Events organizers that integrate sustainability practices into their production may soon be legitimately able to call their events “green,” said Nancy Spatrisano, founder and chairwoman of the Green Meeting Industry Council.
Spatrisano chairs the Convention Industry Council group working with stakeholders and standards-development body ASTM International to develop voluntary green standards for the industry. The standards, due to be released later this year, will provide the first formal criteria for the evaluation of sustainability initiatives at events.
The standards will allow events organizers to request a third-party evaluation of their event—and also will provide a roadmap for organizers interested in implementing green initiatives.
Spatrisano spoke to Media Business about the system in development and the value of going green.
Media Business: The rating system has several tiers. Why did the group decide to go with this model?
Spatrisano: We wanted an area where people could get on the board and play, an entry level; but we also wanted to provide standards for some of the suppliers and planners who are already at a higher level of participation. So we have levels.
There are four levels [of sustainability] within each of nine sectors [of event production]. The planner and supplier have criteria they must meet to reach Level One. It really takes the planner's decision making and the supplier's delivery to make something more sustainable. You can't have one party solely responsible because they influence what's available, and what's practical and feasible from both sides. So you need to have both sides held accountable.
There is an additional set of criteria for Levels Two, Three and Four. This allows for entry level and for people to show improvement.
MB: How do you expect large events, particularly trade shows, to fare in this system?
Spatrisano: Some of the larger shows are doing good stuff. With what we put in this process, trade shows should be able to accomplish Level One. But it's an ongoing process and journey. So many products, services and processes keep evolving and changing on a regular basis that your ability to improve and eliminate your negative impact is also increasing on a regular basis. This is a way to continue to upgrade how you do what you do.
MB: Where should show organizers look first to begin the greening of their show? Where are the low-hanging fruit?
Spatrisano: General service contractors, exhibitors and show management need to work together to be successful. It requires a partnership. The first step is to sit down and say, “How do we want to do this.” The low-hanging fruit is looking at the waste and saying, “How do we eliminate this.”
MB: How is the economy affecting the momentum behind green initiatives?
Spatrisano: Those that practice smart business recognize the opportunity to maximize the bottom line by incorporating green practices. When you really break it down and look at the numbers, there are so many opportunities for savings. Does that mean that nothing costs more money? I'm not saying that. There are elements that cost more money, but you balance that like any budget. Organic food costs more money but, if you save money because you didn't use bottled water—and you saved thousands of dollars—then you can put that money toward organic or a percentage of organic food. Ultimately you can still save money. Businesses interested in reinventing themselves are looking at this as an opportunity to retool, and redesign and save money.