Sustainability Made Sexy in NYC

Jill Taub Drury

Sustainability – it’s on everyone’s mind. In addition to the idealism fueling the eco-friendly movement, big companies like Wal-Mart, Kraft Foods, and Nestle are now really stepping up their game. It’s no longer just the right thing to do – it also makes business sense.

Led by Jill Taub Drury and the team at Drury Design Dynamics, the New York Metro Chapter of ISES (International Special Events Society) presented its second annual Sustainability Summit at the Rubin Museum of Art this past Tuesday, April 3rd. The ambitious late afternoon/evening program included educational workshops, presentations and an expert panel discussion. After being well educated and inspired, attendees were invited to mingle with experts and other guests in a stylish alternative to the traditional trade show floor, dubbed “Marketplace 2.0.” Add the sumptuous offerings of Stephen Starr Events (cold curried pea soup topped with lobster and an assortment of local artisan cheeses were among my personal favorites), and you get a sense of just how luxurious sustainability can really be!

The handiwork of Stephen Starr Events

For ISES, an organization of event professionals, it was vital to show that sustainability as a goal and a practice is not only attainable, but contains within it endless possibilities for creative expression. On aesthetics alone, this summit proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that sustainability can be sexy. Moreover, through well presented data and practical instruction, attendees learned that the event industry can indeed adopt sustainable practices that will support us in delivering quality to our clients while at the same time enhancing our events in many ways.

The mandate for change is clear. According to the EPA, behind the building and construction industry, the meeting and event industry is ranked the second most wasteful in the country. Clearly we can do better! Tensie Whelan, president of the Rainforest Alliance, explained that many of the positive changes that are now taking place with suppliers in the global agricultural sector have been in response to industry demand, fueled by consumer consciousness. In our industry, event planners and producers may hold the key to driving increased sustainability practices by vendors and manufacturers of event related goods and services.

Tensie Whelan, President of the Rainforest Alliance

With an impressive commitment to reduce their carbon footprint by 50% by the year 2013, Bloomberg LLP is a corporate leader in adopting sustainability standards. Sustainability Manager Lee Ballin illustrated this in detail. By creating an entire corporate culture devoted to sharing, promoting and demonstrating the benefits of practices such as more efficient waste disposal, reduced energy consumption and repurposing used materials wherever possible, Bloomberg has demonstrated the cost saving benefits of such measures. According to Ballin, for every $1 invested in environmental management, the company has saved $2 in operating costs. Since 2008, they have measured and tracked $25 million in savings!

Lee Ballin with New Amsterdam Market founder Robert LaValva, Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy's No. 43 and Food Karma Projects and moderator Paul Neuman of Neuman's Catering

While it is generally agreed that there are upfront costs in making equipment and supply upgrades to facilitate new practices, it has also been shown that after the first couple of years, these investments are usually earned back in savings that continue well beyond the point of expense recoupment. Plus, as a bonus, adopting practices that support a healthy environment just makes sense for everyone!

So what are the takeaways for us as event professionals? How do we work with our clients to adopt more sustainable practices at our events? How do we convince our suppliers and vendors that incorporating a wellness lens into our collective thinking is good for all of us?

Here are a few things I learned:

– Consumers (and that includes clients) are generally in favor of companies that care about them. Adopting sustainability practices shows that we care about our environment and our community.
– One easy way to encourage recycling is to take away individual garbage cans from employees, exhibitors, etc. and install clearly marked community receptacles. There’s nothing like group pressure to make sure people aren’t throwing recyclable materials into the bin marked, “LANDFILL.”
– The use of LED lights saves energy and money!
– Recyclable building materials such as homasote and masonite are a great alternative to plywood.
– Reusable metals and other leftover construction materials as well as rented items help cut down on waste.
– Instead of firing non-compliant vendors, we can give them feedback about their practices and incentives to make positive changes. These interactions can be teaching moments!
– Paying more attention to temperature control in our venues to avoid overheating or overcooling can save fuel and money.
– Locally grown produce and other regionally produced food items support local agriculture and manufacturing, stimulate local economies, and offer some of the healthiest choices for our guests.

Here in New York City, meeting and event planners have a lot to learn from our friends in the food and restaurant world, many of whom have already made great strides in their practices. With our thriving green markets, the New Amsterdam Market and a growing emphasis on supporting local farmers and food purveyors by chefs and caterers, we have great partners already willing to share their practices with us.

With the recent creation of the Convention and Industry Council’s APEX Green Meeting Standards, we now have specific guidelines with which to work. Event professionals, there’s no more excuse. It’s sexy. It’s affordable. It’s specific. Sustainability is here to stay!!

If you attended the ISES Sustainability Summit and want to share your experience and/or additional take-aways, please leave a comment!

All photos courtesy of Greg Baker

About Deborah Pannell

Deborah is the Director of Communications at eventwist, where she puts her event production background to good use growing a community of venues and event planners on Feel free to chat with her about anything related to events, production or pizza (which transcends everything) or follow her on twitter @projectmaven.
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3 Responses to Sustainability Made Sexy in NYC

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  3. James Watson says:

    In addition to the takeaways the Deborah presented, it’s also very important to bring talk of sustainability into the earlier stages of event planning – for example when choosing a venue or catering company. Questions you can ask the venue may be whether they’re powered with renewable energy sources or what kind of waste diversion rates they can achieve. For caterers, you could ask about local food or organic waste procedures.

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