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Going for the green (ideas)

Courtesy Convene Green Alliance

For meeting planners who want to learn more about how to make their meetings green, the Convene Green Alliance is a logical place to start.

CGA is a grassroots organization formed by 16 associations with a shared mission to effect positive environmental practices through outreach and education.

In its short history, CGA has proved inventive with the educational programming it offers. Seventy to 100 meeting planners have attended each of the 11 interactive learning experiences, called Focus Forums, that CGA has organized during the past two years.

 “Convene Green Alliance is trying to go beyond the Green Meeting 101 
session, and lean more on hands-on and experiential learning,” said Tracey Messina, executive director. “What we have found is that the most effective way for meeting professionals to learn about greening their meetings and events is by networking and sharing.”

Forums offered so far include a roundtable with leaders from convention and visitors bureaus in Portland, Ore., Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, Wis., who discussed how meeting planners must involve cities if events are to be truly environmentally friendly; a demonstration of green initiatives by Marriott International; and a sneak preview of the green meeting features of an upcoming Professional Convention Management Association conference.

So far, the Focus Forums have been held in the Washington area, where CGA is located, although there has been some discussion of taking the forums on the road in the future, Messina said.
For now, Convene Green plans to do another six forums in 2010 in the Washington area, starting in February.

The forums are practical, realistic looks at the benefits and challenges of implementing green practices. CGA doesn’t shy away from showing problems that can arise and how organizations work through them.

“We like to highlight not only the successes but also the challenges associations face with their efforts,” said Messina. “We find that is where the learning begins.”

The forums can also be eye-opening and empowering. Few planners probably expected to be viewed as “agents of change,” and yet, that was the message during the roundable with CVB executives from Portland, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee.

“They said that for a meeting to truly be environmentally friendly, planners have to get the city on board,” said Messina. “It is the meeting planners and association buyers who have the leverage, the buying power to affect positive environmental change in cities.”

The forums and other benefits offered by Convene Green — such as a newsletter, case studies and Web links to information about food banks, recycling,  carbon offsets and other environmental issues — are funded by paying members: destinations, hotels, convention centers and other suppliers.

For now, membership is free to meeting planners (a simple application form is at

Convene Green’s growth in the past year is one indication of the growing interest in sustainable meetings.

“We have seen a 500 percent increase in membership from a year ago,” said Messina. “It is incredible. When we started, we recognized there was value in what we were doing,” said Messina. “But the idea of going green has caught on like rapid fire.”

Among CGA’s other services is a facility self-evaluation tool that can used to discern just how green a facility is, as more and more facilities tout their environmentally friendly attributes.

The tool allows a facility to evaluate itself on a variety of environmental criteria. The evaluation is scored by CGA and is kept in a database. Meeting planners can complete the evaluation for properties they are considering and submit them to CGA or they can check the CGA’s database.

The self-evaluation doesn’t cover all aspects of being green, but “is a good start,” said Messina.
“Until there are stricter standards in the industry, that is what we are offering our members.”

Meeting planners are wise to be on the leading edge when it comes to employing green practices, said Messina. Green is not going away.

“Two, three or four years ago, it was a trend, but now it is a cost-effective way to do business. There are many reasons a hotel or organization will choose to make some of these positive changes — because it is the right thing to do, it will save them money or it’s an opportunity for positive public relations. It doesn’t matter though because it is all accomplishing the same thing.”

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