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New events standards promote sustainable practices

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Green events standards, frameworks and protocols are in high demand. The International Organization for Standardization and Global Reporting Initiative both have been working to create sustainable event guidance in time for the London Olympics, and the Convention Industry Council stands poised to release its own sustainable meeting standards, five years in the making. Amy Spatrisano, principal of MeetGreen and chairwoman of the CIC green meeting committee that worked with industry stakeholders and the American Society for Testing and Materials International to develop the standards, spoke to Media Business about the new framework. Media Business: How can organizers use these standards? Amy Spatrisano: The (CIC Accepted Practices Exchange)/ASTM standards provide a checklist. They have a very prescriptive action that you must take in order to qualify for the standard. We built the standards for a couple of reasons. We wanted everyone to be able to compare apples to apples when someone says they are producing a green meeting. Right now in the marketplace, I could say that my meeting is green and there is no foundation. There were no parameters around what is acceptable behavior. The second part of that was recognizing that people are at different levels in the industry. We developed four levels. All of the components of level one were designed to be cost-saving or cost-neutral. However, some people are already doing amazing things, so we wanted these to be structured in a way that people can improve their performance. With the way that we've structured them, our hope is to encourage continued improvement. The standards make both the planner and the suppliers accountable. The planner can't, without the support of the supplier, achieve a level one for the whole meeting, and neither can the supplier achieve level one without the planner's participation. MB: Are you seeing more interest in green event strategies? Spatrisano: I do think that (attendee) interest is growing. Also, it's smart business. It's not only because it's the right thing to do for the environment. If you do it right, you're saving money. That's the key, for people who are really engaging in this. They are recognizing huge savings. Creating a sustainable event is being fiscally responsible. That's why it's gaining popularity. There are a lot of myths around it, one of which is that it costs more to be sustainable. That's just not accurate. There are many things you can do in efficiencies that minimize your cost. Reducing your energy use, your wattage, your waste—you're paying less. If you reduce your printing, you reduce your cost. There are a lot of things people can do to outweigh or balance cost of, for example, serving organic food. MB: Will there be a third-party certification, or will it be on your honor? Spatrisano: Initially (the standards) are voluntary and self-assessed. In very short order, I expect to see (third-party certifications). My suggestion to anyone in the industry is to be sure that whoever does the certification has the CIC endorsement. If it's endorsed by CIC, it's endorsed by the industry. People want to be certified so they can have a little bug on their letterhead, a symbol that gives them the stamp of approval.
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