Sarah Beauchamp is an assistant editor of Convene.
Flower walls, vine-entwined signage, and other living décor can breathe life into any meeting or event - and lives on long after everyone has gone home.
For its 22nd Annual Casino Night Benefit at the Seaport Boston Hotel last year, Building Owners & Managers Association (BOMA) Boston, a leader in green building initiatives, wanted its Monte Carlo–themed event to have a lively, eco-friendly vibe. Cityscapes, a Boston-based company that provides interior landscaping for major events - and many of Boston’s property managers - took care of that.
“Attendees’ eyes were drawn to this great wall of flowers behind the registration table,” said Kayla Burmeister, membership and events coordinator for BOMA Boston. “With BOMA, sustainability is huge, and the living wall really set the tone for that event.” Added Jan Goodman, CEO of Cityscapes: “People want to be around nature, it makes them feel better. Plants are proven to clean the air and remove the volatile organic compounds in oxygen, while decreasing carbon dioxide.”
Unlike artificial decorations that might get thrown away at the end of the night, sustainable adornments live on. After an event, the plants are maintained in Cityscapes’ greenhouses and reused for future events. All the walls and other structures are made from organic materials that are later recycled or repurposed. Once flowers are no longer usable, they’re either composted, donated, “or end up in my backyard or at a friend’s house,” Goodman said. “Nothing goes in the landfill.”
Not only was BOMA’s living wall eco-friendly, it also served a practical purpose, effectively directing attendees to the registration table, and helping draw their eyes toward a large banner displaying the sponsors of the event. “The wall was not just beautiful, but great exposure for our sponsors, since their names were right next to it,” Burmeister said. “People were standing in front of it and taking pictures; they loved it.”
This past March, living signage composed of synthetic materials and natural plant life was incorporated into EcoPoesis, a graduate-studies symposium at the California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco that was dedicated to examining the relationship between people and nature through various works of art.
Graduate design student Miwa Ikemiya planted small vines inside each letter of the “EcoPoesis” sign to visually demonstrate the intersection of human and nature systems. “People spent longer looking at the signs, and came back day after day,” Ikemiya said. “It became an installation to observe, photograph, and be photographed with.”
Like the living wall at BOMA Boston’s Monte Carlo benefit, the EcoPoesis signage lives on. Each student and teacher involved with the event took home a letter of the living sign. And all of the excess scrap material from the signage was used to make another installation in CCA’s gallery space.
“The plants allowed the signs to be more than about conveying information; it became a gathering place, a low-tech interactive installation, a series of desirable gifts, and a means for attendees to feel involved in the event,” Ikemiya said. “The environmental benefits were the result of a cohesive design campaign.”
Don’t have the budget for a professional interior landscaper? Woolly Pockets is a company that provides breathable planting pockets with internal moisture control that are made from recycled plastic bottles. They are easy to attach to walls, and hold plants of all kinds. “They’re great for events, because they’re so quick to put up, and suddenly you have this thick, lush atmosphere,” said Woolly Pockets co-founder Miguel Nelson. Not only do they produce fresh oxygen, vertical gardens also can help disguise eyesores. “A lot of people use plants to flank projector screens or to cover podiums.” The planter pockets and foliage then can be recycled for another event, or given out as gifts to volunteers and attendees.
To go behind the scenes at the California College of the Arts’ 2012 EcoPoesis, visit convn.org/ecopoesis.