Many organizations today consider it useful for hotels and other event suppliers to incorporate elements of sustainability into their business models, and this allows both conference planners and attendees to have a sense that their requirements are reinforcing good recycling habits.
But what should a professional conference organizer or convention planner consider when they want to assure their attendees that sustainability is being addressed in their program?
When Meeting Professionals International (MPI) organized its MeetDifferenct conference in Atlanta, February 2009, all of these considerations were top of mind.
It certainly helped that Atlanta already takes a proactive stance when it comes to issues of sustainability. The city has the capability to recycle glass, plastic, paper, aluminum and grease. Food donation programs, although not run directly through the city, include the Atlanta Community Food Bank, with which MPI partnered for its event.
MPI Expectations for Sustainability at Hotels
“We now ask venues to work collaboratively with us on implementing environmentally responsible practices and procedures,” says Elizabeth Henderson, CMM, CMP, M.E. Des., director of corporate responsibility for MPI, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. “This includes general practices such as a commitment to engage their staff, energy and water efficiency measures, waste reduction and recycling.”
Henderson explains that MPI includes specific recommendations, including the following:
- Recycling in guest rooms and common areas for glass, aluminum, plastic, paper and pallets.
- Towel/linen re-use programs
- Do not replace amenities unless empty
- Environmentally responsible cleaning products
- No polystyrene
- Local food
- Sustainable seafood
- Shade grown coffee
- Composting if available
Henderson adds that MPI also requests that venues document their actions to the extent that they ask for venues to provide specific measures for waste, recycling, participation in towel re-use programs, etc.
Sample Hotel Addendum Elements
Although contracts for MeetDifferent were signed prior to MPI’s sustainability commitment, MPI went back to all nine of its conference hotels in Atlanta and asked them to sign sustainability addendums. Contract elements included the following:
“General Environmentally Responsible Practices and Procedures - (Organization) expects the HOTEL will adhere to the following mandatory environmentally responsible practices and procedures. HOTEL agrees to provide and/or implement the following at no additional charge to (Organization):
- Instruct HOTEL housekeeping staff to shut off or lower HVAC (heat/air conditioning) and shut off the lights when guest rooms are vacant.
- Instruct HOTEL housekeeping staff to shut blinds/curtains when guest rooms are vacant.
- Provide a linens/soft goods reuse program in guest rooms.
- Provide a recycling program to recycle all glass containers, aluminum and steel cans, plastic
bottles, table coverings, pallets, paper (newspaper, cardboard and other office paper) for entire hotel during the conference including sleeping rooms and meeting space.
- Provide clearly marked and appropriate recycling containers in common areas including lobby and HOTEL guest rooms unless HOTEL sorts and recycles recycled items back of the house.
- Instruct the HOTEL housekeeping staff to not replace guest room bathroom amenities (soap, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, mouth wash, etc.) daily unless they are gone.
- Use environmentally responsible cleaning products for carpets, floors, kitchens and bathrooms (minimum 50% of all cleaning products must be environmentally responsible)”
Planners Should Address Sustainability and Recycling Early in the Selection Process
What advice would you have for planners to follow if they are interested in incorporating such addendums in their hotel agreements?
“Start talking about it at the RFP stage,” Henderson advises. “Then when it’s time to sign a contract, people are not taken unawares, and ensure that performance measures are included in the contract.” This includes use the of financial penalties for non-compliance.