Addison Conference Centre Brings the Green Inside
By Tom Kessler
As large corporations increasingly measure the carbon footprints of all their activities – travel to meetings and conferences is getting more scrutiny. Suddenly, meeting planners are now asking frequent questions about green practices.
Rob Bourestom, who manages the Addison Conference Centre and Addison Theatre, said he’s seen requests for sustainable meeting practices increase significantly in the last year and a half. The Centre, which hosts about 650 events per year, has responded by seeking out more green vendors and caterers (especially those that offer local and organic choices); adding wi-fi so attendees can distribute documents electronically and adding energy-saving lighting and low-water plumbing fixtures.
“That’s really required to host someone like the U.S. Green Building Council,” he said, recalling a USGBC event at the Centre.
“The number of planners and companies planning green meetings has been increasing every year for the last few years,” said Tamara Kennedy-Hill, executive director of the Green Meetings Industry Council. “About 51 percent of meeting planners – corporate and association – say that they’re planning or expect to plan a green meeting.”
Addison’s conference center, like many newer styled meeting facilities, features large exterior windows to let in natural light, but with overhangs that block the heat from the mid-day sun. The adjoining theater has been adding LED stage lighting, which is vastly more energy efficient than the previous lights.
The list of green features the Addison Conference Centre has added includes:
- Lower-wattage compact fluorescent light bulbs
- A single-stream recycling program
- High-quality, recycled paper products
- Use of more dishes and fewer disposable plates
- Smart faucets in restrooms that automatically shut off
Even the building has an energy smart design, with large windows that let in lots of natural light, yet broad overhangs protect from the heat of the mid-day sun. Ultimately the Centre will be shaded by the canopy of oak trees that will be planted by the Addison Arbor Foundation, Bourestom said.
But the green meeting industry suffers the same identity issues facing any adolescent. For one, the terms “green meeting” and “sustainable meeting” can have different meanings to different people. That’s why the industry is moving to release a new standard in the coming weeks – a set of requirements that will finally get everyone in the event-planning industry on the same page. At least, that is the hope.
“So we’re seeing that the awareness is increasing but the actual practice of ‘what does that mean’ – the definition has been changing each year and creating confusion in the marketplace,” said Kennedy-Hill. People will say they are planning a green meeting and they’ll think that means just recycling or cutting back on bottled water usage – and those are elements – but the sophistication of what that really means as the integration into their events has really shifted, and that’s why there’s been such a push for standards.”
Initiated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the new standard is being drafted by the Convention Industry Council’s Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX) and will be voted on by the venerable standards-setting agency ASTM International.
The standard will focus on nine sectors within the planning process:
- Audio/Visual and Production
- Communications and Marketing
- Food and Beverage
- Meeting Venue
- On-Site Offices
Kennedy-Hill says many corporations now have sustainability reporting requirements or they are part of carbon disclosure projects, so they have to track all their areas of impact. “And first they are looking internally, if they produce widgets or whatever they are looking to reduce their emissions, but then they also are looking at their business travel. They’re starting to look and measure and asking more questions about green hotels and business travel expectations because they’re going to have to put that into their own sustainability report.”
None of this would be happening if the economics didn’t work. But event planners are usually able to identify cost savings that make holding a green meeting a lower-cost or, at worst, a break-even proposition.
“For the most part it’s cost saving, especially for the planner side,” said Kennedy-Hill. “Different things you’re doing are costs savings. You’re looking at technology and innovation to enhance your event. There are trade-offs in some areas. You might spend a bit more on organic food choices, but you saved on your printing costs because you’re not having a big program and you saved on your mailing costs.
“This needs to be part of your business model,” she said. “Green meetings – sustainable meetings – should be an integration of looking at where can you minimize your impacts, how can you reduce overall and how does that save you money. It has to be connected. It doesn’t make sense to do something that’s going to put you out of business.”
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