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.

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