Michael Luehrs, President of the Green Meetings Industry Council, talks about why companies, conferences and event planners are requesting more sustainable related meeting space.
|Ben Lack||Educate me about your organization and what’s your mission statement?|
|Michael Luehrs||I have a private hat with Meet Green. We’re a consultancy for any manner of organization, primarily within the events and meeting space. I’m also the President of the Green Meeting Industry Council which is an association of meeting planners, meetings suppliers that have expressed interest in sustainable events and sustainable development.|
|Ben Lack||Green meetings is a space that is getting more attention and the market shares, so to speak, is definitely growing with customers requesting green meetings, green events. I’d love to learn a little bit about what was the genesis of this? Why are customers more interested and how can companies become more probable by creating green meetings and green events as part of their overall portfolio?|
|Michael Luehrs||The founders of Meet Green were actually the founders of the Green Meeting Industry Council. Meet Green was founded by Nancy Zavada and Amy Spatrisano. These women are professional meeting planners who have a real interest in delivering different services that professional conference organizers have. They often do a lot of logistics support for the company once a meeting but might do a late work itself often a lot of times higher professional conference organizer to try and change where the venue should be or teller should be used, what kind of audio visual surfaces to be provided, menu design. Lots of different considerations.In the process of delivering these kind of events they were seeing a lot of typical green thinking. For example who’s paying for all that trash? Why we’re having so much foot being thrown out? It started from rather practical place and quickly developed into a very systematic approach toward organizing events and smarter way that delivered on desired outcomes. But they realized why you choose some of the different choices you make along the way, from what the name badges might be, to the kind of transportation from where you select particular location or venue. All have real impacts on the amount of waste that gets produced, the amount generated.
And so you start the whole collective, calling it the Green Meeting Industry Council that brought together people from across the industry who had similar questions and interest and examples to compare and share and develop best practices and be able to connect different suppliers who have some good practices with planners who are looking for them. This started to grow rather quickly.
This got a lot of attention amongst the meetings and event industry. So the larger hotel rooms start to get involved and wanted the interest of these meeting planners. These meeting planners often times have a lot of power. They can bring a lot of business to a hotel. So they’re rather popular group.
I think we have 650 active individual members but we also have a couple of hundred supporting businesses and collaborations who are hoping to share with this small group of influential people, meeting planners their practices as it relates to sustainability, green and corporate social responsibility.
We have a lot of cities who are becoming engaged. Lots of destinations who are either hoping to better profile themselves as a sustainable business destination or are trying to network with other destinations. So again, ensure best practices, learn how address some of this infrastructure issues. It’s so broad as you can imagine the work that we’re doing in energy. It surely starts to impact something, it gives really complex, really quickly. A lot of planners start to find was that it wasn’t enough just to change out your name badges to something that was going to be less waste it was really going to take a much bigger effort.
If we’re talking about the State Union there’s been a lot of push towards international standards that have come out specifically for event organizing. So, ISO which a lot people know, ISO 9000 or ISO 1401 spells out in rigorous detail the requirement for documentation of different business practices for how one might go about organizing an event to have a more sustainable outcome. Even though we’ve been talking about this 6-7 years when, rather comprehensive holistic ways. There’s still a lot of new people who are just discovering that there’s a lot of new discoveries, new approaches to try and get out of this internationally. There are a lot of regional differences, different things that are happening. It’s exciting time now with the Olympics in London, with the really quite sustainable management in a more formal way that they were really into the new ISO standard. And most be coming out with rather elaborate sustainability reports around organization in the Olympics. So, there are a lot of high profile organizations that are getting behind this kind of thinking. And now even with the new economic crisis that’s happening for the last couple of years, there’s been a renewed interest not only from environmental component of what we’re talking about a year ago but also how these organizations are planning events can have stronger returns on their investments simply by making smarter choices. If you, there’s a number of really good sustainable events, reports or one that they could cite rather [Inaudible 8:28] and produce a number of really great reports that showed the amount of money that are saved from just by rethinking how they do signage, how they instead of buying bottled water for everybody, instead by being able to plan the locations or venues will be able to reduce the amount of transportation they need. All of these things are out over the last couple of events let’s say well, over million dollars, compared to previous events and then what they normally might spent without any compromising quality or experience or anything that their stakeholders might find distasteful. So it’s been, what we’re talking about here, a lot of people will think that sustainability and all these events it’s only expensive, it’s only complicated, it’s only for a very fringe group of tree hugging folks but done correctly it’s not only about smart business, it’s about delivering a better product for whoever you are, your target audience is. We need to talk about what is it you’re trying to accomplish and it helps you get there in a smarter or better way in a more creative way and in a way that the people feel that the investment they made and coming to the conference was worthwhile. And that you as organizers didn’t leave a big mess for the local community and at the same time didn’t incur unnecessary cost for being able to deliver this experience and there is a growing number of knowing practitioners and also great case studies of people who have been able to either, to determine what they’re trying to accomplish. Are they trying to save money? Are they trying to reduce waste? Are they trying to calculate the impact of their carbon emissions because another company is trying to participate in the carbon disclosure project? Are they excited about the [Inaudible 10:35] initiatives and they recognize they’re event is being an important expression of their brand in the market, how they go about answering for the accountability that they have? So there’s a lot of different aspects about why were people are getting involved in this in sustainable events or trying to be in the green industry council or companies that meet green are trying to provide services and resources to help people get out of that faster. So there’s a long answer, you can tell this, or yammer about this for long time and find it interesting.
|Ben Lack||I appreciate it. Let’s dive in just for a few minutes on the types of materials that are getting more attention as organizations move towards greener meetings. You’ve mentioned name badges and signages to opportunities for being sustainable and responsible. Share us a light on what people are doing with name badges and signage and maybe some other materials that are commonly used in events or meetings that get them more focused.|
|Michael Luehrs||Sure. These things are different as the event planners; you talk to different event planners that have different interest. And it can also be a bit of a pitfall as well oftentimes people who are just discovering this idea of sustainability will all rush out and buy some of the, maybe corn-based plastics to [Inaudible 12:11] name badges and with the intention if you get those, it will become compost and that’s exciting but of course you’re not meeting the arrangement at all about composting you’re not meeting the arrangements for collecting those badges back and reusing them sort of practical things like that. And so, though the people who have been doing that for a while realizing that when you need to be a little more thoughtful it isn’t just about buying compostable service wear, took out trying to think the wide span of what is it your serving, how is it going to be served and wear, how you’re going to handle with that waste. Do you have composting available, does it make sense to do, to have compostable service wear if you have compost or if somebody is handling compost on your site that’s great but will they accept the potato-based knives and forks or do they have another substrate that they prefer that would actually work better. There’s a lot of interesting products that are out just at that one space. We’re talking about signage, big thing we’re trying to encourage there, where were possible coming up with ways to reuse signage, instead of just oftentimes a big brand, especially female brands. And those sign will be good for those 2 or 3 days and then they can’t be used for anything at all. Oftentimes they’re going to landfills or incinerators. There are industries that’s out there, there’s quite a few of them not only in the states but internationally.[Inaudible 13:55] is PVC based signs and pick them to just travel bags or wallets or different sorts of materials like these. But some companies are running strong businesses, you know, what they get this product for free and they can turn around and have a really high quality product that is made of this strong material. But that’s fine for that experiment. But let’s try to look upstream and try tothink about how we’re going to accomplish the signage. Are there ways that we can use gobos, lighting to be able to communicate, brand messages that don’t require expense and production of the sign? A lot of use now about digital signage is becoming rather hot because although those individual monitors are really resource intensive as it relates to the creation of the monitors itself. The idea is they can be used many, many times and so that’s becoming something. What’s happening most of the time, although, there are a lot of research lands to breakdown in nature in some fashion, the industry is pretty much focused on trying to have that material be reused in some fashion give it in some art school for different projects and getting them to converted into backpacks or something similar like that. And that’s the stage that is continuing to grow there’s a lot of different advice, do we try to reuse this signage? Do we try to create signs that can be used for multiple events? Are there, how can we do this in a way that(Inaudible 15:45) IfIf you can only ditch the expense alone again, and trying to produce as a scientist in a really interesting area for a lot of planners that if we can use the same signs for multiple event we’d say, we’d agree to a sum of money depending on the size of the event. The badges again, there are a number of different kinds of plastics it’s a whole exciting, crazy area where a lot of chemists and engineers are actively working to come up with different kinds of plastics. Using recycled plastics looses transparency pretty quickly and so oftentimes what they’re looking at is the virgin type of material. And so they’re trying to come up with different kinds of products that can be clear and at the same time either stands out to being reused. We’re working with, in my private side; we have a client called Imex, the big trade show for the meetings and events industry. We’re at that Venetian in Las Vegas we’re actually working with the Venetian there. Where instead of producing a little plastic pockets, they’re now using corn based product. It’s single piece of paper that it’s all can be compost if it doesn’t have a lot of extra components to often times name bags itself not only the pocket but the pieces that go inside of it and of course the line yard the hook and all of the components that go just with the name and badge. They have eliminated 3 pieces just by moving to this one component and that’s a lower cost for them it’s less grade, it’s effective. The decisions they made, specifically, trying to avoid waste. So it’s interesting in some of this decision, but there’s a lot of, the things that we can talk about today as it relates to the types of products that are available will be different probably 6 months from now because it’s a lot of change happening in all this different areas. Give aways are another example that oftentimes there’s one of small remember this branded items that have for long time been probably based in expensive plastics or often times there are types of things. So there’s been a big movement to rethink one of these things that people are giving away. How are you going to be able to get value from that interaction after the conference be able to connect with the potential clients and not be wasteful, not causing this sort of environmental damage, not production of these thing that your giving away. And another big area is in printing. This to me is a kind of really exciting space there’s a lot of great deal of expense of waste that happens with advance all over the world. Often times advanced themselves concerned about sustainable types of issues. A lot of this non-government organizations or corporations or there might be shift off this great heavy palettes of expensive glossy printed material that are immediately discarded on the showroom floor on hotel rooms. And oftentimes they will be stocked on converse bags that never even get seen. So, the tremendous amount of waste not only as material that has to be dealt with but in the expense to produce it. To begin with, this has been an on-going tradition that absorbs in industry for a long time. People are trying to read things different ways to communicate. There’s a big movement to try and move to US [Inaudible 19:57] that had really elaborate presentations and videos and what not on a very tight attractive state people can reuse. Those too don’t come without some degree of resource; in fact, there are a lot of states around trying to connect with the people before during or after the event and more of social kind of way. It’s all going back to how to get more immediate experience without unnecessary waste. And sustainable events are looking at all these sorts of things and different practices around that. So part of this is tough and rethinking how are we going to have an event that we can bring people together but avoid a lot of unnecessary impacts.|
|Ben Lack||Tell me why you’re doing what you’re doing and from a personal level, why you’re doing what you’re doing and why does this industry interest you?|
|Michael Luehrs||I work in a hotel for a long time 17-18 years. And when I got turned on to sustainability, it was such a positive thing in so many ways. We start to have these cascade, it’s like the more we did it, the more we realize there is no downside. The people we are working with, we are just there on teams, we’re really excited and were coming out of really cool ideas about either saving energy or why we put the waste cans over there because if we put them of [Inaudible 21:31]this particular containers it just start this whole process of rebuilding and reenergizing our entire operations. That story got out to a lot of different, our local suppliers, our local municipal offices, our competitors. We did end up being with this big positive initiative that brought us the way guys doing, how does that work, we did these house tours that clients really do respond in this really effusive-excited kind of way that is really gratifying. It really felt like they connect with us, we got their values and then we were able to be creative on our approaches to providing for them on this kinds of experience that their money and then people and that the money you’re investing is going to provide value for their stakeholders, the suppliers. So there’s a lot of pauses that came out of that we end up saving a bunch of money won some awards for different initiatives and different plans that we integrated. And that was easy then, to turn around and try to start to share this with others. I’ve been trying to see they already are starting to experience the same awakening and a chance to work with interesting people, from meeting planners, to big associations, to congress centers, they’re one of my favourites because they oftentimes get stuck in[Inaudible 23:21] influence their own clients and their own suppliers and experience a great deal of benefit. So in all this different aspects of the meetings and events industry there’s a tremendous amount of positive potential that’s really when you can help people run a better business and get their teams excited and make their customers feel good it feels like you, yourself, are contributing to a larger cause. And it’s, there isn’t a lot of there’s not a lot of negatives that you can point to that are the things that we first evaluate are the people who aren’t on the train yet. We’re seeing them waste, we’re seeing them not stubbornly hang on to traditional ways of business and it’s just that potential opportunities that we feel that are missing. So I think that I am interested in it because it’s such a positive outlet of energy and people want that spark catches fire, they are really becomes very exciting to see them start to share what their improvements are or how they applied the given idea or just by being very positive in that way.|