When it comes to what’s trending in meetings and events for 2023, sustainability is at the top of the list. According to the latest Global Meetings and Events Forecast from American Express, a survey of 580 meetings and events professionals from around the world, sustainability has become much more than a buzzword. Four out of five respondents reported that their organization takes sustainability into account when planning meetings and events. Attendees are also driving the trend. NielsenIQ survey data additionally shows that 48% of consumers are looking to brands to take the lead on creating sustainable change.
Hosting a sustainable event encompasses many components, from choosing a venue that takes steps to reduce its carbon footprint to using fewer disposable resources. And sustainability goes beyond ordering extra recycling bins, says Nicole LaPointe, CEO of the GatherPointe, a full-service event agency based in Detroit. “Clients want their event to be plastic- and paper-free. They also want it to be organic, locally sourced, healthy, and support a thriving environment,” she says. “Sustainability has a broad meaning.” LaPointe sees clients shifting toward using apps, QR codes, and screens to share event information instead of print materials and signage that wind up in a landfill. Going digital also offers more flexibility for last-minute updates, she says.
There is a shift away from gifting bags with prestuffed swag and a move toward allowing guests to select the items they want from vendors.
For meal service, LaPointe sees demand for reusable silverware, along with biodegradable branded straws or no straws at all. In addition, as in-person meetings and events continue to surge, LaPointe says one of the biggest ways to emphasize sustainability is to select the right venue.
A central regional location can cut down on the amount of carbon emissions attendees will expend traveling, she says. Moreover, planners can select a venue with aligning values.
Grand Valley State University: Grand Rapids
A longtime leader in the sustainable event space, Grand Valley State University (GVSU) features five primary event venues that have long prioritized reducing energy usage and water consumption. Many GVSU buildings are LEED certified, with integrated web-based temperature and light controls, low volatile organic compound fixtures, and energy-efficient HVAC systems.
Vendors are incentivized to buy fair-trade goods and locally sourced ingredients when possible, including produce from the university’s off-campus sustainable farm. In 2009, GVSU’s L.V. Eberhard Center was among the first to receive Green Venues Michigan Certification. David VanderSloot, director of conference planning and hospitality services at GVSU, says the designation attracts groups that align themselves with sustainable principles.
“We saw business generated more and more from that focus,” he says. “It might not be a [deciding factor], but it is something people see and appreciate.”
VanderSloot predicts that as groups are getting back into scheduling meetings and events, sustainability will become an even higher priority for planners.
“I think it will be top of mind for people once they get back into the swing of things,” he says.
Mission Point Resort: Mackinac Island
For a recent meeting at this family-owned and -operated property, hosts arranged the resort’s signature white Adirondack chairs in a U shape on the great lawn that overlooks Lake Huron. According to Liz Ware, vice president of sales and marketing for the resort, the meeting’s “New U” theme reflected the resort’s core value of “caring for our bodies.”
“That encompasses our body of water, our body of land, and our own bodies,” Ware says. Helping guests appreciate nature encourages sustainability, while behind-the-scenes staff work hard to make sure energy-saving and waste reduction mea- sures are in place.
Mission Point hosted 500 events in 2022 in its various flexible venues—from its Cypress Room accommodating up to 250 people with panoramic views of the water to the 350-person capacity Sound Stage, originally built to film “Somewhere in Time,” the 1980 Christopher Reeve movie set on the island.
Wherever guests choose, catering staff are taking steps to use “ferry-to-table” ingredients and reusable or biodegradable products. After dishes are cleared and guests check out, the resort employs two full-time staff members to sort through every piece of trash, separating recyclables and channeling compostable scraps into dirt used to grow the thousands of tulips Mission Point is known for. It is worth the effort, Ware says.
“When you look at travel sentiment, sustainability is absolutely one of the key criteria people are looking at. It’s important for planners and the guests that they are bringing,” she says. “When you couple our sustainability efforts with a destination like Mackinac Island where you don’t have cars, it’s just getting back to the basics.”
Keweenaw Mountain Lodge: Copper Harbor
In the Upper Peninsula (U.P.), this historic wilderness resort operates on sustainable principles while celebrating the outdoors. It was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and comprises 560 acres with 24 cabins, a dining room for private events, and a 4,000-square-foot conference room.
Owner John Mueller says the company divides sustainability into three categories—sustainable tourism, environmental sustainability, and financial sustainability. Sustainable tourism is knowing the optimal number of people who can be on the property and still feel close to nature, providing wilderness opportunities, and teaching people how to enjoy the outdoors while leaving no trace.
Environmental sustainability includes the resort’s efforts to develop the U.P.’s only internationally recognized Dark Sky Park, installing a fast-charging electric vehicle station on the grounds, and earning Audubon Sanctuary Golf Course and Green Lodging Certification.
Financial sustainability means all efforts and upgrades must make sense to the bottom line. “You need to be finan- cially strong to continue to operate and go forward,” he says.
Pierce Cedar Creek Institute: Hastings
At this environmental center and biological field station, sustainability was built into the business plan. Located on 850 acres in rural Barry County halfway between Grand Rapids and Battle Creek, the complex houses a commons area, a veranda, classrooms, and an auditorium that accommodates up to 180 people for weddings, retreats, and corporate events.
According to Operations Manager Bob Gilbert, the buildings were designed to blend in with the landscape while being energy efficient and environmentally safe. They are partially earth bermed, which provides natural insulation, and feature native Michigan prairie species that process water runoff and provide a habitat for pollinators. A geothermal heating and cooling system takes advantage of temperatures deep within the soil that do not fluctuate. South-facing windows capture the sun’s energy, while a solar energy system generates power to the grid.
Huntington Place: Detroit
On a larger scale is Huntington Place, formerly Cobo Center. Located on the Detroit riverfront, the venue hosts large consumer expos, sporting events, and trade shows within its four main-level exhibit halls that boast 623,000 square feet of contiguous space.
A $279 million renovation completed in 2013 resulted in a LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. In keeping with more corporations requiring event planners to measure event sustainability, Huntington Place provides post-event diversion reports. “Huntington Place event managers work with show managers to create green event goals and objectives for each event,” says Mary Klida, senior marketing and communications manager. “Shows are given a post-event sustainability report on their goals and a certificate of accomplishment.”