Greening Your Meetings and Conferences: A Guide For Federal Purchasers
Key Policy, Guidance Documents
Environmentally Preferable Purchasing, or EPP, seeks the overall best value, taking into account price competitiveness, availability, regulatory requirements, performance, and environmental impact. Because purchasers typically have clear sources of information on procurement and regulatory requirements and well-established methods for evaluating price and performance, the US EPA has developed these purchasing guides to help government purchasers consider environmental factors in purchasing decisions. EPA realizes that there are not universal answers for all scenarios and that purchasers must take into account local conditions when weighing the various attributes of a particular product. Please note that EPA is not endorsing any of the products, services, or organizations described in the guides, and has not verified information provided by these organizations. Read more information about the EPP Program's history, tools, and resources.
- Why Green Your Meetings?
- Key Sources of Waste and Pollution
- Federal EPP Authority and Mandate
- What Are Green Meetings
- What Can You Do
- Abbreviated List
- Expanded List
- EPA's Purchasing Tool Suite
Even though government workers throughout the country are increasingly connected via cell phones, e-mail, handheld electronic devices, and other technological advances, face to face meetings and conferences are often still necessary. Unfortunately, meetings require the use of large amounts of resources and can have big impacts on the environment. With careful planning, however, organizers can incorporate "green" aspects into their meetings and conferences.
The purpose of the guide is to provide practical information about environmental aspects of meeting planning and management that will assist federal purchasers in making purchasing decisions. The guide is not a risk assessment document nor is it intended to substitute for Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), labels, or similar documents that provide information on proper storage, handling, use, and disposal. More comprehensive information on meetings is available from a variety of sources, a number of which are listed in the "Resources" section of the guide.
Why Green Your Meetings?
Bringing people together for meetings, often for multiple days at a time, can create a "host" of environmental impacts—from the smog and greenhouse gas emissions associated with air and ground travel to the paper, plastic, and food waste associated with feeding attendees.
- Did you know that in Fiscal Year 2000, the federal government spent more than $9 billion on travel for mission-related business around the world?
- Did you know that 93,000 federal employees are traveling on any given business day to 8,000 locations across the country?
- Did you know that federal travelers use 24 million room nights of hotel space in the United States annually?
- Did you know that an average hotel purchases more products in a week than 100 families purchase in an entire year?
Key Sources of Waste and Pollution
The following activities associated with meetings and conferences are major sources of waste and pollution.
- Marketing of Event and Registration—Paper waste associated with direct mailings among organizers, speakers, attendees, and venues.
- Travel to the Event—Greenhouse gases and other pollutants released via planes, trains, buses, and automobiles.
- Hotel Stays—Water usage associated with laundering; indoor air quality issues associated with building materials and cleaning products; paper, plastic, and material waste associated with single-use toiletries.
- Food Services—Waste from disposable coffee cups, plates, napkins, and plastic-ware; disposal of extra food; non-sustainable farming practices.
- Exhibition Halls—Landfill disposal of carpet; greenhouse gas emissions from shipping; waste from excess information materials and giveaways.
- Local Transportation—Greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants released from taxis or rental cars.
Federal EPP Authority and Mandate
Spending approximately $230 billion annually on a large quantity and wide variety of products and services, the federal government leaves a large environmental "footprint." However, by purchasing environmentally preferable products and services, the federal government can wield its spending power to increase national demand for greener products as well as to help meet environmental goals through markets rather than mandates. In 1995, in response to Executive Order 12873, "Federal Acquisition, Recycling, and Waste Prevention (PDF)" (9 pp, 32Kb, About PDF), EPA established the Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) program to encourage and assist Executive agencies in the purchase of environmentally preferable products and services. The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which establishes uniform procedures and policies for federal acquisition, was amended on August 22, 1997 to support federal procurement of "green" products and services. And, most recently, in In 1998, Executive Order (E.O.) 13101, entitled "Greening the Government through Waste Prevention, Recycling, and Federal Acquisition" directed Executive agencies to "consider . . . a broad range of factors including: elimination of virgin material requirements; use of biobased products; use of recovered materials; reuse of product; life cycle cost; recyclability; use of environmentally preferable products; waste prevention (including toxicity reduction or elimination); and ultimate disposal" when making purchasing decisions and to "modify their procurement programs as appropriate." Finally, in January, 2007, Executive Order 13423, entitled "Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management", directed Executive agencies to "require in agency acquisitions of goods and services (i) use of sustainable environmental practices, including acquisitions of biobased, environmentally preferable, energy-efficient, water-efficient, and recycled-content products, and (ii) use of paper of at least 10 percent post-consumer fiber content."
Similarly, the Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000 (page 72 of the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000, P.L.106-224 (PDF) (100 pp, 339KB, About PDF)), Section 9002 of the 2002 Farm Bill (also known as the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002), and Executive Order 13134 on "Developing and Promoting Biobased Products and Bioenergy" (PDF) (6 pp, 71KB, About PDF), have emphasized the potential importance of biobased products to national economic and environmental interests. Together these authorities encourage a strong federal role in the development and early adoption of biobased products and recognize the role of procurement as part of an overall federal policy on biobased products.
Five Guiding Principles
To help government purchasers incorporate environmental considerations into purchasing decisions, EPA developed five guiding principles. The guiding principles provide a framework which purchasers can use to make environmentally preferable purchases. The five principles are:
- Include environmental factors as well as traditional considerations of price and performance as part of the normal purchasing process.
- Emphasize pollution prevention early in the purchasing process.
- Examine multiple environmental attributes throughout a product's or service's life cycle.
- Compare relative environmental impacts when selecting products and services.
- Collect and base purchasing decisions on accurate and meaningful information about environmental performance.
What Are Green Meetings?
The Oceans Blue Foundation (an environmental charitable organization created in 1996 to help conserve coastal environments through environmentally responsible tourism) defines green meetings as "an assembly or gathering of people, for the purpose of the exchange of information, where, through careful planning, negative impact on the environment is minimized." In the early 1990s, a green meeting may have meant brochures were printed on recycled-content paper or that soda cans were collected for recycling. The costs associated with even these simple steps were often prohibitive for most meeting planners and meeting service suppliers. Today, however, the opportunities to green meetings and events are almost limitless-often offering ways to save money and increase efficiency in the process.
What Can You Do?
While there is an ever-increasing number of green meeting "pioneers" in the United States, many meeting planners are still having difficulty finding green services for their events. This is why it is important to remember that asking for green is key! Asking is the first step in showing there is a demand for reduced environmental impacts associated with a meeting. When enough meeting planners ask for reusable mugs, non-toxic cleaning services, or energy-efficient lighting, for example, then hotels, convention centers, and other meeting service providers will begin to respond. If you are not a meeting planner, but coordinate with or direct a contractor to plan meetings for you, EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics provides green meeting sample contract language that you can use when buying meeting planning support services. The sample language is available from the Database of Environmental Information on the EPP Program's Web site.
The following lists of green opportunities can assist you in reducing meeting-related environmental impacts. The first list condenses the array of green opportunities into a handful of thought-provoking questions a meeting planner may consider. The second list lays out specific steps that have proven to prevent pollution and waste associated with meetings and conferences. Since a meeting planner may be restricted by time, money, and/or level of support for greening, choose the strategy that works best for your situation.
Have you sought a location...
...that, on average, minimizes the distance the attendees have to travel?
...where the facilities needed for your meeting are all accessible to each other, the airport, and local attractions by mass transportation options?
Accommodations and/or Meeting Facilities
Does the hotel and/or meeting facility you are considering...
...have a formal environmental policy and action plan that they will share with you?
...have an assigned person, group, or committee directly responsible for environmental initiatives?
Does the transportation service provider you are considering...
...offer a carbon emission offsetting program? Climate Neutral products or services significantly reduce and offset the greenhouse gases generated at any, some or all of the stages of their life-cycle on a cradle-to-cradle basis: the sourcing of their materials, their manufacturing or production, their distribution, use, and ultimate end-of-life disposition.
...offer hybrid/alternative fuel/highly efficient vehicles?
Food & Beverage
Does the food and beverage service provider you are considering...
...offer the use of reusable linens, flatware, glassware, etc.?
...offer recycled-content and/or recyclable disposable serviceware if reusable items are not available?
...donate surplus food to local shelters, soup kitchens, food banks, etc.?
Promotion/Marketing/Registration and Exhibitions
Have you maximized opportunities to...
...use electronic communication over paper as often as possible?
...reduce, reuse, recycle, and purchase recycled-content/energy-efficient/environmentally preferable products?
- Select locations that, on average, minimize the distance the attendees have to travel.
- Select locations where the facilities needed for your meeting are all accessible to each other, the airport, and local attractions by mass transportation options.
- Get a sense of the availability of green services in cities under consideration. Some cities or regions of the country are further along in their awareness and protection of the environment and will make it easier for you to green your meeting.
- Select accommodations that allow for efficient transportation routes (walking paths, bicycle paths, public transportation).
- Choose a hotel that has energy and water conservation programs, including: automatic controls for the HVAC system; fluorescent lighting and automatic lighting controls; and low-flow taps, showerheads, and toilets.
- Make certain that there are recycling and waste minimization programs in place. Specifically, find out what items are recycled. Are recycling bins placed in all guestrooms?
- Donate used amenities (soap, bottles, etc.) to charitable organizations or recycle them.
- Give hotel guests the option to reuse towels and sheets.
- Utilize paperless check-in, checkout, and billing procedures to minimize use of paper.
- Locate meetings and accommodations within walking distance of each other and area restaurants and attractions, so excessive car travel is minimized.
- Provide shuttle services between meetings, accommodations, and restaurants to minimize car and taxi trips if walking isn't feasible.
Food & Beverage
- Consider cloth instead of paper napkins, and reusable plates, cups, and silverware.
- If disposable rather than reusable serviceware is used, look for recycled-content and/or recyclable materials.
- Serve sugar, creamers, and condiments in reusable dishes rather than packets.
- Consider providing drinking water in pitchers or large reusable containers instead of small plastic bottles.
- Donate surplus food when possible to local shelters and food banks.
- Look for facilities that invite meeting attendees to share in energy conservation and waste reduction efforts-for example, by reducing paper towels, supporting use of soap dispensers versus individual soaps, avoiding waste, and participating in recycling programs.
- Look for meeting rooms with recycling bins, posted with a list of all items that can be recycled.
- Put recycling containers in visible locations at entrances to halls and in the pre-function area. Let attendees know that recycling containers will be available. Place visible signage instructing delegates as to what is and is not recyclable. Put additional containers in hotel lobbies near checkout areas.
- Use signage that is reusable whenever possible.
- Reduce paper use by putting floor plans and exhibitor service kit items on your Web site when practical (and/or the decorator's Web site).
- Work with the shipping firm and decorator to minimize packing materials and to use recyclable and other environmentally preferable shipping and packing materials.
- Incorporate community service into the exhibition. Ask exhibitors to donate leftover flowers, giveaways such as trinkets, pencils, or T-shirts, or other booth decorations or items that would normally be thrown away to local shelters, hospitals, or schools. Set up areas for exhibitors to drop off reusable items at the end of the show.
- Discourage exhibitors from bringing large quantities of material to the show, which often end up in the trash because exhibitors don't want to ship unused conference materials back at the end of the show. Encourage exhibitors to bring small quantities and then mail (or e-mail) materials to clients from their offices after the show or refer clients to their Web site. Also, useful environmentally responsible gifts are preferable to items that will be discarded at the end of the show.
General Office Practices and Communications
- Reduce paper by allowing attendees to register online. Confirm registration by e-mail when possible.
- Recycle paper inserts and plastic badges.
- Use double-sided copies.
- Print marketing and registration materials (whenever possible) on recycled paper using soy-based ink.
- Promote electronic distribution instead of printed handouts to reduce paper usage.
- Encourage use of electronic presentations and distributing disk handouts to eliminate paper waste.
- Do not use mailing lists that have not been maintained. A mailing list more than 2 years old is usually unreliable.
- Provide information about the meeting and destination to potential attendees and allow them to register via e-mail on-line.
- Set up a system for making photocopies on demand instead of over-printing materials.
- Post minutes or other handouts on the Internet, or circulate them electronically after the meeting.
EPA's Purchasing Tool SuiteEPA/OPPT's EPP Program has developed the following Web-based tools to help purchasers consider the environment, along with price and performance, when buying a product or service.
Database of Environmental Information for Products and Services
A searchable database of product-specific information (e.g., environmental standards and guidelines or contract language) developed by government programs, both domestic and international, as well as third parties.
Tips for Buying Green with the Government Credit Card
This web page provides tips to help government credit card holders make greener choices when buying products, such as electronics.
EPA's Green Conference Initiative
EPA/OPPT developed the Green Conference Initiative to provide meeting planners and suppliers of meeting services with easy access to green options and opportunities for meeting planning. The goal of this initiative is to develop a "one-stop shop" at which meeting planning and service providers can gather information on the topic of green meetings. The information is meant to help planners request-and suppliers provide-green options for meeting planning. The Web site includes a checklist of opportunities that, when applied, minimize the environmental impacts of holding meetings; contract provisions for obtaining greener meeting planning/support services; and links to information on other related initiatives.
Fairmont Hotels & Resorts
Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is one of the largest luxury hotel companies in North America and has developed one of the most comprehensive environmental programs in the North American hotel industry. Greening initiatives include, but are not limited to, transportation alternatives, environmentally friendly meals and meeting facilities, and incorporating environmental educational opportunities for meeting attendees.
Green Meeting Industry Council
The Green Meeting Industry Council was formed on December 10, 2003 to improve meeting management practices by promoting environmentally responsible strategies through the collaborative efforts of the hospitality industry, corporations, government, and community organizations. The GMIC is committed to supporting economic, environmental, and community objectives as they relate to the meeting industry.
Green Seal - Environmental Standard for Lodging Properties, GS-33
Green Seal is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the environment by promoting the manufacture and sale of environmentally responsible consumer products. Green Seal sets voluntary environmental standards and awards a Green Seal of Approval to products that Green Seal evaluates as causing less harm to the environment than other similar products. Green Seal has partnered with the lodging industry, the nation's second-largest employer, to support ecotourism. Its campaign to educate hotels and motels focuses on how environmental efforts improve the bottom line and benefit the environment. Green Seal received wide input from the lodging industry on its Environmental Standard for Lodging Properties. Green Seal also has certified lodging properties in a number of states and Washington, D.C. Government employees are encouraged to stay in certified properties when they travel on official business, and government meetings are encouraged to use these facilities.
The Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) Green Hotel Initiative
The Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) is a nonprofit coalition of investors, public pension funds, foundations, religious and public interest groups, and labor unions working in partnership with companies toward the common goal of corporate environmental responsibility worldwide. CERES convened a network of environmental organizations, governmental entities, and businesses that advocate corporate responsibility to initiate a collaborative project to promote environmentally friendly hotels. The initiative will encourage corporate and government purchasers to ask for greener hotels as part of their business travel, creating an incentive for more hotels to "go green."
Hotel Association of Canada - Green Key Ecommodation Rating Program
Founded in 1913, the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC) is the national organization representing the accommodation industry in Canada. Their objective is to assist both national and international members as they enhance their competitiveness and improve their bottom line. HAC has developed and maintained the Green Key Ecommodation Rating Program for the Canadian hotel industry. The program involves a graduated rating system designed to recognize hotels, motels, and resorts committed to improving their environmental performance. The program recognizes a hotel's achievements through the award of one to five Green keys; one key is given for a basic commitment to environmental principles, and two through five keys are awarded for specific results achieved.
NW Pollution Prevention Resource Center - Hospitality Sector
The Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center (PPRC) has compiled an information resource listing for the hospitality sector, including contacts.
Convention Industry Council's Green Meetings Task Force
In 2003, this Task Force was charged with creating minimum best practices for event organizers and suppliers to use as guidelines for implementing policies of sustainability. The task force was composed of individuals from the EPA, the Ocean's Blue Foundation, the Society of Incentive Travel Executive's Green Meeting Group, the World Travel Organization, hotels, convention and visitor's bureaus, convention centers, and meeting planning organizations. The Task Force report is available on the Convention Industry Council web site.
The Green Hotels in the Green Mountain State Program
This program provides assistance to innkeepers desiring to use sound environmental management practices to reduce their impact on the environment, improve their bottom line, and satisfy customer demand for environmentally conscious lodging.