Changes in latitude: Michael is moving

For some, the practice of consultancy is rewarding but, for me, talking about sustainability isn’t as satisfying as applying good practices and working with teams from inside a business.

So, in a move representing a big change both personally and professionally, I’ll discontinue my current role as guide for sustainable practices to take up a new post as General Manager for the (brand new!) Hampton Inn & Suites in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. (See it here)

From this corner of the world, I’ll hope to share perspectives on sustainability for business and community. For those of you with whom I’ve had the privilege to work these past five years, I thank you. For those in the Madison, WI community, I very much look forward to getting to know you and exploring collaborations to contribute to the building of healthy communities.

Fight the good fight!


Certification: Do it for you

Exercise in futility or noble pursuit?

It’s hard to know. Compliance with certifications can take time and treasure. Without clear intention and purpose, venues can get tangled in administrative details.

What follows is an unsolicited mini-guide on sustainability certification for event industry venues and partners (hotels, conference centers and convention centers)

*subtle drum roll*

4. Leverage local resources. Many cities (and most states and nations) have a deep library of resources and incentives to support your journey to sustainability. From training to onsite measurements, municipal and state office resources are seldom tapped. They’ll be happy you called.

3. Identify a leader. To achieve compliance, venues must show lots of processes and documents. Pursuing certification is a project requiring a project manager. Important: the person should have access to the Executive team and have influence over the Operations team.

2. Create a culture of sustainability. Easy to say, hard to do. Required elements are: an engaged leadership team, effective goal setting and measurement, clear and frequent communication, positive energy and fun. Create incentives and celebrate successes. Respond to good ideas. Publicly recognize good performance. Have fun.

*pause for effect!*

1. Do it for you. Sustainability certifications are all about improving your business. Add structure, create systems, provide guidance. Certifications help your venue to achieve your sustainable business objectives. Yet, venues often overlook these central benefits of certification. They mistake certification as a means to communicate a ‘stamp of approval’
While clients and competing venues may be interested in your certification, you’ll only experience value if you first accept sustainability as fundamental to the success of your business and make it part of your business plan.


Design inspires action for sustainable development

Puzzle: If the principles of sustainable development are so great for business and community, why aren’t sustainable organizations the norm?

Offered as possible reason is the seeming inability of sustainability advocates to communicate in emotionally compelling ways that are relevant to leaders at every level of business and community.  When concepts are opaque, wonky or ungrounded, it’s hard to get much momentum for action.

Min Farm participant. foto by Tina Stafrén

Min Farm participant. foto by Tina Stafrén

Business case

After years of showing people practical examples of ways sustainable practices build healthier organizations, I’ve come to think that when people ask ‘What’s The Business Case for sustainability?”, it’s just another way of saying “You’re full of crap”.  Simply showing statistics behind successful organizations isn’t meaningful.  People need to be moved–no, inspired– to change behavior or to do the heavy lifting required to change policies and politics to pursue any sort of substantial sustainable development.

When Petter Hanberger explained the MinFarm project, I was transfixed.  Here was an example of a complex initiative (many stakeholders, constrained budgets and a need to raise awareness while managing operations) made brilliantly simple and interesting through cool design.

Connecting Communities

It’s about how things are presented as much as what is being presented.  While it’s true that experienced, successful PR people have long known the importance of design in creative communication, this was perhaps the first time I’d seen people go beyond the talk and actually apply thoughtful communication to inspire action.

Advocates for sustainable development can learn much from the clever team of of designers behind MinFarm.  To inspire action and positive change, galvanize participants by appealing to them as people.  Make it cool.  Make it easy.  Make it affordable.  Make it about connecting communities.

In English:

A presentation Petter did for Green Meeting Industry Council, Sweden (In Swedish)

Be Our Guest: Thoughts on Green Hotels (guest author)

In the spirit of collaboration and sharing, we feature an article from Sam Marquit, entrepreneur, home improvement specialist/enthusiast and part time blogger.  As an independent contractor with a passion for sustainability, Sam reached out to share some insights here on Fighting Good Fights.

Eco-Friendly Travel Solutions for a Better Planet

With new organizations ranging from the Ritz-Carlton to The Palazzo, there are more options than ever before in the field of sustainability. These innovative practices and products can help lower carbon emissions and reduce the impact we have on the environment. As a construction contractor, I have been involved in designing and creating several of these eco-friendly structures. Each building that is designed sustainably is another structure that reduces humanity’s carbon footprint. By staying at these buildings, tourists and residents can promote sustainability.

One of the most recent programs is the Go Green Initiative. This program was designed to give training to households, businesses and schools. The training program consists around conservation measures and environmental awareness. Through the program, organizations will learn how they can live sustainably and serve as stewards of natural resources. Ultimately, the Go Green Initiative wants to teach our children about community awareness and teach them to be caretakers for the earth. The initiative seeks to spark national interest in creating standards for business or governments.

Many organizations are becoming more sustainable, most notably in the hotel industry. The Ritz-Carlton in North Carolina is a perfect example. Among the green features are low flow toilets and showerheads. The most notable feature is the rooftop garden where 60,000 honeybees reside. Not only are these bees necessary for cross-pollination, but also their honey is used in the hotel restaurant!

Another notable hotel resides in Nevada. Awarded the title of the “Most Eco-Friendly Hotel in America”, The Venetian, The Palazzo and Sands Expo, Las Vegas 

is an example of sustainability in action. It is designed with water recycling features and reuses its own wastewater. To lower energy demands and increase efficiency, the resort has solar panels installed on the roof.

Each individual has the chance to save the earth. Through innovative building structures and dedicated organizations, we can positively impact the planet. These techniques range from energy efficiency, rainwater storage to transportation management. The only thing they have in common is their ability to lower greenhouse gas emissions and create a more sustainable business model. From the Ritz-Carlton, The Venetian, The Palazzo and Sands Expo, Las Vegas  and other green Las Vegas hotels to the Go Green Initiative, these companies are making a difference in the way we approach the environment.”

Follow Sam @FMarquitV and his site.


Doing more with less: Measure what matters for better results

We’ve advanced enough in our understanding of sustainable events to have learned that this stuff can be complex. Regardless of event size or location, there exists sustainability impacts enough to create a list long enough to be daunting to the most intrepid of environmentalists, much less an event team who does not yet have a fully developed sustainable event management system.

When faced with such complexity, what are event organizers to do? How shall they proceed when resources are limited? How shall they create a meaningful effort toward better, more sustainable outcomes? A possible recommendation: Simplify.  simplify


More with less

The premise here is that it’s more effective to do a few things well than lots of things poorly. When beginning a sustainability initiative in an organization or event planning team, don’t hold perfection as the objective. It is better to focus on a few, relevant and material sustainability aspects than to try to track and measure many things.  By having fewer things in focus, we’re more likely to see progress. With progress comes confidence and, with confidence, momentum.  In this way, we start with few things to accomplish many things.


It’s natural to resist this idea because, well, if a little effort toward sustainable practice is good then certainly more is better! Too often, however, we bite off more than we can chew.  We get excited by new ideas and an interest to make a difference, and we initiate actions without a plan to follow up over the long haul.  If we don’t consider the time it takes to clarify goals, educate stakeholders and measure the effectiveness of our effort, we can have an unpleasant outcome. Instead of a business that integrates the principles of sustainable development as fundamental to success and a part of planning, we get a bunch of people all confused and fussy and ready to drop the whole thing.


It’s about improvement, not measurement

The last few years have seen industry movement toward the measurement and reporting of sustainability in events and organizations.  Consultants are hired and workshops are attended. Suppliers are challenged and computations are made and, sometimes, even communicated.  

“We emitted ‘X’ tonnes of Carbon Dioxide and we diverted ‘Y’ pounds from the landfill!”. That’s fantastic, now what? We too seldom use such measurements to inform improvements.  The point of measuring isn’t for the measurement .. it’s to understand and improve performance.  All that investment in measurement should be applied to informing goals and creating system changes that help drive improvement.  Indeed, the measurements we take should help us to re- define success and inspire us to work toward better results.


Pick 3 things

Measure accurately. Improve over time.

1. Consider your organization.  For what does your brand stand? How are you known to your public? Create a sustainability policy that reflects a commitment to live up to this image.


2. What are your biggest impacts? Just because you can measure the post-consumer recycled content of the office bathroom tissue doesn’t mean that it should necessarily be on the list of things to track. Consider the things that are “material” and put those on the list to measure and improve


3. Create a culture that supports improvement. Involve the team in a process to identify the material impacts and get ‘buy in’ that these things are worth measuring. Create a plan to measure these things and work to improve them over time.


Creating a sustainability initiative for your organization can be exciting and, dare we say, fun.  Find the fun by reducing the fuss.  Measure what matters. Do more by doing less.

Dispatch: Las Vegas

Dateline Las Vegas


Project findings (Bullets for brevity)

Supplier engagement: When suppliers understand your clear and measurable goals and expectations for sustainability, they can help you achieve them. When they don’t have this information, or when sustainability is not part of the preliminary meetings, they will not include sustainability in designing their solution for you.

  • Exhibit A: The Venetian / Sands will customize a waste management plan for your    event and help you find options to donate items left after the show. They can produce impact statements that reflect energy use, CO2 emissions, waste diversion and water consumption of your event.
  • Exhibit B: A General Service Contractor ordered signage based on color quality (“Gatorboard” a slick polystyrene substrate) and not sustainability (“Falconboard” a corrugated paper solution), even though the more sustainable option was less expensive.

APEX standards: not all the criteria for planners of large events are helpful or meaningful to delivering a more sustainable event. The central philosophy behind the planner criteria is that planners must require (in RFP and subsequent contracts) expectations for sustainability. For example, the planner must stipulate in the contracted agreement with the caterer that a vegetarian option be served at each meal, yet it is the planner who makes these selections. Similarly, the standard requires that the planner have a solution to collect name badges but does not require that these badges be re-purposed in any way.

CO2 emissions: the parameters for measurement vary from event to event. How many planners consider the freight miles experienced by AV supplies, for example? Some events look at electricity use at the venue but not the hotel rooms. Planners can track their progress by establishing a uniform way to track emissions and then “normalize” the measurement by calculating emissions per event participant (which also needs to be defined and treated the same each event)

“Local food”: even in the desert, it’s possible to be intentional in your menu design and purchasing to reduce the amount of transport required to deliver food to your event. Large events pose a unique problem given the sheer volume of product they require. Consider allowing yourself a ‘carbon budget’ from transport emissions and strive to stay within it. While this may limit the organic apples from New Zealand, it could mean your delegates can enjoy watermelon instead.

show floor recycle stations: still a great idea, still require post event sorting. Event delegates remain stubbornly unable to discern what waste goes where. “(Plastic milk jug in the compost receptacle? Don’t mind if I do!”). Different kinds of waste make it confusing for delegates. One clear plastic cup is made from recycled content, a different one is compostable, both have similar markings. Now you’ve just about guaranteed contamination of two,waste streams. The current best solution? Enthusiastic volunteer ‘green teams’ that stand by the receptacles and guide delegates in how to use them.

More findings, more dispatches to follow. Time now to go fight good fights.

Great Expectations: Exhibitors and sustainable events

You don’t need to see the leavings of a trade show to understand just how much waste is produced by our industry… but it helps.  For all the effort and focus on sustainable event standards and all the chatter to get planners up to speed and engaged, one wonders if exhibitors fell through the cracks.

With their heavy loads of brochures printed in far away places, with their oversize booths with bright lights and toxic carpets, and with their plastic giveaways that seldom make the suitcase home, it’s as though many exhibitors cling to methods and practices from the 70’s.  As much as exhibitors are vital to the financial health of events and trade shows, they represent liabilities related to waste management and energy use. to get exhibitors on board with sustainable practices?

Exhibitor Outreach: Getting started

1. Research: Have a look at the APEX/ASTM standard for environmentally sustainable exhibits.  Also, and although it’s 2008 (c’mon, it’s not THAT long ago) An Inconvenient Booth is worth a free download. Check out Green Meeting Industry Council’s great webinar. And don’t miss this article from Exhibitor magazine‘s Charles Pappas on eco-friendly exhibiting.

2. Engage: Poll exhibitors for what they’re doing now.  Explore their interest in different alternatives for efficient lighting and signage.  Identify what items they may leave behind and create a plan to donate those to local charitable groups.

3.  Share:  Provide helpful advice and best practices for more responsible tradeshows.  The best example I know is UUA’s sustainable exhibits page. (disclosure: I was a small part of a MeetGreen effort to put this together).

4. Acknowledge: Greenbuild has worked for years to develop incentives and recognition for exhibitors who integrate sustainability.  Favorable locations on the show floor, promoting their efforts in communications, and basically making it cool to have sustainable exhibits.  IMEX encourages sustainable exhibitors with the IMEX Green Exhibitor Award.

The trick to getting getting exhibitors engaged in sustainability starts with your own commitment to sustainable practices.  Once the event organizer sees value in reducing waste, creativity in integrating good ideas into the event isn’t far behind.