Michael Luehrs, 2012-13 president for the Green Meeting Industry Council, is out to make the most of it. Convene talked to Luehrs, sustainable business advisor for MeetGreen, about his plans and his thoughts on sustainability and meetings:
If you had a magic wand, what would you do first to make meetings more sustainable?
I’d have everybody suddenly understand the principles of sustainability as described by The Natural Step. It’s like knowing the rules for playing the game of business and building a sustainable future all rolled into one. When people all know, and embrace, the rules of the game, we can all play and innovate to develop strategies needed to improve and thrive.
When did you know that sustainability was going to be a fight you would take up?
When I was director of operations at the Doubletree Portland, I learned that sustainability is a philosophy that, when applied to business, has no downside. We were able to build a positive business culture which grew to affect the way we thought about every aspect of our business. The response we got from our team, from our guests and from the city was so much more enthusiastic than we ever imagined. We were saving money, bringing in additional revenue, and earning praise from the community. That feeling of helping people to connect the dots to experience positive outcomes is still exciting for me.
What are your primary goals as GMIC president?
I’m coming into the role at one of the most dynamic periods for sustainability in our industry. In 2012, we’ve had the release of ISO 20121 and the APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Event Standards. We have mounting questions and interest from across the sector who want answers about the benefits and application of sustainable practices.
My big focus is to support GMIC’s effort to answer this demand with a best-in-class education program and to help build collaborations with industry associations to reach the widest possible audience with examples, resources, guides, and business cases.
What are some relatively easy, no-brainer kinds of changes that you think more meeting planners should be making?
Among the most practical and effective changes planners should make would be to develop a sustainability policy, including clear goals and measures, for events. Planners seem to be quite strategic about many processes related to event management but for some reason see sustainability as a collection of tactics — rather than integrate sustainability from the initial conversations and concept of the event, small actions get added on after big decisions have already been made.
It’s easier, less confusing, and brings more tangible results to apply a more strategic approach and say at the outset the desired outcomes and follow up with an assessment of those to see what improvements are needed for the future.
Who or what inspires you?
I get inspired every time I’m together with others who are talking about creative ideas and innovative practices. Being in a group where everybody comes together to achieve a common goal — a goal bigger than any one person could accomplish — is what motivates me and gives me energy.
For more from Luehrs, read his blog, fightinggoodfights.com.