Wednesday, June 12, 2024
Home Michigan MI Planning Elevate the Industry with Impressive Sustainable Practices

Elevate the Industry with Impressive Sustainable Practices

By Jeanine Matlow

While some business initiatives are just a passing fad, others are destined to make a difference and go the distance, such as the sustainability practices at meetings and events that have an impact on the environment. Here is what some local experts are doing to go green.

For starters, Alix Chapie, meeting and event manager for Special D Events in Ferndale and Detroit, says the company has been recycling name badges for the last five or six years.

“It’s kind of a given now; people ask if we have a container for them,” she says. Clients also request water pitchers instead of bottles and prefer glasses over cups.

In addition, mobile apps save paper and money, while recycle bins with sorters for paper, plastic and glass simplify the process.

“There are small changes that make a big impact like locally sourced foods and beverages,” says Chapie. Some clients donate leftovers to local shelters.

People want to know their options, such as a florist that uses recycled beverage bottles for bouquets. “We have an environmental group client and anything we bring up (about sustainability) they love. We are making great strides to try to be green. When you go to a large event, there is so much waste that can be reduced,” she says. “We’re all conscious of the fact that we are trying to be green as much as possible. We have to be on the same page as the venue and make sure they have the same goals.”

Her colleague, Meeting and Event Manager Shanthi Sivanandham, adds that the most important thing is being transparent with the attendees to let them know you’re working on sustainable practices. It’s all about being honest up front. Some hotels give points to guests for not requesting new sheets and towels every day to reduce water usage and conserve energy. Reusable signage for events is another smart solution.

Protecting the Planet

At Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Acme, Ryan Buck, director of sales, says the resort has a zero waste station available for groups to use and they use actual plates and utensils whenever possible.

“A lot of groups have started to give away water bottles for guests to use throughout the conference at our water stations; however we still offer glass as an option.  We also offer linen-less banquet tables in some of our rooms to eliminate water waste from laundry,” he says.

“We have a lot of groups that ask we use Food Rescue for any leftover food at the end of a function to reduce food waste or to donate unused nonperishable products to local organizations.”

He says their green committee has received several awards and they also take employees on regular tours of the local recycling facility.

Down to Earth

Joanna Stratman, CMP, assistant general manager at the Bavarian Inn Lodge and Conference Center in Frankenmuth, says her team’s always followed “old-fashioned” conservation practices learned through their German heritage.  “So many of our practices have been ‘green’ way longer than the popular concept of ‘being green’ became the cool buzz word,” she says.

In 2013, the facility was honored with the “Finest Corporate Social Responsibility Effort” award by the Michigan Chapter of Meeting Professionals International (MPI).

Some of the reasons behind the award, she says, are the owners’ personal commitment to supporting not-for-profit organizations, giving back to the community and their efforts in green practices. Add to that the massive quantities of Michigan-produced products they use, their recycling programs, energy-saving efforts, charitable-giving programs, and the biodiesel shuttle that now runs on fuel processed from their own recycled cooking oil.

Green practices that have been implemented for decades include towel and linen reuse programs in the guest rooms; water-efficient toilets and showerheads; high-efficiency lighting; a massive recycle program for glass, metal, paper and cardboard; and a natural irrigation with “gray water” provided by a pumping station from the Cass River that allows natural nutrients to help flowers and grounds and minimizes the use of clean water on-site.

Sixty-three tons of Blue Hubbard squash were harvested from the Fred Weiss Family Farm in September, which was processed and served at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant.

Leading the Way

In Thompsonville, Brian Lawson, director of public relations for Crystal Mountain, says the resort recently completed a $12 million expansion to the Inn at the Mountain that is heated and cooled using a geothermal system that runs 48 percent more efficient than a traditional HVAC system and prevents the emission of 150,000 pounds of CO2 annually.

Crystal Spa is Silver LEED-certified (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design), the first spa in the Midwest with that designation and one of only five in the nation at the time it was opened in 2009.

“We are also strong advocates for vehicle electrification. We were the first northern Michigan resort to provide complimentary vehicle charging. We now have five EV charging stations and participate as a Tesla Destination Driving Partner. Our security vehicle is a Chevy Volt. We were the first Michigan ski resort to invest in wind energy credits, offsetting the carbon footprint of our high-speed quad chairlift, the Crystal Clipper—reducing CO2 emissions by 174,000 pounds annually,” he says.

“We were also early-adopters of compact fluorescent light bulbs and have now transitioned over to LED. The use of LEDs in our conference center saves 74,000 kilowatt hours of electricity alone. We also try to reduce waste through in-room recycling and using mounted, refillable shampoo, body wash and conditioner in all of our accommodations.”

Last winter, the resort received the Climate Change Impact Award from Ski Magazine and the National Ski Areas Association. “Our CEO, Jim MacInnes, has been recognized by the Detroit Free Press as one of Michigan’s Green Leaders,” says Lawson. “In 2015, we were recognized as Innovator of the Year for the Michigan Governor’s Energy Excellence Awards.”

Being recognized as a leader in sustainability in the industry has opened the door to other partnerships, such as the one with Tesla and also provided the opportunity for events, such as the Conference on Michigan’s Future: Energy, Economy and Environment.

“As a family-owned resort that’s been part of the community for more than 60 years, we’ve always taken the long view so sustainability is always front-of-mind,” he says.

“We’re proud of our partnership with our electric provider, Cherryland Electric Cooperative, which draws 56 percent of its energy mix from carbon-free sources. We are always looking for new ways to operate more efficiently, invest in renewable energy, reduce waste and share best practices so that more people can implement these kind of initiatives to make a great impact.”

Natural Resources

At the lovely Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, John VanderHaagen, public relations manager, says green is in their DNA. “We have a mission that promotes the understanding and appreciation of gardens, sculpture, the natural environment and the arts, and have always been interested as an organization in being environmentally friendly and being good stewards of our resources.”

The complex has had an official recycling program since 2002, and this year it partnered with the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum to conduct a waste audit to help guide recycling and sustainability efforts going forward. The audit found Meijer Gardens as a whole generates an estimated 1,152 tons of waste material a year and diverts about 263 tons of compostable and recyclable material— a 23 percent diversion rate.

“The goal of the Kent County Department of Public Works on a countywide level is 20 percent diversion by 2020, so we’re ahead of that goal and aiming to increase our diversion rate every year,” he says.

“For the first time, we have launched a robust recycling program at our amphitheater during summer concerts that is staffed by a wonderful rotating group of volunteers, saving us time and effort behind the scenes and increasing the amount of waste that is diverted from landfills.”

Compostable and recyclable containers have been introduced in the café and catering departments as they have become available over the past few years, and recycling stations can be found throughout the grounds wherever there are trash receptacles.

“We source food for our catering department and café locally whenever possible, reducing carbon emissions. We have also eliminated many single-use plastic items, such as plastic stirrers and only hand out straws upon request,” says VanderHaagen.

The attraction has received several awards for its LEED design and construction practices. “Our facilities are LEED certified, and our current $115 million expansion project aims to be both architecturally significant as well as LEED certified,” he adds.

Despite their current efforts, other opportunities still exist, such as diverting more waste away from landfills each year and adding food composting to their public facing recycling program around the grounds that they’re exploring.

“Fred and Lena Meijer have always had a passion for the environment and conservation, and early supporters of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, such as Peter Wege and many others, have helped shape our vision,” says VanderHaagen. “We are excited for what the future will bring as we ready our new buildings and gardens which are opening between now and 2021.”

Cutting-Edge Work

In the Motor City, Claude Molinari, general manager of the SMG-managed Cobo Center, says they’re doing a lot more training with staff and prospective clients. In September, for example, they hosted the Events Industry Council’s training for the Sustainable Event Professional Certificate (SEPC). That was the first offering to event planners for the certificate in the state.

Cobo Center has received numerous awards for efforts that include everything from environmentally safe products to composting. “There’s an excitement and enthusiasm. We’re really trying to be a sustainable building and do cutting-edge work,” he says.

“We’re currently embarking on LEED certification and we continue to keep our Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) membership. We’re the ninth facility worldwide to achieve the International Green Meeting ASTM standard. Clients look for us to be as sustainable as possible. They love it when we buy local and we are working toward all produce served at Cobo Center being grown at Cobo Center. It’s an ambitious goal.”

“We’re working diligently toward this goal to make it a reality,” he explains. In addition to honeybees on the center’s Green Roof, the staff also grows rosemary, oregano, basil and thyme and is working on growing all lettuce for all the salads.

“It’s the next big push. It’s critical to keep looking and moving forward. We’re in the ‘make it happen’ business,” says Molinari. “Detroit is really taking big steps to work with our team and we’re almost a little city in ourselves. It’s a very walkable city with an elevated light rail train our vendors can use and a mobile rental bike station. There’s a lot happening and it’s really exciting to be a part of it.”

Fresh Perspective

In Port Huron, they’ve gone green in more ways than one with a new state-of-the-art facility, according to Gino Giacumbo, general manager for SMGmanaged Blue Water Convention Center.

“We are a relatively new facility so we have the benefit of not having retrofitted lights and sprinklers, etc. That’s the benefit of not having to change out things on a regular basis. We have all LED bulbs and there are no paper towels; we have air dryers,” he says.

Downtown, the Zagster bike-share program makes it easy to get to and from the facility where water stations and glassware await instead of plastic bottles.

Special features, such as light sensors, were incorporated into the building. “It was built with this in mind. As we move forward and purchase new items, we’re always thinking about sustainability,” says Giacumbo. “From recycled copy paper to an energyefficient dishwasher, it’s always on our mind.”