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Special Events

Lori Hill on Going Green

More from Lori Hill, Lori Hill Event Productions Inc.

What got you committed to going "green" in your business operations? (Was it the release of the movie "An Inconvenient Truth" in 2006, or where you always eco-aware?)

I’ve always been a big recycler. Sending things to the landfill when they can be reused or recycled gives me chest pains. Shortly after I saw “An Inconvenient Truth,” I went to a clean energy open house at the home of the executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). While there, I purchased my first CFLs (which are still in use) and learned about home energy efficiency. I came home and unplugged everything. From there, I started to look at every aspect of my life-- the food I eat, the clothes I wear, the personal products I use, as well as how I operate my office and run my events. I looked at everything in my office from lighting and electricity usage to office supplies. With my events, I looked at all the components--venue, food and beverage, décor, etc.--and asked, “Am I using the most eco-friendly options out there?” These days, there is an eco-friendly option for just about anything.

What is the scope of your green initiatives? What have you changed about the way you do business to go greener?

  • In the Office
    100 percent wind-powered. It took me 5 minutes online to make this change through my local electric company.
    CFLs in all office lights
    Motion sensors for exterior lights
    When we leave a room, we turn off the light
    Food and Beverage
    Food leftovers are composted
    Beverages provided include organic coffee and tea
    No bottled water, only filtered
    No disposable plates, cups or cutlery
    We try very hard to not use cans or plastic bottles, but if a stray one makes it to the office, it gets recycled
    Linen napkins in restrooms and dining area. If disposables must be used, we use ones made of recycled content
    If we are printing documents that are used internally, we reuse paper that has a blank side
    If we are printing documents that need to be used externally, we use 100 percent recycled paper that is chlorine-free
    If we are photocopying documents, we print on both sides of paper this is 100 percent recycled and is chlorine-free
    When a paper product has been used to its fullest extent, we recycle it--cardboard, envelopes, newspapers, magazines (but never Special Events Magazine!).
    We use the service which stops 80 percent to 95 percent of unwanted junk mail. Other junk mail that can’t be stopped gets recycled.
    Our marketing materials and business cards are printed on 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper with toxic-free toner using 100 percent wind power in a carbon neutral process
    Computers, fax, printer are turned off at end of day (via power strip)
    Personal calendar and large planning calendar are made of recycled products
    We use Cross pens with refills vs. purchasing disposable pens
    We use eco-friendly ink cartridges and toner, which is then recycled
    We use rechargeable batteries, and if nonrechargeable batteries are used, they get recycled
    Whenever possible, we encourage conference calls vs. driving in-person
    We take public transportation (Metro) whenever feasible
    When flying for travel, we purchase carbon offsets
    Our office furniture is antique and reused
    When shopping, we use canvas bags for any kind of shopping for office/event supplies
    We have a low-flow feature on our toilets
  • At Events
    When we rent votive candle holders, we ask the rental company not to send us their petroleum-based candles. We use beeswax candles instead.
    When we rent linens, we return the hangers to the linen company or take them for personal use.
  • Meeting Materials, Supplies, Printed Materials, Signs and Banners
    We make a concerted effort to reuse and recycle any supplies and materials that we have control over (e.g., speaker handouts, tea light candles, etc.) and work with our caterers and venues to ensure that they recycle, too.
    For meeting materials for attendees, we encourage flash drives vs. three-ring binders. If we must use a three-ring binder, we use one made of recycled materials and that has 100 percent recycled paper made of post-consumer waste and chlorine-free.
    We use name badges made of recycled content and then collect name badges at the end of events and reuse the holders and lanyards and recycle the paper inserts.
    If we are involved with the printing of invitations or other collateral materials, we strongly urge the use of paper that is 100-percent post-consumer recycled printed with ink that is vegetable- or soy-based.
    For events with exhibitors, we encourage them to bring only the quantities they need and to print on both sides with recycled paper. We also to encourage them to provide Earth-friendly giveaways.
    For annual events, we reuse signs and banners (we update them with new information) and we have been encouraging clients who have annual meetings to use paper inserts for signs placed outside breakout rooms instead of a separate, new sign for each session.
  • Food and Beverage
    We’ve asked our clients to eliminate bottled water and use filtered instead. We request hotels to not provide disposable containers for coffee but ceramic mugs instead.
    We are making a concerted effort to work with caterers to use locally grown and/or organic food, increased vegetarian options, sustainable seafood, free-range meats (truly free-range!), fair-trade/organic/shade-grown coffee, organic teas, locally brewed beer, organic and/or local wine, organic juices and filtered water instead of bottled. We also point out to them the need for bulk condiments and beverages vs. individual packages. Finally, we discuss with them how they will dispose of excess food (provide to the client or staff or when possible, provide to a soup kitchen).
    Regarding china and disposables, we encourage china whenever possible, but if disposables are the only option, the only option for us is something that is compostable and biodegradable.
    We strongly encourage cloth napkins or those made of recycled content.
  • Floral/Decor
    We return floral containers to our florist as well as any other supplies that are reusable (sand, stones, curly willow, etc.).
    We use locally grown, seasonal and/or native plants and flowers.
    We reuse event supplies and props whenever possible.
    When we use lighting for decor purposes, we work with a vendor who uses LED lights.
  • T-shirts, Guest Gifts
    If t-shirts are required, we encourage organic cotton t-shirts.
    If a client wants to provide a guest gift, we ask them if it is absolutely necessary to have this gift (we all have enough “stuff”!). If it is a must, we encourage them to provide a gift that is useful (flash drive, note pad made of recycled paper, etc.). We also try to support manufacturers in the U.S. vs. one that is oversees and has to ship the product thousands of miles.
  • Venues
    We prefer to work with hotel lines that are eco-friendly (Kimpton, Intercontinental, some of the Marriott properties), but unfortunately, we are often tied to the venue our client selects. In those cases, we do our best to work with that property to make the event or meeting as sustainable as possible.

I can see the program pays off for the environment—how about for your P&L? Does going green cost more or can it be cost-effective? Can you measure its cost-effectiveness?

When it comes to paper, yes, 100 percent recycled paper costs a bit more, but if you reduce your use and reuse a blank side, you won’t need to purchase as much. The same goes for name badges. The versions made of recycled content may cost more, but if you make a concerted effort to collect them at the end of the event in order to reuse them, you will have to reorder those supplies less frequently. Also, guests are always happy to see that we are reusing and recycling. Organic food does cost more, but buying local can cost less. Efforts such as replacing incandescent lights with CFLs may cost money up front, but the payback in savings is very quick. With regards to electricity usage, I noticed no significant change to my electricity bill after switching to wind power.

What are clients’ reaction to your green efforts? Are brides and bar/bat mitzvah parents concerned about going green, or do they make exceptions for these milestone events in their lives?

The majority of my client reactions are really positive. Some roll their eyes and think I’m a little extreme, but they go along with most of my suggestions. It’s an educational process that may take time. Last year for the holidays, I sent my clients and vendors a holiday card made of recycled paper and a tip sheet outlining easy green things they can do in their home that doesn’t cost money. For Earth Day this year, I sent tips for how to be green in your office. The feedback was very positive. People told me they posted the tips on their office doors and in common areas to inspire their co-workers. These efforts make them more aware and encourage them to make their events greener. I’ve had many people tell me I’ve inspired them to be more green, which fuels me to keep spreading the gospel of green!

I know many hotels are bashed for “greenwashing"--that is, taking credit for going green when they are accused of being wasteful in many areas. Do you think this is true or is it unfair?

Some hotel lines, like Kimpton, are way ahead of the curve. Others make small efforts by replacing incandescent lights with CFLs and minimize bottled water usage and call themselves green. From what I’m seeing, the majority could be more comprehensive in their efforts. We all can do so more much and so many things we can do take little or no effort and cost nothing. For example, I’m really disappointed at the lack of recycling in sleeping rooms and in general usage areas. Also, I don’t feel as if hotels enforce the "reuse your towel/linen" program enough with their employees.

Are there any green initiatives you tried that just didn't work out?

I can’t think of any at this time.

What do you say to people in the event industry who complain that truly going green is too expensive and too time-consuming?

This issue affects everyone. I think the problem today is that many people just aren’t aware of the impact of their actions on us now and on our future generations. Our disposable economy is harming our earth and we need to educate people about the impact of their actions.

We need to make these changes now. Yes, some efforts will cost more money, but others will save money which is important in today’s economy. Similarly, some efforts will take time to implement, but once you have vendors and processes in place, it’s easy. Saving money by not using green alternatives won’t do us any good if we don’t have a healthy Earth on which to enjoy those savings.

If a green genius could come up with one product or process for you, what would it be?

I’d love to see somebody invent an eco-friendly alternative to the plastic wrap used by caterers and rental companies. I’d also like to see Earth-friendly fabrics for linen that can be washed a billion times.

What haven’t I asked that I should have?

We need to support vendors who utilize earth-friendly practices and for those who don’t, it’s important to speak up. If our vendors are not providing these services--whether it’s a hotel that doesn’t recycle or use CFLS, or a caterer that doesn’t use earth-friendly disposables--we need to talk to them about making a change. Our vendors need to know that there is a demand for this so that they will make the change and make green alternatives a standard not an option.

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