The 2015 Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly was held June 24-28th at the Oregon Convention Center with an impressive 4,502 participants, 6,634 hotel room nights, 98 exhibitor booths and 186 educational sessions.  It was also several of the hottest days in Portland, Oregon, with the daily temperature rising above 100 degrees F.

One of the sustainable event targets for long-time client, Unitarian Universalist Association at their 2015 General Assembly was to, “hold a zero landfill waste event.”  Not for the faint of heart, this worthy goal was very nearly met by assembly organizers and attendees falling just short by producing 0.10 kg. of landfill per participant/day, equivalent to the weight of one stick of butter.  Remarkable!

Concession stands at the Oregon Convention Center served as the main outlet for participant meals during the event.  To meet the zero waste goal, it was imperative that the service ware at these stands be as sustainable as possible.  Between the time the contract was signed and the event, Portland had a city-wide commercial compost policy change whereby compostable plastics are no longer processed.  OCC and the caterer were challenged to develop an alternative.  An increase in inventory and work force, a new dish washing procedure, and an onsite education program, led by General Assembly recycling volunteers, were put in place to address the challenge.

In addition, disposable coffee cups have always been a large presence in the General Assembly waste stream. Since coffee cups often have a wax lining with lids made from polystyrene, cups and lids cannot be recycled. Several measures were taken in 2015 to address this issue:

  • Attendees were encouraged to bring reusable cups through pre-event communication and social media.
  • Portland Roasting, the in-house coffee retailer at the OCC, purchased 2,000 reusable coffee cups for use during GA and future events, and offered a discount for repeat uses.
  • First Unitarian Church of Portland sold reusable cups outside the exhibit hall with proceeds going to help The Children’s Mosaic Project.
  • Nearby cafes were encouraged to use attendee reusable mugs.

Food donation also played a role with 814 kg. of food, equivalent to 1,381 meals*, donated to the Blanchet House, a local mission in downtown Portland.

None of this would have been possible without teamwork from everyone involved and a willingness to address the challenges as they occurred.   To learn more about their other challenges and opportunities, you may download a free copy of the entire case study.  Thanks to the UUA team for setting the bar and sharing their story so that we may all learn from experience

*Source: Rock and Wrap it Up Calculator