Getting Buy-In for Green Events

Author: Barbara Palmer       

The 6.75-acre green roof at New York City’s Javits Center is home to 29 different species of birds, five bat species, and thousands of honeybees. (Photo Courtesy Javits Center)

Mercedes Hunt, the founder and owner of Map & Compass Consulting, is a passionate advocate for event sustainability. Years of experience, as well as years of academic research, have revealed to her the secret of success in the operation of sustainability programs at event venues. “It all comes down,” she said, “to people.”

Mercedes Hunt

Mercedes Hunt

Hunt, who now lives near Boston, got her start working at events in Los Angeles, including at awards ceremonies and big Hollywood parties. She thrived in the industry — “I knew that it was the right place for me,” she said. “But I also was really, really disgusted by the waste that I saw at these events. I knew that something had to give.”

Hunt went on to earn a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in ecotourism and sustainable tourism. While she was earning her Ph.D., “initially my plan was to just study sustainable tourism,” she said. But in addition to her academic work, Hunt served as the International Ecotourism Society’s event manager and then managing director, planning conferences in Monterey, California, Nairobi, Kenya, Brazil, and Ecuador.

“And what I really learned throughout that process,” Hunt said, “was that really you could have all these goals, you could include sustainability in the RFP, you could even add sustainability as a session topic, but if the venue did not incorporate sustainable practices, it wasn’t going to happen.”

She became so curious about what it was that made some venues more likely to have effective sustainability programs that she focused her dissertation research on employee perceptions of the practices of sustainability programs in U.S. convention centers.

“I went and I interviewed employees at all different levels within the organization and had really, really interesting results,” she said. “The main thing that came from it was that these sustainable practices that we want to happen really require employee buy-in. There are a lot of different factors that go into that, but let’s say there’s a certification that you want to play a role in your sustainability program. You have to get people to buy into it — all of the different stakeholders, whether it be the board or the upper management or the people who are cleaning the floors and taking out the trash — there has to be buy-in across the board.”

Another finding when it comes to sustainable practices, she said, is that “you have to make this convenient and you have to make people want to do it. And that takes education. There has to be that educational component where you say, not only do we need to do these practices, but here’s why.”

The message has to be “when you throw something in this trash can, as opposed to this other trash can where you’re composting, you are making a difference. You as an individual make a difference. And we need each and every person, and every small choice to make a difference.” Once you get “the buy-in from the people,” Hunt said, “then the green stuff becomes very easy.”

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