Palace square © Stuttgart-Marketing GmbH

This article was originally published at Meeting Professionals International,

Ask the Expert: Stuttgart on Sustainability with Karina Grützner, Director, Stuttgart Convention Bureau

U.S. planners are finding that Germany has a lot of experience, insights and best practices on facilitating sustainable meetings. Karina Grützner, Director at the Stuttgart Convention Bureau, has advice for U.S. planners looking to increase the sustainability of their meetings.

Why should I consider a sustainable Event?

Conferences are important ways to conduct business because nothing has the impact of being face-to-face. But planners can lead by example and have a positive impact on the location and their attendees by finding ways to reduce environmental impacts generated by their events.

Aren’t sustainable meetings more expensive and complicated?

No, sustainable meetings can be cost-effective as compared to meetings that don’t take steps to be responsible. Venues that provide state-of-the-art technology are likely to reduce energy consumption, which could lower costs. If you’re planning your first sustainable meeting, it may be helpful to find new vendors that offer sustainably run venues and green products and solutions.

Who can planners turn to about vendors who specialize in sustainability?

The convention bureaus are terrific resources to help planners create responsible events and programs on a citywide level. We have experience working with vendors and we get feedback, too. Searching via Google or Cvent won’t tell you if a provider is sustainable. We can help point planners to venues and service providers who have appropriate certifications, programs and experience.

Congress Center Liederhalle © KKL

Is it hard to find sustainable vendors and locations in Stuttgart?

Actually, it’s relatively easy. Twenty-four conference venues follow a green policy and we have 34 percent certified hotel rooms in Stuttgart. Nearly 50 percent of Stuttgart’s hotel rooms are within walking distance of conference and convention centers, lowering the impact caused by transportation. Even the Stuttgart airport holds an eco-certification, showing a commitment to sustainability. In fact, since 2012, the Stuttgart Convention Bureau informs on its website about sustainably managed venues to support meeting planners and it continuously analyzes latest developments.

There are so many green-friendly locations in Germany because by law in the European Union, public traded companies must report about their Corporate Social Responsibility activities. Additionally the German Convention Bureau has been focusing on sustainability for nearly a decade when it developed the “right and fair” sustainability codex, which looks at 20 different criteria to measure, compare and document sustainability performance.

It motivated vendors to provide sustainable products and solutions. With the opening of the new trade fairgrounds of Messe Stuttgart and its International Congress Center Stuttgart in 2007, new state-of-the-art meeting possibilities with strong sustainable commitment were added to the venue portfolio. Additionally the Congress Center Liederhalle follows sustainable guidelines, i.e. by using 100 percent green energy and offering a green balanced scorecard to support planners in organizing sustainable meetings at the venue.

Messe Stuttgart © Landesmesse Stuttgart GmbH Uli Regenscheit

How does one start planning a green event?

Start with looking at ways to minimize the environmental impact of your meeting. State your request for sustainable meeting solutions in the Request for Proposal (RFP) making it a priority. Crucial topics to focus on include logistics, the meeting venue and food and beverages. Choose a venue with good public transportation access.

Check if there are special priced or even free tickets for public transportation to make it easier for attendees to get to the venue. In Stuttgart for example, we provide free public transport tickets for events that book hotel rooms via our free-of-charge hotel booking service.

Then look at signage and other items that can be reused, recycled or upcycled after the show. Calculate catering needs carefully and try to avoid food waste. But keep in mind that food is what people remember. Check if the venue or the Convention Bureau can help you with Corporate Social Responsibility projects to give back to the local community.

What should I look for in a climate-friendly venue?

Many new locations have state-of-the-art heating and air conditioning, energy-saving lights with motion detecting sensors and a green electricity certificate for your event. Request that they have clearly-marked receptacles that make it easy to sort garbage and recyclables. And ask that they have water-saving taps in all toilets and use environmentally friendly cleaning products.

What should I look for from caterers?

In Germany, venues generally provide dishes and non-disposable cutlery, avoid the use of plastic straws and serve seasonal and locally sourced food. If it needs to be a To Go solution, take into account sustainable packaging. Calculate to avoid food waste.  If your budget allows it, choose organic food and offer maybe less meat, depending on your audience. Ask how they handle leftover food. Also ask them to provide water in jugs or big bottles, not in small bottles, and to refrain from individually packed cookies, sugar or milk. It is important to know that a bottle system with refundable deposit exists in Germany. This means no bottle will be thrown away.

Generally do not hesitate. Start small and improve – this is better than ignoring the need for change of habits.

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List of certification systems and commitments to sustainability: