Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Chicago, Three Years Later

Too often sustainable event efforts can seem like a flash-in-the-pan. It makes you wonder what happens in the destination after you leave, and if any of the sustainability programs created for your event 'stick'.

I wanted to send a shout out to the team at McCormick Place in Chicago for reassuring me last week that indeed, some things do stick!

In 2007 I attended my first Greenbuild at McCormick Place. Coming back last week to Greenbuild 2010 in Chicago, my biggest hope was that we would see an improvement on 2007, and hopefully meet or exceed what was achieved then. It wouldn't be easy, knowing that in 2007 Greenbuild achieved an event and facility record-setting 91% diversion from landfill, along with other notable improvements.

The jury is still out on 2010 waste diversion, but I have to say, it was reassuring to see in many areas things had changed since 2007. A permanent exhibit hall recycling program was in place. Improved front of house recycling was evident, both measures helping the venue to maintain a 57% diversion from landfill rate, a vast improvement on 2007 levels. Composting was not yet in place but at least an in-state program was now available, so no trucking organics to Indiana this time! Facility maintenance staff had also completely switched to a more environmentally sustainable option for cleaning chemicals as the result of a tendering process that based requirements for cleaning contractors on Greenbuild guidelines.

There were definitely some hiccups too. Staff training was a huge challenge, especially with the event needing such a large pool of last minute, temporary labour. Ongoing troubleshooting was necessary to make sure new crew shifts knew what to do to sort materials appropriately. Composting bags weren't big enough. There weren't enough of them. Volunteers couldn't provide 100% coverage of recycling stations, etc., etc.

It was actually in these trouble-shooting moments where I was most impressed and really saw the legacy left by 2007. Every single sustainability challenge we encountered on-site was met head-on by a senior staff member at McCormick Place, in person, and very quickly. They 'got it' and knew how important this piece of the event was based on their experience in 2007.

And often the solution required was not pretty. It involved reaching in, and getting very dirty. Imagine that: the Assistant General Manager reaching into a compost bin to fish out a piece of plastic. Facility Directors lending a hand to change a trash bag. Management supervisors having to open and walk into a dumpster to make sure streams were uncontaminated. Uncommon sights, for sure.

They say leadership is defined not by what you say, but by what you do. Hats off to all the staff at McCormick Place, Allied Waste and Restaurant Partners for leading by example during Greenbuild 2010. Regardless of the diversion secured to me you've demonstrated what sustainability is about: doing the best you can. Responding to stakeholder needs. Learning new and better approaches. And not being afraid to get your hands dirty! My sincere thanks to all your staff in all areas for working so hard on the waste management program for this event!

Tongs and gloves in hand, Greenbuild attendees
get an orientation to waste management
by Amy Spatrisano of MeetGreen.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Holiday Wish #2: Bring me a Destination That...

Wish#2: Has public transit connections between the airport and convention core.

A city with well integrated transit is helpful, but in all honesty the connection between the airport and convention core is key. If you have one flaunt it!

Also, pay attention to how friendly fare programs are to out-of-towners. Some cities have great train connections from the airport, but signage, confusing fare systems and lack of assistance from transit staff can make it next to impossible for new users to understand how to get from A to B.

It can help if you have a ready-made explanation of how to navigate transit that can be included on the event web site. Planners will do their part to share information, but need to know connections are safe, clean, reliable and easy to access.

Thanks to Giselle Radulovic for her comments and the inspiration for this wish!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Holiday Wish #1: Bring me a Destination That....

Are you a CVB wanting to know what simple sustainable features of your destination you should communicate to meeting planners? Well, you've come to the right place. Over the next few weeks I'll be posting my rather selfish and completely subjective list of "Sustainable things I wish CVBs and DMOs would let me know about BEFORE my meeting" Watch for more to come, and add your own!

Wish #1: Easy-access convention core.

Tell me how many rooms you have in reasonable walking distance of your convention center and major meeting venues. A 15 minute walk is a good rule of thumb to follow. I want to know because if I can find a city where all attendees can walk I know that will save money! A 3,500 person event can cut $60,000 in budget expenses by eliminating the need to shuttle attendees.

And what about attendees? Many welcome the fresh air after a day of sessions, and a chance to see the city. Those with mobility issues can also be willing to make their own way but be mindful that routes need to be clear from obstacles that might make use of a walker, scooter or wheelchair more difficult. So include information in your RFP response about accessibility options that are available.

It's also in your interest to fill me in on what makes your city easy to navigate by foot. More people strolling can mean less traffic congestion, air pollution from shuttles and more spill-over revenue to local businesses.

Not many room nights within a close walk of main meeting venues? Let me know how many are a single transit connection away. Talk to your civic transit authority to see if they may be willing to discount or donate transit passes to help attendees navigate the city. This could sweeten the deal if I can't house all participants nearby.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

City vs Country: Is the Concrete Jungle More Sustainable?

Excerpt from New Scientist
08 November 2010 by Shanta Barley

They may not have so many trees to hug, but city slickers lead more environmentally friendly lives than their country cousins.

On the Ordos plateau in north central China, shepherds can remember the grass being tall enough to hide a horse. No longer. It is now so short and sparse that in places even a scurrying rabbit has no cover. To try and halt this loss of habitat, the government has paid farmers and shepherds to move to the district capital, Ordos City. Some 435,000 of the region's inhabitants - almost half the total - have left as a result.

"What the Chinese government has realised is that these people will do less environmental damage living at high density in a city than when they're spread out across the countryside," says Gordon McGranahan, an urban economist at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in London who visited Ordos last year.

The idea is rapidly gaining weight outside of China, with a wave of recent research showing that cities may provide the perfect environment to deal with impending environmental crises. Some even claim that cities are the best way to reduce poverty and stem population growth.

The latest issue of New Scientist provides a new perspective to challenge our assumptions that the big city has a bigger impact than rural living. To read the full article visit New Scientist (subscription required).

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Love. Not Loss.

Remember when you were a kid, and couldn't settle for someone else doing it for you? Not content to watch you wanted to be an active participant in sensing and experiencing the world. Sometimes it led to getting dirty, sometimes getting burned. Always learning the consequences and appreciating the experience directly. Unmediated. Personally.

I have a few childhood experiences I recall as very powerful ones. Most of them take place on the harbour where I spent many hours beach-combing, fishing, playing and discovering. A common feeling in my oldest memories is a sense of extreme happiness about being in this special place, mixed with sadness and loss where I saw it 'hurt' through things like pollution that left the shellfish unfit to eat. Out of the sadness comes a strong sense of protection and love for nature that I'm fairly certain has influenced me on the path I am today.


Spending time on the road, in hotels, convention centers and at meeting after meeting may seem a vast departure from this path. However, I have always felt sustainable meetings work has a strong connection with environmental education and positively empowering people to protect the planet in ways that have meaning for them. It happens on many levels, one of which is the power we have as event professionals to create an experience that changes lives, and causes people to act in a different way when granted a new appreciation of a relationship, place or issue. Ways that make people feel good about what they do so they are inspired to do better, rather than bad about what they don't do, or do wrong, and unmotivated to go further.

With that perspective in mind I wanted to post the following video in hopes that love and not loss will continue to propel us forward in all avenues we work.