Of all the myths about green meeting practices, the one that affirms “green meetings cost more money” is the most persistent. Often when talking to someone about running sustainable meetings, I hear, “I would love to but it costs too much.”

So does producing a green meeting costs more money? It can, but it doesn’t have to. In fact, there is no reason why sustainable practices can be at the very least, cost-neutral.

Some environmentally-friendly products simply cost more and are not always the cheapest alternative. Sadly, there are also unscrupulous vendors out there taking full advantage of the environmental movement and charging a premium for green products and services. There are practices that will help mitigate even the priciest items on your event list.

For example…

  • Costs more: If you choose 100 percent organic food for your event’s meals. Cost-neutral: If you select 30 percent organic food and negotiate no extra charge with the caterer during the contract phase.
  • Costs more: If the meeting venue charges for recycling in addition to your waste hauling fees. Cost savings: It can be a cost savings, if the facility doesn’t charge for recycling (only landfill waste hauling fees) and your attendees recycle.
  • Costs more: If you choose an expensive, fair trade, organic cotton conference bag. Cost savings: If you skip the bag. Participants probably have enough, anyway, and don’t forget to add in the savings when you don’t have shipping, storing, stuffing and handling.
  • Costs more: If your caterer charges more for free-range chicken. Cost savings: If you serve vegetarian meals instead.
  • Costs more: If there is an additional charge for environmentally responsible signage. Cost savings: If the signs are designed to be reused the next year.

Many of the cost savings come in the early stages of meeting production, such as with destination selection and negotiation.

Destination selection has huge implications for both saving money and the environment. Consider choosing a city that has the closest proximity to the largest group of potential participants, to save on airfare and CO2. Then, choose a meeting venue in the city that is close to public transportation with access to the airport. The meeting venue should be close to hotels, restaurants and shopping so walking is the best alternative.

Someone once said, “Everything is negotiable,” and that is certainly true during the courtship phase when you are selecting a property to host your event. If you are at ease with negotiating rates, dates and space, now is the time to add in your organization’s sustainable initiatives as well. Ask for a percentage of local or organic food, recycling/composting services, guest room recycling or fair trade coffee at no extra charge. If the facility has an upcharge for green services, negotiate that charge out of the contract now. Make sure you track your economic savings and tell your key stakeholders.

The Money Myth will continue to be a major factor in the meetings industry in the near future, though I can put on my environmentalist hat and ask if we can really afford not to be incorporating sustainable practices, even if they cost a little more.

Many organizations are now choosing sustainability not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because of public image and risk management concerns. Understanding that spending more for increased sustainability isn’t an option for many groups in today’s economic climate, savvy planners can use their tools to save money, save the environment, and be a hero.