november 2009 | Green Thinking
“Putting words into deeds is in learning how to create practical solutions for green meetings. We in the meetings industry must be bolder in our environmental work,” says North American Amy Spatrisano, who developed The Meet Green Tool, an instrument that enables meetings participants to control all parts of creating a green meeting, and how to go about making a stand for what they believe in.
What exactly is a green meeting? What is required of a meeting organiser in order to call their meeting “green”, and just how green is it? What is the difference between greenwashing and implementing a green meeting in earnest? How do you measure it? How do you put across what you do to ensure that participants and other interested parties take your message onboard?
Internationally, Amy Spatrisano is a pioneer in the green meetings field. She is CEO and founder of Meeting Strategies Worldwide, a consultancy involved in the environmental adaptation of meetings companies. She has over 20 years’ experience of the meetings industry and is a pioneer in the sector. She developed the green measurement standard Meet Green Measurement, founded the Green Meeting Industry Council and is President of the US APEX sustainable event standards initiative.
“It all began at a meeting I helped to arrange many years ago. Something clicked when I saw the order for 75,000 plastic mugs.”
Earlier this year Amy Spatrisano was in Stockholm to share practical solutions and instruments for making the planning of green meetings simpler and more down to earth, thus helping to bolster company brands and profits.
Sweden is usually seen as a global model in environmental administration, and Stockholm won the first EU European Green Capital Award. However, the Swedish Meetings Industry has not always been at the forefront of developing solutions for sustainable meetings. Many players only have a vague idea of what a green meeting actually is and think it entails extra costs.
According to Amy Spatrisano there is widespread confusion among meetings customers as to which companies are the more environmentally sustainable. Moreover, many meetings buyers are prepared to pay more for a meeting that is good from a sustainability perspective. She says that much of the confusion is due to companies not presenting the impact of their operations clearly and transparently.
What is the difference between talking about green meetings in Sweden, where many have had a green policy for a long time and feel that are at the global forefront of green thinking, and debating the issue in other countries?
“It was gratifying to know that everyone in the audience had a high minimum level in their sustainability perspective, I never needed to explain simple findings. Before my speech I had pangs of anxiety over how I would be received. Would it be too basic and make them yawn? I’m from the USA after all, and we haven’t got the best reputation in the world when it comes to sustainability and our environmental outlook and actions. One of the questions I asked myself before my speech was: ‘What could she possibly teach us that we don’t already know?’ I really hope the audience thought I contributed with something.”
“Something clicked when I saw the order for 75,000 plastic mugs.”
Is it a myth that Sweden is at the forefront of developments surrounding environmental issues? If not, is the Swedish meetings industry a standardbearer?
“You have a high international standing with regard to sustainable environmental thinking. On top of everything you must remember that Sweden gave birth to The Natural Step, a programme upon which our company bases its values and approach in integrating our endeavours and process work. As to whether the Swedish meetings industry is at the same forefront, my answer would be probably, from a general point of view. But I also get the feeling that not all companies set measureable environmental goals, but a few do in order to advance and to push developments forward.”
Which countries are pioneering with regard to environmental issues today?
“I’m not sure that I know all the countries and their work. During my travels and discussions with other people around the world who work with these issues, I cannot conclude other than that western European countries, which of course includes Scandinavia, some parts of Canada, Australia and some parts of Asia have come the furthest. Sadly enough, I don’t include the USA, even if there are states that have come further than others in these issues. But our new administration in Washington does give us new hope with regard to environment progress.”
Are there any international organisations at the forefront?
“Plenty of organisations talk about sustainability and social progress, and the issue has taken off in the past ten to eighteen months. Some naturally do a better job than others. I also put greater trust in organisations that see it as an ongoing and sustainable development project, and who work transparently, than companies that proclaim to have achieved their goals and tick off their environmental work on a ‘must do’ list.
“Sustainability is when it’s pulled to its limits, not just a question of survival but also about thriving.”
Are there any books you can recommend?
“Unfortunately, no. But from a broader business perspective more people should read about the new industrial revolution in Cradle to Cradle by Chemistry Professor William McDonough and Architect Michael Braungart, and Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken, a leading light within corporate social responsibility. Cradle to Cradle is the new design paradigm where, instead of producing toxins and waste, all materials act as nutrients in the new biological and industrial processes. One website worth visiting on the subject of a standard for green meetings is Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX). www.apexsolution.org
Have you met any politicians in the world who talk about green issues and the meetings industry?
“Yes, I immediately think of a man from Canada who constantly complains about the negative environmental impact of the meetings industry. Unfortunately he doesn’t seem to understand the workings of the industry and that there are organisations working actively to reduce its negative environmental impact.
“Al Gore is of course a strong advocate for improving the global environment. Bill Clinton has also done a great deal, particularly from a social perspective. I also add Robert Redford to the list. He’s not a politician but his views and influence over the past 30 years have had a great significance.”
Do green meetings and corporate social responsibility (CSR) belong together? Why? Could you give some examples?
“For me it goes without saying that green meetings and CSR are compatible. You could say that they have different definitions, but do they really have different intentions? I don’t think so. Sustainability is when it’s pulled to its limits, not just a question of survival but also about thriving. In order to thrive in a sustainable balanced life, we are affected by social interaction with other people, our own and society’s economy, and, not least, our close surroundings and the state of our planet Earth. I also think a fourth element should be added: the purpose. This is because the first three parts are seldom in tandem at the time of making an important decision. Most times one thing weighs heavier than the other. Therefore, we should weigh in the purpose more often in the equation, because if we don’t we cannot always determine the importance of other factors that could be crucial in the decision we’re about to make.
As an example I take one of our customers who demanded that an event be held in the town’s greenest hotel. Six weeks before the event, the trade union at the hotel in question chose the occasion to demonstrate against the hotel owners in an ongoing conflict. The customer decided to move elsewhere. The only rooms left at the time were in the most non-green hotel in the town. For this customer the social perspective easily took precedence over the environmental aspect. It was greenwashing.