Can sustainability really be cool? You bet! There are cool trends in sustainable events emerging daily as our industry sees a shift to experiential gatherings. The request by attendees to be actively participating in events as a learning tool makes this a perfect opportunity to participate in green meeting initiatives as well. The heightened awareness that events should include mindfulness, wellness, and healthy options is good for the mind, body and the planet. We are all learning from each other, building on one great idea after another at an astounding rate.
That’s not to say the basics of reducing, reusing and recycling aren’t still vital, but the newest ideas take it up a notch and breath fresh life into environmentally and socially conscious initiatives. So many new initiatives, in fact, we had to share the top ten:
1. Technology and Gamification
Technology is cool AND sustainable, so is gamification. Without trying too hard, an event can save a lot of trees by switching to a mobile app that includes the conference program, speaker’s bios, session abstracts and facility floor plans—all of which would have been printed on paper.
Now turn it up a notch and add in a gamification component or in short, a Green Game. Complete with a leaderboard, points and prizes, you can catch participants doing something right such as taking mass transit to the event, bringing their own water bottle or mug, choosing chicken over beef or recycling. Mobile app providers should be able to assist you with this or there are plug ins now available.
If your event doesn’t have a mobile app, you can easily recreate the experience by using Twitter and a hashtag to capture images of sustainable actions. An electronic monitor featuring a Twitter feed in a prominent area will keep guests informed.
Look for other ways to use technology with the added benefit of saving the planet, then add up the savings to share with your community.
2. Health and Wellness
Health and wellness are industry buzzwords right now as event organizers scramble to include practices which are gentler on our bodies than earlier conferences. The side benefit is that nearly all of these also benefit the environment. For example, healthy menu options featuring fresh local, organic food are good for the body and good for the planet. Attendees are concerned about eating right on the road and this includes good food from sustainable sources.
The opportunity to get more exercise during meetings is also high on the list for participants, so work it into your program by holding walking contests. Give them pedometers and track daily steps from the hotel to the meeting venue, to local shopping and restaurants; meanwhile, you are saving money on shuttles and cabs while reducing the carbon footprint.
One of my favorite fitness ideas was during a welcome reception when participants took turns on stationery bikes to produce electricity to blend the margaritas. Now there’s a good incentive!
3. Water Stations
There has been a lot of talk about giving up individual water bottles at events and replacing them with water bubblers, but nothing is lonelier than water bubbler sitting against the exhibit hall wall. The trend toward making these both sponsorship and educational opportunities is an important one. With signage educating guests on the environmental savings by reusing their water bottles with a prominent logo sponsored by an organization interested in publicity as a good corporate citizen, it is a win-win.
4. Meatless Mondays and Water-Wise Wednesdays
Why not take advantage of a trend happening outside the meeting industry and making it your own? Many individuals now make it a practice to avoid eating meat on Mondays and choose a drought tolerant menus on Wednesdays. You can easily incorporate these into your events by working with the chef to design menus featuring both. The bonus on this initiative is that the cost of vegetarian meals is usually lower than those with meat and when creatively designed, will ensure even the most strident carnivore is satisfied. For more information on water-wise choices, check out this infographic.
5. Decorations that Live On
Events are over quickly but the table decorations linger or are tossed into the waste stream. By rethinking the centerpieces, they can serve a larger purpose. Ask yourself, can they be eaten, reused, planted or donated? For example, a beautiful bowl of fresh fruit or vegetables makes a colorful centerpiece and can later be donated to the local food bank where fresh produce is often scarce. Centerpieces can also be created from part of the menu such as fancy bread with olive oil or a dessert tray with luscious delicacies.
6. Sponsored Sustainable Treats
If sustainable menu items are out of your budget, consider having them as part of a sponsorship package. A coffee break featuring fairly traded coffee and chocolates will long be remembered by participants. Fruit smoothies, yogurts, granola and other organic products provide additional sponsorship opportunities looking out for the health and wellness of your community. This type of food “experience” is a trend that has skyrocketed in recent years.
7. Experiences that Give Back
With the trend toward experiences instead of sitting in a lecture hall listening to talking heads, a community service project will not only give back to the community, but also provide an activity with a team building component. There are CSR projects available which can be done right at the meeting or event venue or those that are better suited for offsite. Decide what type of time commitment your group will be willing to give and reach out to the local convention bureau to get connected with community organizations. There are also international organizations such as Clean the World that can put together a project for you in most locations. PCMA resource | Give to Get resources.
8. Gifts that Give Back
The coolest gifts are the most useful, thoughtful, made sustainably and often from community organizations. Today’s event participants are savvy and don’t place a high value in items that don’t meet these qualifications. It is worth the time spent to really impress them. One tech conference produced messenger bags from last year’s branded vinyl signage and they were highly sought after. Gone are the days when an imprinted pen or stress ball would do the trick.
9. Unique Dining Experiences
Speaking of experiences, dining experiences are the hottest trend right now. Ask the venue or caterer if they have a “celebrity” chef on staff who can prepare a sustainable meal and then present it to guests with a short story about where the food came from. Look to locations that get guests closer to the food such as in a green house or at a farm. Have guests gather food at a local farmers market, relax over a glass of wine while the chefs prepare it and then enjoy the fruits of their labor,literally. Many venues and destinations are developing farm-to-table programs, don’t hesitate to ask.
10. Clean Plate Club or “Dad Was Right”
My dad never let me leave the table without finishing my dinner, so when I heard that the Clean Plate Club was back, I shuddered. The good news is, the hospitality industry is taking on food waste in a big way and coming up with creative solutions. One of the most creative to pop up in the last few months is the Clean Plate Club. Guests are told before they graze the buffet to take as much food as they want to eat and when they are done, take their plates to the composting station. At the station, those with clean plates get a sticker or ribbon or points in the green game. Educating them from the beginning of the process that extravagance and food waste are no longer acceptable, while exceptional food in reasonable portions is here to stay.
Thanks to all of you in our community, you know that events are windows to their organization’s soul. You are constantly pushing the envelope, adapting to the latest trends, using creativity and fun to fuel initiatives, and always keeping in mind the planet and her people. Green meetings themselves are a trend and cooler than ever before.