Recycling bins ready to go at the 2008 Democratic National Convention

Over the past year, we've noticed that the blogs and the trade magazines have used terms like "Green Meetings," "Green Event Planning," and "Sustainable Event Management" with increasing frequency.

But just what does it mean to produce a "green" meeting? Are there any real standards that meeting planners need to follow in order to call their meetings and events "green," or is it all just "Greenwashing"? Is it a PR ploy to make the companies and organizations producing meetings and events seem more environmentally conscious, when in their day to day operations they may not actually be practicing what they preach?

To get a better perspective on this issue, we reached out to some folks in the meetings industry, and had a chat with Jaime Nack, president of Three Squares Inc., an environmental consulting agency that helped out with such large events as Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, and the Democratic National Conventions in 2012 and 2008. Jaime and her team also did the logistics and greening for the last two conferences for the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC). Says Tamara Kennedy, executive director of GMIC, Jaime's team was "Phenomenal and helped us exceed some of our greening goals by working with the local team" at the conference. From her, we learned a lot about just what it means to put on green meetings and events.

Jaime Nack

First of all, green meetings and events aren't just greenwashing. While there may indeed be some greenwashing out there, sustainable event management goes far beyond the surface PR ploy. In fact, according to what we found, many companies actually want to keep their green agendas private.

"For a lot of [our] clients," says Jaime, "It's just something that's part of their internal fiber or their corporate culture and so they want to make sure that they're walking the talk and they're doing it right. But it might not be something that they want to promote externally for fear that if they promote that they're doing X someone might try to dig deeper and say 'Well, what about Y and Z?'"

Many organizations may want to be more sustainable and more green, but they may not be able to comply with all the rigorous industry standards all at once. Thus, smaller gestures like producing a green event can be misinterpreted by the press who say that ABC Corp. is greenwashing when really they're just taking the first small steps toward sustainability. Because of this, many companies and organizations will keep their green initiatives, including their green events, private affairs.

The Lasting Impact of Green Meetings and Events

"That's all well and good," you might say. "But what kind of lasting impact do green meetings and events actually have?" After all, an event is a one-off deal, and while it's nice to produce one sustainable event, what about all the other events out there that aren't sustainable? Couldn't our efforts be better directed elsewhere?

Colorado Convention Center Recycling Station

When talking with Jaime, however, we found that one of the most rewarding aspects of her job was actually the lasting impact her events had. By showing venue staff, (kitchen staff, housekeeping staff, facilities staff, etc.) easy ways to make their event more sustainable, they were then able to adopt those practices for future events regardless of whether or not those future events were planned with sustainability in mind. It's this very light bulb going off, this idea that venue staff and even the people attending the meeting can adopt the same sustainability practices themselves, that is most rewarding for the green event planner.

As Three Squares continues to produce events, the more impact they have. The Colorado Convention Center, for example, kept compost stations on as part of their system ever since the Democratic Convention there in 2008, an event where Jaime and her team helped manage sustainability practices. Also, several smaller hotels whose staff Jaime's team trained decided to keep doing what they were advised to do simply because it made sense as far as sustainability was concerned.

"[Event professionals] live and thrive on that rush of the events coming up--but then when it's over, it's over, and we move on to the next one" says Jaime. "We kind of wish that we had a little bit more impact than the couple of hours when folks were there on-site at the event. So I think this allows you to have that impact…and leave a legacy behind."

What Can Planners Do to Make Their Meetings and Events More Sustainable?

We've covered the "why" of green meetings and events, but what about the "how?" If you're an event planner and you're reading this, how do you get started making your events more sustainable?

We put this question to Jaime and she said that that the key to starting out in the sustainability biz is research. Look at the industry standards that are out there and start to familiarize yourself with those standards and with the tools and resources that are available online.

Once you've familiarized yourself with the standards, "You're able to make choices," says Jaime, "Simple choices: food that you order for menus and choosing not to buy materials that are made thousands and thousands of miles away and shipped over with maybe not fair labor laws in that country. You have the choice and the way of making recommendations and finding and sourcing locally and being able to even price match."

When choosing a meeting space, consider sustainable venues like the io/LA meeting space pictured above. Just so you know, you can use eVenues' advanced search feature to find sustainable and LEED certified venues in the cities where we list venues ;)

Jaime emphasizes that planners are the ones spending money, either "their money or spending their clients money, and they can do it in a way where it's having a positive impact." Having the right knowledge is the way to begin making this impact.

Sustainable Meetings and Events: How the Pros Do It

Green event planners are generally hired to do two things: Plan green events or meetings from the ground up, or to be brought in to manage the sustainability aspect of larger events.

Obviously, when planning an event from the ground up, a lot of the decisions you make will be the same. Now, however, you'll be adding sustainability to the list of criteria you have when making a decision about this or that venue and this or that supplier.

In these situations, Jaime and her team are essentially setting the tone from the venue RFP (Request for Proposal) stage on out. They write their specs into the venue RFP and then once they get proposals back from hotels or convention centers they have site visits with those that rank highest according to their own criteria.

On those site visits, they look at everything: from energy, waste, water and transportation to the distance of the venue to the airport. They have a process of doing a site assessment and diving into those details with whomever the venue contact might be so that the venues can follow the correct practices that they need to have in place in order to earn their business.

For those managing just the sustainability aspect of an event, on the other hand, the job is very similar. Planners will most likely be in the conversations about sustainability practices with whomever the lead is on the planning or production side rather than with the suppliers themselves.

While the event planner may be making sure that they're providing enough food for everyone in the room, a sustainability consultant will be looking at what types what type of food is being served. Is it local produce? What types of fish are on the menu? They'll have language that they'll advise their clients to write into all of the BEOs (Banquet Event Orders) which provides bulleted lists of the the types of items that are preferred, like actual spoons instead of wooden stir sticks for coffee, and linen napkins instead of paper napkins. Furthermore, they'll be working hand in hand with the banquet staff to ensure all waste is being cleared in a way that's in line with sustainability standards.

A Bigger Impact Than You Think

Considering that it contributes nearly a trillion dollars to the U.S. economy, the meetings industry is no small potato. Considering how much water, electricity, and fuel gets consumed and how much waste gets produced for all these meetings and events to run smoothly, the consequences to the environment can't be small.

Because of this, it's important that event planners start thinking about sustainability. Planners have the power to encourage venues and suppliers to adopt sustainability practices, practices which will remain in place long after whatever event they happened to have planned is over. Now is the time for planners to to utilize this power and educate more and more people about sustainability and its importance.

Don't know where to start? Try some of these resources:

The 2012 Tampa Republican National Convention

The 2012 Republican National Convention

Televised debates, political rallies, straw polls, town hall meetings, $10,000 a plate fundraisers, and national conventions can be a logistical nightmare. It takes real skill, focus and years of experience to successfully plan for all contingencies and organize all the details.

With the presidential elections just around the corner, we decided to investigate just what goes into a political event, what makes them so challenging, and what it takes to successfully pull one off.

We reached out through our network here at eVenues and got in touch with Julie Ann Schmidt, meeting planner and managing partner at Lithium Logistics. In addition to many state and city level political events, Julie Ann has done work for the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, the 2011 Iowa Straw Poll, as well as managing logistics for the South Dakota Delegation to the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.

Julie Ann Schmidt

Julie Ann Schmidt, CMP, CMM

We chatted over the phone and Julie Ann was kind enough to share with us her considerable knowledge of political events. We talked about how she got involved with political events, and discussed just what makes political events different from “regular” events. Finally, Julie Ann also shared some war stories about hurricanes and attempted glitter bombings–more about those below.

Getting Involved in Political Events

While Julie Ann had experience in politics in Wayzata, a smaller city in Minnesota, the job was largely apolitical. Because she wanted to get involved in more politically oriented events, however, she eventually passed up on a promotion and started pitching her services to officials within the party she affiliated herself with.

She told them: “I can door knock. I can work the phone bank just like anyone else, but I can be of more value to you if I’m helping you save money on your events, reduce the risk on your events [and] plan more logistically tight events…Let me bring you the skill set I have because you don’t have that resource as in-depth on your team.”

And that’s how it all started. through her local government connections and by promoting her services as a planner, Julie Ann was given an opportunity in 2008 to work for the RNC in the capacity of the committee on arrangements (COA). The COA is the company that gets formed to execute the RNC every four years. For Democrats it’s the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC). These entities get formed in the city where where a convention is to take place. They hire staff, they employ them, they run the business, then after the convention happens, they close the business.

For Julie, Ann working for the COA was a “Phenomenal opportunity. I knew at the time it was once in a lifetime and I look back and it was THE once in a lifetime [opportunity]…When you work on something that big it’s it’s a big, very big event. I really think the only thing bigger is an Olympics. But yet it’s not as big as an Olympics so that you can still understand the whole event and get to know every part of it,” says Julie Ann.

Political Events: It’s all about connections

As far as doing work for political events, one opportunity has lead to the next. “You work on something, you meet somebody, and all of a sudden there’s another opportunity,” says Julie. Ann

All of Julie Ann’s political business has been referral. She gave one example of how she did some work for the Republican Party of Minnesota’s State Conventions. It just so happened that one of the people she worked with on a State convention became the executive director for South Dakota. Through that connection she was later hired to do their conventions as well.

What Makes Political Events Different?

Political events are a special breed, and while many elements of planning a political event are the same as they are for regular events, there are a few differences. The main areas where differences can be seen are with security, press, the agendas and flow of the events, and it goes without saying, the politics.


Political event planners will often look at security in a different way. For a State Convention the main floor space is just for voting delegates or alternates, so the space needs to be controlled This requires security to control a few access points and it helps keep people who are not credentialed off the floor.

Votes are oftentimes voice votes. If a vote count is needed, people will be asked to stand up and have their vote counted manually. State conventions want to ensure that only the elected delegates or their alternates get to vote, so they’ll often have their own security people doing things in addition to what you think of as traditional security tasks.

Glitter bombing, or the act of dumping glitter on a candidate or political figure as a form of protest, can also be a concern. In fact, during the midwest leadership conference in 2011 that Julie Ann planned, they had had a number of high level speakers and an awareness of potential glitter bombers and they even had pictures of who those people were.

At this particular event, they had someone try to glitter Karl Rove. Since security was on the alert for them, they knew kind of what signs to look for. The glitter bomber approached Karl with a Triscuit box full of glitter but because they were watching, they were able to stop him, knock the box of glitter down, and none of it got on Karl Rove.

After the attempted glittering, they were able to then contain the person and ask Karl, the client putting on the event, and the venue if they wanted to press charges, which, says Julie “is something you’d never do at a corporate event.” The outcome of that was that Karl and the client didn’t press charges but the venue did press trespassing charges because the glitterer had hit somebody else at their building before, “Because,” explains Julie, ”from their point of view as a venue, he’s being dangerous and disruptive [and] could make clients not want to come.”

The Press

The press is another element for meeting planners to be aware of. “Rarely do you have press show up at a corporate annual meeting and you certainly don’t have press risers and mult boxes at the back for multiple cameras or a sectioned-off area of the floor for press,” says Julie Ann.

If you’re doing a convention or similar event you’ll be giving space on the floor to press and that’s something you’ll have to plan for. If you’re doing something in a more open area like the Iowa Straw Poll, however, you’re not controlling a space for press, but they’ll be present at the event. They might be coming to your space and interviewing people and things like that, and that’s something to be aware of.

Agendas and Flow

Corporate events follow a pretty much set pattern. There’s a general session, breakouts, another general session and then meals afterwards. For the most part the audience is there to learn and hear material, not to discuss any issues or make a proposal. With the exception of Q&A, it’s pretty much one sided.

Political events, on the other hand, can be quite different. “With state conventions, more so than national conventions,” says Julie Ann, “[there is] a little more of a give and take with the audience and the presenters, so agendas can be different and have a different style and flow…You’re having reports on rules and dialogue from the floor [and] proposals” This give-and-take aspect can make the agendas very different than a regular event.

The Politics (Of Course)

Another thing for planners to watch out for that Julie Ann mentioned is that individual personalities tend to be a bit stronger in a political environment than what you might encounter in a more toned down corporate or association environment. While there may be some politics involved in planning a corporate or association event, rarely do you have three candidates who are running for the same spot staying in the same hotel. The question of course arises as to who gets which suite and how to make everything seem fair.

The 2012 RNC: A “Perfect Storm” of Challenges

Hurricane Isaac Approaching Tampa before the 2012 RNC

As you may know, being an event planner is all about planning for contingencies and putting out fires, and with events the size of a national convention, the scale of these fires can increase to epic proportions.

The 2012 Tampa RNC was no exception. There was a lot of reworking of the agenda due to the potential of Hurricane Isaac coming to town. “That was a real challenge,” says Julie Ann, “cancelling buses, moving bus times, and everyone’s doing it…the bus company’s getting 40 phone calls from people…different state delegations that need to move their buses.”

Because of the bus problem Julie Ann and her team also had to rework a lot of the details in the agenda they had prepared for their delegation. “All the plans we had kind of went out the window,” says Julie Ann, “and you’re just reacting to things as they happen…It was challenging but everything really worked out and given me and my team’s experience, we were able to really give our clients the best and advice and make the best changes…and react to the different changes that were happening day to day.”

Who Really Makes it Happen?

In the coming weeks when you watch the televised presidential debates and other poltical events, take a moment to think about all the work that went behind the scenes. What did it take to bring all those people together? Where did those thousands of red, white, and blue balloons come from? Who sold them? Who ordered them? Who put the security in place? Who prepared for the press? Who organized hotel rooms and meals for the thousands of people attending? Behind the fanfare and spectacle, there are hundreds and hundreds of phone calls being made, RFPs being submitted, contracts being signed, rooms being reserved, and tickets being bought. It’s the meeting planner who makes all that happen. Take a moment to think about that.