UP FRONT: How green is my meeting?

Posted on Feb 3, 2014 :: Up Front
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer
Students from Central American countries studying environmental technology at Fox Valley Technical College helped develop the plan to make the New North Summit more “green.” Some also volunteered at the event. Photo Jackie Boyd Photography.

Students from Central American countries studying environmental technology at Fox Valley Technical College helped develop the plan to make the New North Summit more “green.” Some also volunteered at the event. Photo Jackie Boyd Photography.

When the 10th New North Summit convened at Green Bay’s Radisson Hotel and Conference Center in December, more than 650 people experienced the initial attempt to make the Summit a “green” event. Championed by Joanne Gorski, president of Sustainable Insights, LLC and a member of New North’s Sustainability Task Force, a team of planners worked to eliminate waste, cut energy usage, keep costs down, and generally minimize the effect of a large event on the environment.

Gorski, a former instructor in supply chain management and sustainability at Fox Valley Technical College, is one of 29 people worldwide who are accredited professionals of the Sustainable Event Alliance, a nonprofit organization based in Australia that uses the ISO 20121 standard for sustainable events.

“People here in our region aren’t really used to paying attention about how they manage their waste – especially when they leave the home,” Gorski says. “The EPA did a report that shows when people leave home, they generate five times more garbage. It’s because we are more of a disposable society now, but also there’s not enough sorting of waste. If you go to a gas station, for example, how often do you see recycling receptacles?”

“We asked ourselves ‘what are the significant environmental aspects of the event, and how can we minimize them?’” Gorski adds. “We looked at end-of-life issues (for products), for example. When you are done with something, can it be recycled, or will it have to be disposed of in a landfill?”

The team worked with Radisson staff to create a solid-waste management plan, which included managing an extra waste stream – the compost stream – and the weighing of that waste. “We had to bring in more bins and position them strategically to make it easy for people,” Gorski says. “Every time you had one bin, you needed three: trash, compost, and recycle.”

“This goes hand in hand with the Radisson’s corporate ‘Responsible Business’ initiative,” says Steve Ninham, the Radisson’s general manager. “It helped set a tone for changing the way people think.”

Other partners were key players, as well:

» Menasha Corporation donated the portable and reusable compost bins to collect the waste.

» UW–Oshkosh granted special permission for post-consumer compostable food waste to go to its anaerobic biodigester so the energy could be harvested before it became compost. Typically, the biodigester’s sources are industrial/agricultural businesses and grocery stores.

» Sanimax, a North American recycler with operations in Green Bay, donated a dumpster for the compost, acquired bin liners that work well in the digester and transported the waste to Oshkosh.

The result? More than three-quarters of waste generated at the event was diverted from the landfill, resulting in less than two ounces of waste per attendee.

Here are some of the other dimensions the team addressed:

» Paper. Guidelines required it to be sustainably forested and to include post-consumer waste content.

» Handouts were expected to be either recyclable or durable and reusable. Ninety-three percent fit the former category and the rest of the items were reusable.

» Refreshments were chosen to minimize packaging and disposable waste.

» Local sourcing. Eighty-six percent of business suppliers were locally-owned or regional.

» Food entrepreneurs. Businesses involved in the Taste of the New North luncheon were asked to use biodegradable and compostable serve-ware that is certified through the Biodegradable Products Institute.

» Signage. Foam-core boards used for way-finding and session identification were donated to Mosquito Hill Nature Center to be re-used for event and fundraising signage.

» Power-down policy. A conscious effort was made to power down electronic equipment and lighting when it was not being used.

» Green transportation. Organizers had hoped to encourage attendees to carpool or use public transportation. That plan hit a snag, however, when the city bus route serving the Radisson was discontinued in early November. A survey is being conducted to determine the impact of ride-sharing, and organizers are already considering ways to build awareness of and create tools to improve this dimension for next year.

Another interesting dimension was the collaboration with the “Sustainability as a Business Strategy” class at Fox Valley Technical College, composed of 18 students from seven Central American countries studying environmental technology and sustainability under a scholarship program of the U.S. State Department’s Agency for International Development. The students helped develop the plan and volunteered at the summit waste stations to direct people to put their waste in the right place. In turn, the students were invited to hear speakers and meet business leaders.

Jaime Godoy, a second-year student from Santa Ana, El Salvador, was spokesperson for the class at the summit’s sustainability break-out session. “It was a great opportunity for us to see what Wisconsin businesses are doing and how important is sustainability for them,” Godoy said. “We met a lot of people from different businesses, and they were really interested on what we were doing with recycling and compostable things.”

Sustainable Insights, LLC

Founded in 2012 by Joanne Gorski, green manufacturing specialist

Specializes in sustainability planning, supply chain management, waste audits, ISO 14001 audits (environmental management systems), greening events and venues, employee engagement initiatives.

On the web: www.sustainableinsightsllc.com