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Planners “Go Green”

If anyone knows how to plan a green meeting, it’s Amy Sohner, executive director of Bluegrass Greensource — — in Lexington, Kentucky. Her nonprofit shows people of all ages how they can protect and preserve the environment.

Sohner recently planned Go Green, Save Green, an annual one-day workshop sponsored by her organization and local government for local businesses. About 100 people attended.

Given her organization’s mission, Sohner does her best to plan meetings that have little to no negative impact on the environment. What’s her first step in planning a green meeting? “Think about the amount of waste that is going to be produced,” she said.

Identifying waste at the outset helps avoid creating waste and makes it easier to plan how to recycle or reuse the waste that is created.

Here are some of Sohner’s strategies:

• Eliminate waste. When you don’t create waste, you don’t have to recycle or reuse. Sohner kept printed materials for the meeting to a minimum, instead directing attendees to websites for PowerPoints and other information. Recycled paper was used for every printed piece, including promotional posters.

• Make the venue green. This year’s workshop was held at a new classroom building at Bluegrass Community and Technical College. Built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, the building became part of the program as attendees took a tour and learned about its environmental features. Sohner suggests planners visit the U.S. Green Building Council’s website at for lists of LEED venues.

• Use a green caterer — for further information, see Lexington is home to Kentucky’s first certified green caterer, Dupree Catering. Dupree, whose website is, is also one of Bluegrass Greensource’s partners. Using a green caterer ensured that foods would be sourced locally when possible and that the caterer would recycle and compost. Box lunches, normally avoided by green meetings because of the waste they create, were served at the workshop. Dupree uses all compostable containers and utensils. Attendees got a lesson in how to break down the box lunches and could deposit them in compost bins, which were then taken to Lexington’s municipal composting facility.

Had the meal been traditional, Sohner would have requested china and silverware, good for the environment and the budget. For example, using china instead of plastic over the course of a five-day meeting for 2,200 people could keep almost a ton of plastic out of the landfill, according to the “Green Meetings Report,” published by the Convention Industry Council.

• Bulk up. As much as possible, condiments were offered in bulk instead of in individual packets. Beverages were served in aluminum cans and in pitchers. Next year, Sohner might give each attendee a drink cup with a logo to use for the day.

• Use reusable badge holders. At past workshops, Sohner had used compostable name badge holders, but some attendees mistakenly thought the badge could be tossed in their compost pile at home. However, materials labeled “compostable” must go to a compost facility because high heat is required to break them down. So this year, attendees used reusable badges, and most returned them at the end of the day. To ensure that everyone does so next year, Sohner will have attendees toss their badges into a bin for a drawing at day’s end. For a meeting of 1,300, reusing name badges could save almost $1,000, according to the “Green Meeting Report.”

• Choose a walkable site for networking events. For a happy hour after the workshop, Sohner chose a locally owned brewery within walking distance of the meeting site. In the past, when the workshop included off-site tours, shuttle buses were offered to cut down on transportation.

• Celebrate, educate and publicize. From cards that told attendees that foods were from local businesses to a tour of the LEED meeting facility, Sohner emphasized the meeting’s green aspect. She advises meeting planners to do the same. “You need to promote what you are doing,” she said. “I think the people who attend really appreciate it.”


Vickie Mitchell is the former editor of Small Market Meetings. If you have ideas for future columns, contact her at