Greening Your Conference Center

By Arthur Weissman President and CEO, Green Seal, Inc. | September 02, 2010

This article in our ongoing series addressing sustainability in different sectors of the lodging industry focuses on properties with conference centers. These are defined by the International Association of Conference Centers as properties where a minimum of 60% of total revenue from guest rooms, meeting space, food and beverage, conference technology (A/V), and conference services is conference-related.

We will look at those aspects of conference centers that have special opportunities and needs from the perspective of improving environmental sustainability. First we will discuss the institutional framework, then some substantive issues of particular importance to conference centers.

Institutional Framework

We encourage any property working on sustainability to form an internal committee across departmental lines. Conference centers have particular need of such coordination because they have more departments: in addition to housekeeping, engineering, sales and marketing, and purchasing, these include food and beverage, A/V and information technology, and conference services itself. Representatives of these departments should participate in a committee that meets regularly and guides all sustainability efforts throughout the conference center property under the aegis of the general manager.

The agenda of the committee should be to assess the current sustainability level of the property, identify needs for improvement, set priorities among them, develop an action plan, and implement and monitor improvements in the plan. The committee can be guided by existing literature, including guidances and standards, such as the Convention Industry Council's guidelines for green meetings in its "Green Meetings Report" of 2004; Green Seal's Greening Your Property; and its Environmental Standard for Lodging Properties, GS-33.

The committee should focus on areas that provide the greatest environmental benefit for the effort and cost. These may include product substitutions; changes in energy or water use; improved operations and facilities management; or recycling and waste handling. Priorities should be identified and work ordered accordingly. It is often best to begin with actions that are easiest to implement but have a significant result, such as certain purchasing changes, followed by significant actions that may involve more comprehensive or difficult changes, such as in operations or capital equipment.

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