Choosing a Smart and Sustainable Venue

Events can take place almost anywhere, from hotel ballrooms, suites, and conference centers to unique venues such as museums, concert halls, blank spaces, and ballparks.

While many sustainably-minded planners focus on greening individual components of their events such as catering, transportation, décor and waste management, venue selection should never be overlooked as an important step in the greening process, and many times lays the foundation for success in other areas.

Why is the venue you choose so influential? First it is important to understand the environmental footprint of buildings. Buildings are responsible for more than 40 percent of global energy use and one third of global greenhouse gas emissions, both in developed and developing countries.1 The primary driver of this energy use and resulting emissions comes from the heating, cooling, lighting, and ventilation of the building, not to mention the use of appliances.

During this activity buildings emit halocarbons, another non-CO2 – yet profoundly destructive and ozone-depleting – greenhouse gas. Halocarbons are oftentimes overlooked when talking about greenhouse gases, but of all the greenhouse gases, they absorb the greatest quantity radiation that enters our atmosphere.2  This ultimately results in warmer, disruptive climates.

In addition to the energy consumed, the amount of waste generated from hotel and venue operations is significant. Solid waste materials typically generated from hotel operations include organics (food waste), recyclables, compostables, electronic waste and durable goods (furniture, microwaves, mattresses and carpet). According to the Waste Management World, a UK-based organization, hotels generate 1kg (2.2 lbs) of waste per guest, per night. Consider doubling this number if you’re housing both your guests and your conference in the same hotel.

Promising Advances

There are many venues out there leading the way in environmental stewardship. In a recent trip to Las Vegas, Nevada I stayed at the Mandalay Bay. As I walked around, I didn’t see any recycling bins, but instead signage that said “We Do the Recycling For You.” The sustainable planner in me was intrigued. The skeptic in me required a tour.

I met with Joseph Jolly, the Recycling Manager, who gave me a tour of the back-of-house operations. Here I witnessed the hotel’s solid waste loaded onto a conveyor belt where Mandalay Bay staff manually sorted and separated landfill items and recyclables.

But it doesn’t stop there. I was impressed to learn that the Mandalay Bay’s asset recovery system prevents the disposal of ashtrays, coffee mugs, silverware and other hotel property. These items are commercially cleaned and introduced back into the hotel’s inventory. All discarded and unclaimed luggage, clothing, phones, watches and glasses are donated to local charities. Kitchen grease is donated to Darling International, for use as biodiesel at nearby farms, and excess food that cannot be donated to local shelters is sent to nearby pig farms.

In summary, the Mandalay Bay’s hotel operations are able to divert 44% of their total solid waste from the landfill, and the convention side of the hotel is able to divert 81% of their solid waste from the landfill!

What to Ask Your Venue

You don’t have to go all the way to Las Vegas to find sustainable hotels. Third party certifications such as Green Seal and the US Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) allow you to identify sustainable hotels.

If your hotel or venue isn’t third-party certified, you can still ask smart questions that will allow you to assess how “green” a property is and how easy it might be to work with them to execute a sustainable meeting:

  •  Do you have a sustainability policy or fact sheet you can share with me?
  • Do you have a “green team” at your property?
  • Are the hotel or venue’s staff trained to identify and execute sustainable practices?
  • Do you use on-site or off-site renewable energy sources (e.g., solar, geothermal, wind, biomass, biogas, hydro) to power your hotel? What %?
  • Do you purchase carbon offsets to mitigate any non-renewable energy use? What %?
  • Do you recycle? Compost?
  • Do you donate any un-served, un-opened food to local charities?
  • Do you donate signage, bags, and other left over event supplies to community groups?
  • Do you donate soap and bottled amenities to a charity or hotel soap reclamation program?
  • Do you use ASTM 6400 compostable food serving ware when dishware is not available?
  • Does your audiovisual company use Energy Star rated equipment, LED lighting, or energy-efficient LCD screens?
  • Do you have low-flow water closets and showerheads installed to reduce water consumption?
  • Do you have a green cleaning policy? Are all your cleaning products third-party certified?
  • Is the venue in close proximity to public transportation? (Eliminating the need to hire vehicles to move your guests around)

Additional questions to ask your venue can be found in the US Green Building Council’s Green Venue Selection Guide at www.usgbc.org/venueguide.

In the United States alone, hotels represent more than 5 billion square feet of space, nearly 5 million guest rooms, and close to $4 billion in annual energy use. Business meetings in the United States constitute a $175 billion industry, and Americans make more than 400 million long-distance business trips each year.6

Remember, as a planner and valued hotel client, you have the power to increase awareness about sustainable venue and meeting practices – you vote with your dollar! The more you demand sustainable practices from your venues and suppliers, the more they will see a market opportunity and invest in meeting it.


Vanessa Ferragut                                                                             Cara Unterkofler 

Founder and Senior Event Planner                                             Sustainable Event Advisor

Ferragut Event Group, LLC                                                            LEGACY Sustainability Management


Reference Sources:

1.     “Buildings and Climate Change: Summary for Decision Makers” UNEP Sustainable Business and Climate Initiative

Link: http://www.unep.org/sbci/pdfs/SBCI-BCCSummary.pdf

2.     “Climate Change Connections – Greenhouse Gases” Climate Change Connection

Link: http://www.climatechangeconnection.org/science/Greenhousegases.htm#Halocarbons

3.    “Building and Their Impact on The Environment: A Statistical Study” Environmental Protection Agency.

Link: http://www.epa.gov/greenbuilding/pubs/gbstats.pdf

4. “Green Hotels: Opportunities and Resources,” by Zero Waste Alliance

Link: http://www.zerowaste.org/publications/GREEN_HO.PDF

5. “A welcome sign: Hotels adopt reuse and recycling,” by Waste Management World

Link: http://www.waste-management-world.com/index/display/article-display/271254/articles/waste-management-world/volume-7/issue-7/features/a-welcome-sign-hotels-adopt-reuse-and-recyclin

6. “Green Venue Selection Guide” Green Building Industry Council

Link: http://www.usgbc.org/ShowFile.aspx?DocumentID=6275


Green Guiding Principles: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

“Reduce, reuse, recycle.” We’ve all heard the phrase before. And we’ve all seen the chasing arrows symbol on the bottom of our solo cups, the back of our folders, and on every advertisement encouraging us to recycle.  But do the chasing arrows mean more than just recycling? And is there a reason the words are in that particular order?

Yes. The chasing arrows represent a cradle-to-cradle concept that encourages consumers to put that product back into production, or reuse.  It can either mean that the product is made of recycled content, or that the product is recyclable, or it can mean both! But the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is more than a catchy slogan the waste industry came up with. It’s a guiding principle applicable to every component in event and meeting planning. Most importantly there is a reason that these three words are in this order. One of the three guiding principles happens to be the most cost-effective, has the least environmental impact, and adds the greatest sustainable benefit to your meeting or event.

Can you think of which one it is?

If you guessed “reduce” you’re absolutely correct. Reducing your need for that item eliminates the need to ever have to dispose of it afterwards. Imagine never having to throw something out, ship something back, or store something afterwards.

Yet, as an event and meeting professional, we’re never going to be able to reduce our need for everything at events.  Your meeting participants may require the presentation in print format. They may expect to take their coffee or bottled waters to go. But being a savvy and sophisticated event planner on the verge of green greatness you can slowly weed out those items that are completely unnecessary.

For example, can your participants do without an agenda for each of the meetings? Instead can you have this printed up in poster format and placed around the room, or can you have table tents with the agenda placed on each table for participants to share? Can you provide the attendees with the presentation on USB drives? Add your company logo to the USB drive and this doubles as a clever giveaway. Can you substitute pitchers of filtered water for hundreds of water bottles?  Ask your caterers to provide ceramic mugs and glasses. Another option is reducing the amount of meat served at events. This simple act can save you money and reduces the environmental impacts associated with the livestock industry.

And lastly, if you have an event for 100 people, fight the urge to order 200 giveaways. You save yourself time and money not having to ship and store the excess items after your event!

Secondary to reduce is reuse. Before you throw out that item, ask yourself if the product has a second or third life left in it. Ideas of things to reuse at your events are name badges, binders, and other event supplies. A box of Avery 50-pack nametags is $50. By carefully saving the name badges from your previous event, you have saved yourself time in ordering – and money in buying – an entire new set.

Other things you can reuse would be posters and signage. By not including your meeting’s date and location you can use that poster numerous times for future events. Simply consider a poster with your logo and event title (if it is the same year after year), and ask your print shop to affix a clear plastic holder/folder that you can use to insert a print out of the date and location details in an 8 ½ x 11.

And lastly, is recycle. Although recycle is the last of the guiding principle’s most environmentally beneficial options, it is still an essential alternative to the landfill. But recycling isn’t just about the end of that product’s life cycle. It can be the beginning, too. For this reason recycling is two-fold.

When you could not avoid purchasing the items (reduce), or plan to reuse that item for a subsequent meeting or event, always consider recycling the items. Recycling eliminates trash from ending up in the landfill, and when purchasing products made from recycled content you are conserving natural resources that would have otherwise been mined, drilled, shipped, burnt, to make that product again. Since 1970 we have mined more that one-third of the earth’s resources! Buying products made of post-consumer waste conserves those limited resources we have left and also saves energy!

Yes, it’s true. Recycling plastics use 90 percent less energy than manufacturing that plastic from scratch. Recycling glass use two-thirds less energy. And recycling paper uses about 60 percent less energy…and saves a lot of trees, too!

Ideas of recycling at your event is to purchase binders, giveaways, paper, posters, etc made from 100 percent post-consumer waste. If you can’t find 100 percent try the next highest content (70-80 percent). Secondly, ask your venue or caterer if they recycle and if not, can they recycle specifically for your event? Adding important green initiatives like this to your request for proposals (RFPs) demonstrates the clear shift to a greener way of planning, and prepares our venues, vendors, and suppliers for the demand and ultimately encourages best green practices across the event and meeting industry.

As the event and meeting professionals we drive the demand. By demanding more sustainable products and options we push the industry to shift towards a greener way of thinking.

So no matter what sustainable menu you have planned, or what green suppliers and venues you’re working with, just incorporating these three guiding principles – reduce, reuse, recycle into you next event will have you well on your way to planning a green event – and saving you some time and money!


Holiday Issue: Green Gift Ideas

Trying to come up with names gifts for environmentally-friendly gifts is one thing; eco-holiday gifts, eco-giving, green-giving, etc.

Identifying that gift is another.

As an event planner, my clients often turn to me for recommendations on greener gift options for their event and meeting participants.  I find that the same process I use in considering giveaways for my clients can easily be applied to holiday gift shopping for my own family and friends.

First and foremost, consider a useful gift. Yes, while I agree that this is a no-brainer, you wouldn’t believe the number of tchotchkes I see handed out at events, or the number of useless items I myself have inherited over the years.  Thinking about it, the lifecycle of this product – prior to my ripping off the wrapping paper – has already far exceeded the time it will take before it’s discarded to spend its remaining life in a landfill.

Some recommendations are: customized or unique reusable water bottles, such as my favorite, Sigg; or chic and stylish reusable bags, such as Enviro Sax.  From a business perspective, providing your event participants with a useful item, branded with your logo, is the best way to make your money work for you.  Now your event participants are a walking advertisement of your business! From a personal perspective, how good does it feel when you see your friends actually using, or wearing, what you bought them?

Next, think about the ingredients, fabrics, and materials that went into that product.  Is it made of plastic?  Is it organic, or non-toxic?

The manufacturing of plastics involves a heavy fuel-oil process.  Plastics will never biodegrade completely.  When not recycled, they end up in the landfill.  When they miss the landfill, they end up in our waterways.   An excellent resource to learn more about our dependence of plastic is Addicted to Plastic, a DVD documentary on that very topic.   Pair that with a water bottle and you have a thought-provoking, useful and fabulous gift idea!

Is that item you’ve chosen organic, natural, or non-toxic?  I often hear “But these things cost more.” I get it.  Well, of course they do.  For now.  As consumers we drive the demand.  The more we demand products that are safe and natural, the more the market will adjust to our needs, driving the costs for the products down.  I see this often when ordering bamboo USB drives for my clients, instead of plastic or metal drives, or tote bags made of recycled materials as opposed to virgin materials.

Also, purchasing gifts made of recycled content means that no natural resources were made to create that product.  Since 1970 we have mined, drilled, and cut down 1/3 (one third!!!) of the earth’s natural resources.  At this rate, we must consider sourcing products made of recycled content, or soon we’ll have nothing else to extract!

Products made out of recycled content can be chic and fabulous, too.  Take for example Calamarie, a company that combines traditional Colombian art forms and techniques, with recycled materials, to produce beautifully unique women’s accessories.  For more information on shops in DC that sell Calamarie you can email them directly.

And lastly, think local.  There are so many small businesses that have amazing and useful products for family and friends!  When you visit the Think Local First page on Facebook are you surprised that a 1,000+ people “like” this page, or that you have many friends in common? No.  That’s because more and more people understand the importance of injecting money into our own local economies and small businesses!

Also, buying local means that you’re buying the product close to where it was produce, i.e. minimizing the amount of transportation it takes to get to you.

But I’ll leave that for another blog…

One of my favorite local, and sustainable businesses is Herban Lifestyle.  The company offers hand-crafted natural and organic bath and body products.  Herban Lifestyle has an array of products that make excellent stocking stuffers, or full gift sets.  The latest addition to the family – Organic Solid Lotion Bar, a deliciously-smelling, richly emollient solid lotion bar made from Fair Trade organic cocoa butter and scented with organic orange essential oil. It smells like an orange chocolate truffle! They do not contain water and preservatives (that aren’t necessary in soap!) so they can keep for a long time.

So rather than rushing out this season to spend too much money on too many wasteful items, consider modifying your purchasing habits.

While holidays come every year, we only have one earth we can call home.

Happy Holidays!



Take a Bite Out of Climate Change This Holiday Season!

Last holiday I spent days putting together a menu for 30 of our closest friends.  I wanted something good, something eco-friendly, and something that everyone would like.  Well, they say you can’t please them all, but I know I did!

Thinking about it, what were the reasons I wanted an “eco-friendly” menu in the first place?  Does it really affect climate change?  And if so, how?

Isn’t it just easier to convince myself that the beef is already prepared?  The vegetables picked?  The eggs laid?  And therefore somehow my decision to purchase this item has no influence in what’s preceded it ending up in my shopping cart?

Sure it is, and yet it’s not.

Over the years I have perused impacts to the environment in sectors of the event and meeting industry such as transportation, food and beverage, printing, etc.  Tools such as life cycle assessments (LCA) – that life cycle of a product from extraction of natural resources, to manufacturing, to transporting, to consumption, and finally…disposal – provides a wide-screen look at these industries.  The worst one?


And in particular, meat.

The meat industry is an incredibly wasteful industry.  Period.  In looking at the life-cylce of meat – from farm to plate, as they say – it’s evident that our food choices greatly affect the environment.

Leveling forests and cutting down trees to allow land to raise livestock comes with consequences.  Deforestation is the number one reason for climate change!  Also, 26 percent of the earth that isn’t covered in sheets of ice or permafrost is used to rear livestock.  That’s 1/4 of our livable earth!  And it’s used for…animals.

Next, we need to rear the animals.  Fossil fuels are burned to manufacture the fertilizer that grow the crops we feed them.  Also, as funny as this sounds, cow excretions cause methane (20x more potent that carbon dioxide) in addition to polluting nearby waterways.

The animal comes of age in whatever cage or enclosure it’s grown up in, and now has to be slaughtered.  I have to say that in all my research trying to find data on the amount of water and energy used for this process is near impossible, but let’s just say it’s not zero.

Next, we need to get the product to us, the consumer.  But we can’t just ship it.  We need to refrigerate it to stay fresh, as well.  That’s using a lot more energy that just driving it to and fro.

And finally, it’s ready for us - the Consumer, the Golden Arrow of consumption.  And boy, do we love our meat.  According to the National Resource Defense Council, if every American cut out a quarter (1/4) serving of meat a week, that would be the equivalent to savings in greenhouse gases as taking 4-6 millions cars of the road!

Needless to say, that’s one heavy footprint.

Now I’m back in the grocery store.  I, the consumer, have a decision to make.  Should I purchase this product knowing that the preceding impacts have released GHGs that I can not reverse?  Do I choose to ignore this and proceed with my purchase?  Or do I replace that item for an environmentally-friendly alternate?  Have I just realized that I, the consumer, am driving the demand?

The more I purchase using a sustainable mindset, and the more I influence my family, friends, colleagues and clients to do so as well, the closer we are to shifting the demand…and ultimately the supply.

You can start by incorporating this into weekly shopping routines.  Start encouraging visits to the Dupont Farmer’s Market on the way back from brunch with your family and friends.  Another great idea is signing up for Community Supported Agriculture programs that deliver right to your door!

And finally, (and as this event planner will tell you) the greatest step you can take in considering green food alternatives, is to plan your upcoming holiday parties with the environment in mind!


Mother Earth Inspirations: Earth Day Eco-Fashion Show

How do we honor Earth Day?   Some people resolve to start recycling more, greenies update their Facebook status with sustainable tips, article links and witty green-inspired comments, businesses show their corporate social responsibility in the form of events and outreach to their staff, and our nation’s capital holds a large Earth Day celebration on the National Mall…
Rather than limit our recognition to one day, we can reduce our carbon footprint throughout the year by incorporating sustainable habits into our daily routine, such as shopping more sustainably – beginning with our wardrobe.  “Green fashion” doesn’t necessarily mean bamboo tees and hemp shorts.  Go green with a growing list of emerging designers who use alternative fabrics and/or toxic-free production methods to produce stylish, innovative, and functional apparel, shoes, and accessories.  Carbon boutique can help you get started.

Join us on Friday, April 22, 2011 from 6:00pm-9:00pm at Carbon located at 2643 Connecticut Ave NW in Woodley Park for an eco-fashion experience.  Meet Auralis Herrero, of Auralis Studios, a New York-based eco-fashion artist featured in New York Fashion Week September 2010.

Auralis’ brand is committed to sustainable practices that are considerate to the planet.  They pride themselves in making beautifully designed, timeless pieces that are also practical and fashion forward.  They use organic, sustainable, natural or recycled fabrics only.  Also featured will be Filili, accessories whose earrings and necklaces are hand crafted using wire and recycled fabrics – making each piece one-of-a-kind.
Get an exclusive look at their 2011 spring collections for the first time in Washington, DC while enjoying organic wine provided by Calypso Organics, browsing Carbon’s sustainable inventory, learning about My Signature Look’s eco-fashion consulting services and possibly treating yourself to that favorite new spring dress!
See Auralis’ Spring collection at www.auralistudio.com.
Tickets are available at http://earthdayecoshow.eventbrite.com/ or by contacting Vanessa Ferragut at ferraguteventgroup@gmail.com.   A proceed of ticket sales will benefit DC Treads, a volunteer-founded and volunteer-driven initiative designed to keep the art and science of sewing & stitch crafts alive and well in the Washington metropolitan area.
Event services provided by Ferragut Event Group.  Ferragut Event Group understands that an event is as unique as the people who plan and attend them; colleagues, family and friends, and clients.  Meetings and events are an important aspect in business and personal lives. At time these events can overwhelm staff, be over priced, and create an abundant amount of waste and environmental impact.  They strive to provide their clients with superior event planning services all while offering expert advice on the event’s environmental footprint!