That was the reaction of Elizabeth Holland, M.D., an RSNA member and self-described environmental advocate from River Forest, Ill., during a coffee break at a large group meeting she attended in a Chicago hotel. Curious, she approached the concierge. “I explained that we were a captive audience—no one was taking their coffee out of the building,” she said. “I asked if it would be possible to use china mugs instead, and the hotel agreed. I’ve found that if you ask politely, people don’t turn you down.”
Changing to china from paper cups is one among myriad examples small and large of how planners, venue operators, vendors and even attendees are working to reduce the environmental impact of large gatherings like the RSNA annual meeting. According to the Beaverton, Ore.-based Green Meetings Industry Council, the “green meeting” reduces waste, increases efficiency and supports the local community while still achieving goals like education, advocacy and social networking.
The RSNA annual meeting is particularly green, thanks to the efforts of its vendors, volunteers, attendees and staff. Green meeting efforts during RSNA 2012 resulted in 250 tons of material—some 70 percent of the waste generated during the meeting, including recyclables such as fiber, compost, bottles and cans—diverted from the landfill. The environmental impact of the 2012 activities can also be described as saving 3,800 trees, 86,000 gallons of oil, 929,000 kilowatts of electricity and 1.6 million gallons of water.
“With a green meeting, from the very moment you begin planning you are cognizant of the least environmental impact you can have,” said Dr. Holland, who volunteers on environmentally focused projects in her local community and has helped RSNA expand the green efforts it began about seven years ago. “Even the question of how you communicate is an environmental one—do you use paper or do you go completely electronic?”
Providing materials electronically is a big part of efforts to reduce the impact of the RSNA annual meeting on the environment, said RSNA Director of Convention Operations Janet Cooper. E-mails have replaced much of the printed pre-meeting communication to the meeting’s nearly 55,000 attendees and exhibitors, Cooper said, and many attendees “opt out” of receiving the remaining printed pieces and view them online. Rather than pick up—and eventually discard—printed brochures about RSNA programs while at the meeting, attendees are encouraged to scan QR codes to download the materials onto their mobile devices.
A green addition to RSNA 2013 is the distribution of reusable—rather than plastic—bags throughout the meeting.
Pivotal to any green meeting effort is the venue. For the last 29 years, RSNA’s venue has been Chicago’s McCormick Place. “Green meetings really started to take front and center here at McCormick Place in 2007, when we hosted the [U.S. Green Build Council] Green Build Conference and opened our state-of-the-art, LEED-certified West Building,” said Kevin Lavin, sustainability manager for the facility. LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an internationally recognized green building program.
Green initiatives at McCormick Place—which began with simple ideas such as turning off lights and powering down escalators when not in use and minimizing use of heating, ventilation and air conditioning on move-in, move-out and non-event days—have grown ever more substantial, Lavin said. “Early on, McCormick Place worked to become a facilitator so we could help the many partners who contribute to each show in their efforts to be more green,” he said.
Anthony Lopez, assistant general manager of operations for McCormick Place, said a designated “green team” on staff at McCormick works continuously to improve the facility’s sustainability standing, taking on larger projects such as replacing fluorescent lights with more efficient, longer-lasting fixtures and obtaining more recycling compactors. The McCormick Place caterer, SAVOR …CHICAGO, minimizes its carbon footprint by purchasing locally produced and sustainably raised products, sourcing sustainable seafood, using non petroleum-based products and recycling and composting waste whenever possible.
“We see sustainability as an ongoing partnership where all our partners work together to share knowledge on ever-improving technologies and processes to help each other toward more sustainable events,” Lopez said. “The ultimate goal is to work toward a point where events, venues and service providers have adopted these practices so fully that events are green by their very nature.”
In addition to the efforts of venues, vendors and hosts, successful green meetings urge attendee participation as well, Cooper said. RSNA makes it convenient for attendees to recycle paper, plastic and aluminum in receptacles throughout McCormick Place, and drop off unwanted bags, programs, lanyards and badges for recycling as well. Attendees are also encouraged to be environmentally smart in transportation by riding the Metra Electric trains, using the complimentary shuttle or sharing a cab, to consider turning off their hotel room lights, electronics and heat when the room is unoccupied and to use refillable bottles at water stations located throughout McCormick Place.
Dr. Holland urged RSNA attendees to think about their roles as physicians when it comes to helping RSNA achieve the very greenest meeting possible. “Go back to your core principles and it becomes easier,” she said, noting that many physicians find a natural fit as they try to protect their patients from pollution and other environmental harms. “We need to be models of how to do things right,” she said.
Here are some ways that venues such as McCormick Place, and the organizations and vendors who use them, have made meetings more environmentally friendly:
This article is adapted with permission from FORUM, the magazine published by Association Forum of Chicagoland.
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