By Beth Buehler
Colorado is a natural place to book meetings and events that are sustainable. A good number of lodging properties, venues, restaurants, attractions and communities are taking their impact on the world seriously and implementing steps to lessen their footprints in a variety of ways.
Book green-friendly venues and hotels. When shopping for a venue, ask about sustainability initiatives right from the start. When I became editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine nearly 14 years ago, the focus on green meetings kicked into high gear a few years later, and I’m happy to say that sustainability initiatives of various degrees are in place at a majority of Colorado properties. What captures my attention are the next levels of green that stand out from the crowd.
For example, Spa Anjali at The Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa Avon, Vail Valley recently was honored at the Green Spa Network Sustainability Awards as a Top Wellness Center. Spa Anjali uses only organic and natural treatment products and sources locally whenever possible and offers a “Green Check In” program, where resort guests receive $10 off for arriving at a spa appointment in their guest room robe. There also is an extensive recycling program and commitment to using natural products and cleaning methods.
Treat attendees to a delicious outing to Sweet Action Ice Cream in Denver’s historic Broadway district and know the ingredients haven’t been shipped from afar. Sweet Action starts with all-natural Colorado dairy ingredients and works with local purveyors, farmers and bakers to source other products; plus, the business is entirely powered by wind and uses compostable and recyclable packaging.
Offer attendees ways to participate in going green. Ultimately, most (if not all) attendees want to help reduce the impact of a gathering, whether it’s a meeting, wedding, incentive trip or family reunion. Make how they can help and what steps organizers are taking very obvious. Instead of offering bottled drinks and water, provide reusable water bottles and non-breakable glasses that can be filled at water stations. One of my favorite conference gifts at a Public Relations Society of America tourism-focused conference was a heavy-duty plastic cup with an infuser, lid and straw. During breaks there was always an area with diced fruits and fresh herbs to add into the infuser for tasty and healthy water.
Instead of pre-stuffing conference bags and assuming people want all the swag, I like how the Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference sets it up on tables in the registration area for attendees to circle around and take what they want. For nicer items—like the infusing cups or the Silipint cups usable for hot or cold liquids that were handed out at “Gov Con” last year—hand them out to attendees as they check in and use permanent markers to inscribe their names. There were only a few cups at the end of the conference that didn’t get matched up with their owners and brought home!
Also, find a sponsor so that conference bags also can be extra nice, so people want to bring them home and use them again. For example, at the Colorado Meetings + Events Best of Colorado annual awards celebration a few years ago, Vail Resorts provided higher-end bags made from nice fabrics that fold up small; they have found a place in my car’s glove compartment for frequent shopping use.
At the hotel, see if an incentive is available when guests forego housekeeping for a day. For example, groups that stay overnight at the recently renovated Ridgeline Hotel Estes Park can participate in the property’s “opt-out” program and receive a free drink at the hotel’s onsite restaurant, Latitude 105 Alehouse.
Look at ways to lessen food waste. Not long ago, I wrote about We Don’t Waste, an organization in Denver that picks up unused food items from participating attractions like Denver Zoo, Denver Botanic Gardens and Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park as well as caterers, hotels and wholesale distributors. The food is then delivered to all sorts of worthy nonprofits along Colorado’s Front Range. Find out if the property you are booking participates and let participants know. I also love that chefs at venues like the Colorado Convention Center in Denver and Omni Interlocken Hotel in Broomfield have gardens right outside the door for fresh produce, herbs and honey that are harvested as needed and don’t require transportation other than walking!
It’s difficult to eliminate all food waste, so Ridgeline Hotel recently added a new biotech digester and used it for a general managers conference for its parent company, Delaware North. The digester processed over 1,380 pounds of food scraps during the event and 200 additional pounds went to a local compost facility. Overall organizers diverted 90 percent of waste (5,600 pounds or 4 dumpster loads) produced by the event by also diligently recycling and donating leftover food and providing it to employees.
Schedule activities that honor the outdoors. The Colorado Tourism Office and Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics have released a jointly developed set of principles aimed at guiding leisure and business travelers to show care for the state’s water, land and wildlife and help protect Colorado’s special places.
Make sure your group and any outfitters hired are following these thoughtful practices, and even lend a hand through meaningful team-building activities that improve and maintain local trails and campgrounds, plant trees and clear trash and debris around local waterways. Consider non-motorized outdoor activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, hiking, fly-fishing and kayaking to enjoy the outdoors up close and personal and in a simple fashion. Once attendees step into all the beauty that Colorado or any state offers, they are even more likely to do everything possible to keep their surroundings green.
These are just a few ideas of how to create a sustainable meeting that organizers and attendees can be proud of from start to finish.
Beth Buehler is editor of Colorado Meetings + Events and Mountain Meetings magazines, has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado in all seasons.