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Sustainability and savings can go hand in hand

Imagine saving a little money as you help save the Earth. As meeting planners make changes to lessen the environmental impact of their events, they find that sustainability and savings can go hand in hand.

More groups are thinking green because they realize they can do good as they better the bottom line, says Megan Rooksby, a business development manager for green meetings and events at Maxvantage, a alliance between Maritz Travel and American Express Business Travel.

“What we have seen is a tremendous increase in inquiries as well as in people actively seeking to have green meetings,” she said. “There has been a 15 percent increase in interest among all of our company’s client base in the last year,” Rooksby said. “As a result of the recession there has been much interest from companies asking ‘How can we be more responsible, more sustainable?’”

Rooksby is chapter president of the Green Meetings Industry Council, Oregon chapter, and a member of Meeting Professional International’s task force on green meetings. She encourages clients to start with a few green initiatives and add more as they see results and gain confidence.

“You don’t have to do everything; instead, look at it as these are the things you feel you can do and have an impact.”

Maxvantage measures both the environmental impact and the financial savings of the sustainable initiatives its clients take. Those numbers can be quite compelling and can convince groups to take additional green measures.

The numbers “show a transparent and full picture, that you are trying to make decisions that will have a positive impact on your meeting,” said Rooksby.

To illustrate the simple ways meetings can lessen their impact on the environment, Rooksby offered examples of two Maxvantage clients.

No bottled water means big savings
A technology company wanted to implement several measures at a four-day event for 1,200 people.

A planning committee decided to begin by paring the meeting’s use of water, paper and plastics. It also wanted to find a local manufacturer to make a gift for attendees.

Instead of supplying attendees with bottled water, the company gave each a reusable water bottle that could be filled with distilled water supplied at the conference.

Making the slight change had a significant environmental impact. If each attendee had used an average of three water bottles (@ $4.50 per bottle), the conference would have diverted 14,400 bottles from the landfill and saved $65,000, according to Maxvantage.

The conference also chose to provide all conference materials online, instead of printing agendas and handouts. Registration and hotel and airline reservations were also paperless.

Although most of the tech company’s attendees used PDAs, the company set up two printing kiosks for attendees who might prefer printed copies. The kiosks were barely used; at the conference’s end, only one 500-sheet ream of paper had been used between the two kiosks.

The estimated savings in paper costs was $8,500; 29,000 gallons of water required to make the paper was also saved.

Those figures don’t include the money the company saved in printing and shipping materials or the fuel that was saved because printed materials were not shipped.

In another effort to cut down on waste, the group used only glassware during meal service, dispensing with paper or Styrofoam cups.

Attendee gifts go local
Attendee gifts — backpacks that were used at the conference and beyond — were made by a local manufacturer.

“Purchasing items within the local region benefits the city within which you are doing business,” said Rooksby. “It also reduces the transportation costs.”

In addition, local products can be more meaningful to attendees, as the stories of the company that made the product is shared with attendees. This Maxvantage client earned an award for its sustainable practices as a result of the green measures it took this meeting and several others.

“Once it starts, it is a chain reaction,” said Rooksby. “As long as you have people who see the value. But it is not just about saving, it is about doing good.”

All aboard the biodiesel bus
Another Maxvantage client decided to use a green hotel for a 700-person, five-day meeting. The hotel was certified green by a third party.

The group also required attendees to use group ground transportation, and it went a step further and hired biodiesel shuttles. Maxvantage helped the client schedule transportation. By using group transportation instead of rental cars, the conference saved an estimated $58,000.

In addition the group also went paperless, provided water stations instead of bottled water and reused badge holders that had been saved from a previous event.

Over the course of the five-day meeting, the group diverted an estimated 6,000 plastic bottles from the landfill and saved $29,000 on water costs. It also saved $4,000 in paper use.

According to Rooksby, this client had saved an estimated $324,000 through the sustainable practices it had implemented at its meetings since 2005.