Webb, some employees were resistant because they didn’t want their colleagues to think they had gone home early. “So we created door hangers,” says Webb, “that said: ‘I’m in today. My lights are out to be green.’”

At Mary Kay’s distribution and packaging facilities, bio-peanuts are now used as the packing materials. They are made of corn and potato starch and can either be re-used or dissolve in water. Mary Kay uses product cartons made of recycled paperboard; the packaging of their individual products uses post consumer content, varying from product to product – in some cases up to 35 percent.

At its global manufacturing facility in Dallas, Webb says, 13 tons of alcohol waste is now being removed, reducing Mary Kay’s annual hazardous waste output by 25 percent.

Mary Kay, which is sold by 2 million Mary Kay consultants around the world,  has also been the recipient of the Dallas Blue Thumb Award for water conservation for several years, thanks to its reduced water use.

“We’re not perfect,” Webb says.  “There’s so much more that can be done. We don’t want to brag. It’s part of our responsibility.”

Copyright © 2010 | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Sep 242009

By Tom Kessler

ADDISON, Texas (ADDISONGREEN.INFO) — When you have the word “green” in your school name, it’s probably safe to assume that environmental awareness is top of mind. That’s exactly the case at Addison’s Greenhill School, a coeducational private day school with more than 1,200 students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

Over the last four years, the school’s Green Team — composed of parents and faculty — has led a series of sustainability initiatives that are truly putting the green in Greenhill. School leaders have looked for ways to make the school a more sustainable place and to promote eco-friendly habits in the students. >> Read the full story