How to have zero impact meetings

Pan Pacific Seattle had observed general interest in sustainable business practices among its meetings and events clients for years, but increasingly specific questions about the hotel’s green initiatives recently prompted the property to ramp up its efforts to make meetings as eco-friendly as possible. Working with Seattle-based OneEnergy Renewables, Pan Pacific Seattle has developed various options to help make events carbon-neutral and will provide documentation of a meeting’s environmental footprint and associated costs. Through August, the hotel will offset those costs for clients taking advantage of its new “Zero Impact” meetings offering by applying the amount to a renewable energy project.

“A lot of companies are making [sustainability] part of their brand, so we’re helping them with that,” said Molly Phillips, the hotel’s manager of corporate social responsibility.

Jan Peter Bergkvist, owner of SleepWell, a Stockholm-based consultancy that advises hotel companies on sustainable business practices, noted the progress of ISO 20121, an international standard for sustainability in event management that is expected to be finalized next year to coincide with the London Olympics. “[Sustainability] is being integrated into the systems of the big buyers,” Bergkvist added. “If you want to be a contemporary hotel, you need to understand this today and not tomorrow.”

Costs and ROI

The Caravelle Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, recently launched an eco-meeting package including an electricity-saving scheme that makes use of natural daylight, purified water served in jugs instead of plastic bottles and snacks such as dried fruits and nuts rather than packaged candies. According to Director of Sales and Marketing Gary Ma, the hotel offers the eco-meeting package at largely the same price as a standard meeting package — US$39 per person for a full-day meeting — and will donate US$2.30 to the Ho Chi Minh City Association for Conservation of Nature and the Environment for every person booked on an eco-meeting package.

“We’re finding ways to consider the environment and the future while still offering top-quality products and services,” Ma said.

Fairmont Hotel Vancouver also offers various green meeting features, such as locally sourced menus. Director of Food and Beverage Carlos Bueno acknowledged that local sourcing could be challenging from a supply standpoint for accommodating large groups, not to mention potential added costs for specialty local items. While he noted that the hotel is transparent with its clients and works within their budget restrictions, he also said, “They’re definitely willing to pay a bit of an upcharge to get the local product. A lot of the reasons they choose British Columbia [for their events] is because they know what we have available to us [in terms of local food and beverage].”

Nancy Loman Scanlon, associate professor at Florida International University School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, emphasized that local, sustainable products don’t always cost more than conventional alternatives, but giving clients as many options as possible is key. “You can take your customer’s budget and work with it,” she said.

Green initiatives can be cost-effective, Phillips agreed — since Pan Pacific Seattle eliminated plastic water bottles about a year ago, for example, it has saved at least 60% — but she also noted the more subtle ROI for initiatives like its new Zero Meetings offering. “People want to do business with people they trust — whether it’s trusting in good service or good product, but also trusting them as a corporate citizen,” she said. “Building that trust goes a long way. For us, it’s part of who we are, and we see a huge ROI in it.”


Editor’s note: For more about sustainable sourcing strategies in F&B, read the July issue of HOTELS.