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Green Meetings

Green meetings” and “CSR” (corporate social responsibility) were some of the biggest buzzwords in the meeting industry until the recession rocked the U.S. economy, causing meeting planners to get stuck finding ways to do more with less rather than simply putting on a bigger and better show every year.

But now, in order to differentiate themselves from the competition and better recapture market share, many convention centers and hotels have built out green programs that help planners save money while reducing waste and carbon dioxide emissions, creating a win-win-win meeting scenario.

Double the Savings

We all know that recycling, reducing and reusing are great for the environment, but when balancing budgets, the bottom line often reigns. Thankfully, it’s now possible to save on both counts.

According to a landmark white paper examining the cost-saving opportunities of green meetings from Portland, Oregon-based Meeting Strategies Worldwide, reusing 45 percent of banners for a 40,000-attendee, five-day conference can save about $89,000, and reducing handouts for a 1,300-person conference over two days can save $2,000.

While these printing savings sound great for large groups, they can look like incremental gainers for smaller groups. But some of meeting planners’ biggest savings from going green can come from utility use reductions. Solar power from the Atlantic City Convention Center’s roof accounts for 28.54 percent of all power used at the center, according to Karen Totaro, the convention center’s general manager. “The photovoltaic panels were installed in 2008 and were at the time the largest rooftop solar initiative in the country, let alone the Northeast, with a total of 14,707 photovoltaic panels,” she said.

Even without solar panels, the Virginia Beach Convention Center (VBCC), which was the first convention center in the country to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification for existing buildings, was able to save clients almost $43,000 by updating its lighting and heat regulating systems.

Venues and meeting groups are now also able to save money by recycling rather than sending waste to a landfill.

“Recycling waste costs VBCC approximately $42 per ton of recyclable material, while trash pickup costs approximately $63 per ton of material,” said Kimberlee Dobbins, sustainability coordinator for the Virginia Beach Convention Center.

“If we don’t recycle, the waste goes to the landfill, which has a cost affiliated with it that gets billed back to the client,” said Totaro. “If we can increase recycling for shows, we lessen the waste removal cost for clients and we are good stewards of our planet. A win-win.”

The Atlantic City Convention Center has recycled 45,180 pounds of cardboard and paper; 3.38 tons of glass, plastic and metal; and 47,198 pounds of carpet since it began its program and uses portable, interchangeable wire cages that it moves around the exhibit floor while events are being set up and taken down to ensure that crews recycle rather than throw out production waste.