The Green Meetings Megatrend

Megatrends are those paradigm shifts that change the way we live and do business daily—like globalization or the Information Age. The present worldwide race toward low-impact, carbon-neutral sustainability is this era’s next big thing, based on a variety of factors from the scarcity of natural resources to the industrial growth of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China).

In a story called “The Sustainability Imperative” in the May issue of Harvard Business Review, the authors posit: “Further fueling this megatrend, thousands of companies are placing strategic bets on innovation in energy efficiency…. Managers can no longer afford to ignore sustainability as a central factor in their companies’ long term competitiveness. Megatrends require businesses to adapt and innovate, or be swept aside.”

That’s why InterContinental Hotels is developing its “Innovation Hotel” (Prevue July/Aug 2010), and Starwood Hotels just announced its new Green Meetings initiative.

It’s also why Hyatt Hotels & Resorts just launched the new chain-wide Meet & Be Green program designed to save groups money when they participate in 10 prescribed steps toward more sustainable events. Companies who agree to this proposal receive a 3% rebate off their master account, which is designed to show planners how these steps are simple, cost-effective and scalable. The promotion is valid for meetings through March 2011, booked by Dec. 30.

Planners, for example, are asked to recycle, minimize shipping, use local printing, monitor room temperature throughout the day, source local food products, etc. Most of it is common sense but this program provides the framework to guide, motivate and reward those companies who participate.

“We’ve spent a lot of time and certainly a lot of resources making sure our hotels and our operations are all working toward reducing our environmental footprint,” says Brigitta Witt, vp of environmental affairs for Hyatt. “So by inviting our groups to do the right thing, we can then show them how it can be pretty easy to do so.”

Witt is quick to point out that demand is on the rise.

“There are more and more questions from planners asking us what we’re doing from an environmental and social perspective at Hyatt, so I think people are now just expecting environmental consciousness to become a part of how companies do business. And as part of that, they want to have options at their disposal that allow them to participate…. Also, the questions are not only increasing but they’re increasing in complexity. I think across the board, people expect their suppliers to be doing the right thing.”


During MPI’s World Education Congress at the LEED platinum Vancouver Convention Centre in July, the headline news was the unveiling of MPI’s new online Sustainability Event Measurement Tool (SEMP), developed with funding from InterContinental Hotels. Now planners have an easy way to collect and report data according to set international standards.

Located at, the new program is designed to help you take the next step in measuring and recording your sustainability journey and successes. It offers capability for event managers and industry suppliers alike, and with basic and advanced features, it provides a platform for event professionals in all shades of green.

You can measure individual outcomes, and track overall progress and year-over-year results. It’s a breeze to use if you’re already collecting data, and if you’re new to green, use the online questions provided to identify what to measure. Start with little or no data and progressively build an in-depth report.

Planners can input information such as the amount of waste recycled, miles traveled by attendees, or donations made to charities. Save your work and return at any time to add more data to continually build your records to create an increasingly accurate picture.

The tool is designed with three emerging industry standards in sight, including the new APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Event Standards. These standards provide meeting professionals with performance metrics and targets revolving around nine industry areas of concern, such as transportation, F&B, venues, etc.

Suppliers are invited to input statistics such as energy use and waste diversion to help populate the database. They can also enter your organization’s data, so clients using the tool will have access to it, eliminating the need to send data per request.

“It’s a simple tool, once enough data is collected, it will greatly assist the meetings and events industry in the advancement of sustainable practices,” says Danielle Adams, CMP. One of several people demonstrating the tool at WEC, she encourages everyone to take advantage of it. “It’s a great way to become familiar with content from the APEX standards and begin benchmarking.”

The reports generated are straightforward and provide powerful statistics and calculations. Energy, water, waste, paper, food, carbon emissions and travel Resources Reports combine to produce Impact Measurement Reports.

Guy Bigwood, president of the Green Meeting Industry Council and sustainability director at MCI Group, reminded us during the unveiling: “What gets measured gets managed.”GREEN VENUE: FORT LAUDERDALE

Around the world, destinations are spending billions of dollars retrofitting their convention facilities to lessen their carbon footprint. For example, over $3 million is being pumped into the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale to bring it up to LEED status late next year. Already, the center recycles 150 tons of convention materials annually, and the upgrades will save 5-6 million gallons of water annually thanks to new landscaping, irrigation and plumbing systems.

“Sustainability has certainly become bigger in the minds of the meeting planners and professionals out there that are making choices about where to hold their conventions nowadays,” says Mark Gatley, regional general manager. “In fact, planners in many cases are writing it in their contracts and demanding it in pre-negotiations for us to show exactly how we’re going to make it happen, and do what we say we’re going to do.”


Across the pond, VisitEngland just launched a first of its kind online and DVD toolkit to help educate businesses related to leisure/biz travel throughout the country about how to be more energy efficient. The Green Start campaign is designed to reduce any facility’s eco-footprint from 10-40%.

“It’s been designed to help businesses review their performance and really illustrate how sustainable practices can save money and encourage greater efficiency, and have a positive impact on the local community,” says Simon Gidman, business visits & events manager for MeetEngland.

This is another example of how suppliers are helping buyers and their companies actualize their corporate responsibility platforms through support and education.

Three cities in particular that are hard charging toward next generation sustainability are Brighton, on the south coast; Liverpool, on the central west coast near Manchester; and the Newcastle/Gateshead townships to the northeast about three hours north of London. In these green cities, initiatives such as rainwater harvesting, wind energy and militant recycling have long ago been part of the local civic psyche.

Gidman says he’s hearing from venues within the last year that both local and international planners are slowly starting to simply expect their suppliers to be responsible hosts.

“The venues really feel like they’re the proactive ones leading the way, and that they’re providing an added value proposition to the meeting planner.”

He adds that there are still some misconceptions about green meetings, but everyone knows this is the way of the future.

“There are some people who still think, if you’re promoting something as a green venue, then somewhere along the line they’re having to pay for it…. I definitely however get the impression that green meetings are rapidly becoming the norm. If you don’t have a sustainable policy, if you don’t have a sustainable team, and if you’re not able to talk to clients about their sustainable management processes, then you’ve lost your competitive advantage.”


A good example of just how much DMOs are adapting to embrace sustainability is the dual-city destination of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Just a couple years ago, Dubai was attracting huge business through extravagant luxury and development, and Abu Dhabi was a relative unknown in the West.

That world-class wonderfulness still exists but Dubai expanded on its appeal in June when it unveiled the winners of the first ever Dubai Green Tourism Awards, scheduled to be held biannually. A total of 79 out of almost 200 hotels submitted applications detailing their sustainability initiatives, and in the end, the major takeaway was the hotels sharing best practices throughout the region. The top three winners in the top-tier luxury category were: Park Hyatt Dubai Hotel, Grand Hyatt Dubai Hotel and the Al Qasr Hotel Madinat Jumeirah.

“Green engagement is very important to us and we’re keen to evolve even further,” says Carl Palmlund, director of group sales for Jumeirah Group. The 292-room Al Qasr Madinat is styled after an ancient Arabian citadel so it looks almost like a multi-layered village wrapped around a series of canals and a traditional souk, complemented with 44 restaurants within the Madinat complex and a luxury spa. There’s also the most creative conference facilities in Dubai, where part of the meeting space is housed inside a fort situated inside the canals.

“So you have a true 1001 Nights Arabic experience and basically a 6-star hotel together,” says Palmlund. He goes on to explain that Dubai is really a “two-pronged destination” with Abu Dhabi only 80 miles away. Look for the 400-room Jumeirah Etihad Towers Abu Dhabi opening in September next year, specifically designed for group business.

Also, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority is hosting its inaugural World Green Tourism Conference in November, dedicated to furthering sustainability in the travel sector throughout the Middle East and Asia. For more info, visit


Fairmont Hotels & Resorts came up with a fun way to get groups involved with the local environments around their properties worldwide. Educational and interactive, the new H20 Adventures are designed to promote teambuilding and create dynamic group experiences around the theme of water.

The options for planners are many. At The Fairmont Orchid on the Big Island of Hawaii, for example, groups can climb aboard outrigger canoes with scientists from the University of Hawaii to study the coral reef. At Fairmont Monte Carlo, groups gather at the world famous Oceanographic Museum of Monaco for behind-the-scenes tours and lectures about the Mediterranean Sea and guided entrée into exclusive exhibits like Damien Hirst’s mind-opening Cornucopia show. Or just 90 minutes west of Calgary, The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is considered one of North America’s most grand meeting venues, embraced by towering mountains at the foot of the emerald lake. Groups can canoe the lake in summer of snowshoe across in winter to learn about conservation efforts.

“Many of the old Canadian Pacific Hotels, which Fairmont operates now, were built in national parks,” says John Meissner, executive director of corporate markets. “So we’re fairly familiar with conservation and the environment and everything that goes with that…. When we wanted to add an expansion on to Lake Louise, it took us 13 years to get it approved.”


Agri-tourism is a booming trend and it’s carrying over to the meetings industry in places like the Ventura County Wine Trail (VCWT), which just added six new participating wineries for a total of 15, sweeping from Malibu to Ojai. The VCWT arranges everything from a 4-winery tour with chocolate and cheese tastings to a 500-person gala with private tour and a vineyard-view pairing dinner.

“Wine touring is especially growing here right now,” says Dottie Kelley, director of the VCWT. “We also have two smaller 100% organic wineries, Casa Barranca and Los Robles Hills, and the kosher Herzog Wine Cellars. So the trail has venues for varied wine interests.”

Limoneira, a 4,000-acre working ranch that’s the nation’s largest lemon and avocado grower, showcases its contribution to rich regional agri-tourism with a new Orchard Dining Series. Attendees can trolley through lush groves to a hilltop orchard for farm-fresh specialties paired with locally produced wines.

And serving a mother lode of Channel Islands National Park excursions, Island Packers has launched new tall ship sails for 80 aboard the 139-ft Bill of Rights.

“Groups can crew for great teambuilding that focuses on working together and having fun,” says manager Cherryl Connally.

Among Ventura’s top group properties, the 266-room Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach Hotel is fresh off a $10 million renovation. With 16,000 sf of refurbished meeting space, the beachfront retreat’s Top of the Harbor Ballroom covers 700 for receptions.

Also, The Museum of Ventura County has reopened with $3.5 million in upgrades that tacked on an additional 3,500-sf river-rock pavilion seating 200 for dinner.


All spruced up from an $11 million revitalization, Catalina Island has recaptured the vision of its former owner and chewing gum magnet, William Wrigley, Jr.

“It’s so close, but it feels so far removed as soon as you step off the ferry,” says Brad Wilson, senior vp of sales and chief marketing officer for Santa Catalina Island Company. “That seems to surprise people most.”

Just 22 miles southwest of LA, the blissful retreat’s eco-focused vibe is elevated by the fact that golf carts are the primary mode of transportation. “During May alone, we had two large corporate groups that came because our recent upgrades gave them an added touch, especially with the eco-dynamics,” says Juliet Walters, owner of the DMC, Catalina By Design.

Mediterranean-flavored Avalon is the only town on this responsibly developed isle, with the remaining 90 percent designated as park land. New eco-friendly activities include a 4,000-ft zipline with five stations, GPS ranger walking tour and Sea Trek Undersea Adventure.

Check out the newly renovated Descanso Beach Club, the only seaside restaurant in Avalon, with new amenities like private cabanas, chaise lounges and fire rings on its semi-private cove. Descanso caters to groups up to 1,200.

“We just did ‘Amazing Race’ team building for 225 that incorporated running, biking, kayaking and return dash to Descanso Beach for a barbecue buffet with organic fruits and vegetables,” says Walters. “Catalina definitely feels fresh and exciting these days.”


Surrounded by the Cascade Mountains and Puget Sound on 83 acres 30 minute north of Seattle, the new 370-room Tulalip Resort Casino exudes the Tulalip Tribe’s rich heritage with more than $1 million in authentic artwork. Front and center is a trio of dramatic hand carved red cedar totem poles greeting guests in the lobby that immediately connect the experience to the local land and native history.

Groups can tap into 30,000 sf of meeting and reception space including the 15,000-sf Orca Ballroom, accommodating 1,600 theater-style, and the 2,600-seat Tulalip Amphitheater. Recreation is equally impressive with the 192,000-sf Tulalip Resort Casino and 14,000-sf T Spa.

Among its signature restaurants, the 130-seat BlackFish celebrates local Northwestern fare with specialties like Alaskan halibut with chanterelle mushrooms, fresh local oysters shucked to order, Wala Wala crisp potato cakes and huckleberry soufflé.

“Our chef worked closely with tribal members to source recipes for authentic dishes that use fresh local ingredients, including our signature salmon on a stick,” says Lisa Severn, F&B director. She says planners like to work with the culinary team to create fun wine pairing dinners showcasing Washington State wine.

Terry Quick, president and founder of the Seattle-based DMC, Entco International, recently brought 350 Microsoft employees to the resort for an annual meeting.

“There’s quick access to a lot more teambuilding opportunities here than I can find at a metro property,” he says. “You can stage an ‘Amazing Race’ team challenge, or activities like whale watching in the summer and ferry trips across the bay to Whidbey Island Winery for tastings with upscale receptions…. There are just so many options.”