Events can take place almost anywhere, from hotel ballrooms, suites, and conference centers to unique venues such as museums, concert halls, blank spaces, and ballparks.
While many sustainably-minded planners focus on greening individual components of their events such as catering, transportation, décor and waste management, venue selection should never be overlooked as an important step in the greening process, and many times lays the foundation for success in other areas.
Why is the venue you choose so influential? First it is important to understand the environmental footprint of buildings. Buildings are responsible for more than 40 percent of global energy use and one third of global greenhouse gas emissions, both in developed and developing countries.1 The primary driver of this energy use and resulting emissions comes from the heating, cooling, lighting, and ventilation of the building, not to mention the use of appliances.
During this activity buildings emit halocarbons, another non-CO2 – yet profoundly destructive and ozone-depleting – greenhouse gas. Halocarbons are oftentimes overlooked when talking about greenhouse gases, but of all the greenhouse gases, they absorb the greatest quantity radiation that enters our atmosphere.2 This ultimately results in warmer, disruptive climates.
In addition to the energy consumed, the amount of waste generated from hotel and venue operations is significant. Solid waste materials typically generated from hotel operations include organics (food waste), recyclables, compostables, electronic waste and durable goods (furniture, microwaves, mattresses and carpet). According to the Waste Management World, a UK-based organization, hotels generate 1kg (2.2 lbs) of waste per guest, per night. Consider doubling this number if you’re housing both your guests and your conference in the same hotel.
There are many venues out there leading the way in environmental stewardship. In a recent trip to Las Vegas, Nevada I stayed at the Mandalay Bay. As I walked around, I didn’t see any recycling bins, but instead signage that said “We Do the Recycling For You.” The sustainable planner in me was intrigued. The skeptic in me required a tour.
I met with Joseph Jolly, the Recycling Manager, who gave me a tour of the back-of-house operations. Here I witnessed the hotel’s solid waste loaded onto a conveyor belt where Mandalay Bay staff manually sorted and separated landfill items and recyclables.
But it doesn’t stop there. I was impressed to learn that the Mandalay Bay’s asset recovery system prevents the disposal of ashtrays, coffee mugs, silverware and other hotel property. These items are commercially cleaned and introduced back into the hotel’s inventory. All discarded and unclaimed luggage, clothing, phones, watches and glasses are donated to local charities. Kitchen grease is donated to Darling International, for use as biodiesel at nearby farms, and excess food that cannot be donated to local shelters is sent to nearby pig farms.
In summary, the Mandalay Bay’s hotel operations are able to divert 44% of their total solid waste from the landfill, and the convention side of the hotel is able to divert 81% of their solid waste from the landfill!
What to Ask Your Venue
You don’t have to go all the way to Las Vegas to find sustainable hotels. Third party certifications such as Green Seal and the US Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) allow you to identify sustainable hotels.
If your hotel or venue isn’t third-party certified, you can still ask smart questions that will allow you to assess how “green” a property is and how easy it might be to work with them to execute a sustainable meeting:
- Do you have a sustainability policy or fact sheet you can share with me?
- Do you have a “green team” at your property?
- Are the hotel or venue’s staff trained to identify and execute sustainable practices?
- Do you use on-site or off-site renewable energy sources (e.g., solar, geothermal, wind, biomass, biogas, hydro) to power your hotel? What %?
- Do you purchase carbon offsets to mitigate any non-renewable energy use? What %?
- Do you recycle? Compost?
- Do you donate any un-served, un-opened food to local charities?
- Do you donate signage, bags, and other left over event supplies to community groups?
- Do you donate soap and bottled amenities to a charity or hotel soap reclamation program?
- Do you use ASTM 6400 compostable food serving ware when dishware is not available?
- Does your audiovisual company use Energy Star rated equipment, LED lighting, or energy-efficient LCD screens?
- Do you have low-flow water closets and showerheads installed to reduce water consumption?
- Do you have a green cleaning policy? Are all your cleaning products third-party certified?
- Is the venue in close proximity to public transportation? (Eliminating the need to hire vehicles to move your guests around)
Additional questions to ask your venue can be found in the US Green Building Council’s Green Venue Selection Guide at www.usgbc.org/venueguide.
In the United States alone, hotels represent more than 5 billion square feet of space, nearly 5 million guest rooms, and close to $4 billion in annual energy use. Business meetings in the United States constitute a $175 billion industry, and Americans make more than 400 million long-distance business trips each year.6
Remember, as a planner and valued hotel client, you have the power to increase awareness about sustainable venue and meeting practices – you vote with your dollar! The more you demand sustainable practices from your venues and suppliers, the more they will see a market opportunity and invest in meeting it.
Vanessa Ferragut, Founder & Senior Event Planner at Ferragut Event Group
Cara Unterkofler, Sustainable Event Advisor, LEGACY Sustainability