When Jan Sneegas researched potential venues for the Unitarian Universalist Association’s annual meeting, she had a number of criteria to meet – affordable prices, a walkable city and facilities that could accommodate up to 5,000 attendees. And importantly, the chosen convention location and lodging facilities needed to offer environmentally friendly amenities.
“When we choose a city, we look for one that has a green bend,” said Sneegas, director of the Boston organization’s general assembly and conference services. “Even though they may not be doing everything we want them to do, we need a city that will show a support and willingness to work with us. Providence is willing to do that.”
The UUA will hold its general assembly meeting this June at the R.I. Convention Center, Dunkin’ Donuts Center and several Providence hotels.
A growing number of corporations and associations now pursue venues boasting green amenities like energy-efficient lighting, locally sourced foods and biodegradable cleaners. The Rhode Island hospitality industry is starting to catch on, increasingly making sustainability a core part of their business strategies. In fact, for many of the state’s meeting centers and hotels, green initiatives are becoming a key to staying competitive.
Several years ago, the Providence-Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau began advertising Rhode Island as a “green meetings” state. Organizers cited a Forbes magazine ranking of the greenest U.S. states, as well as the Rhode Island Hospitality Green Certification program, a voluntary program where hotels and other businesses verify that they engage in sustainability initiatives like recycling and energy and water conservation. It was a concerted campaign - one that some say had a noticeable impact.
“I think it has increased business, and I think it’s going to continue to do it,” said Larry Lepore, general manager of the Dunkin’ Donuts Center and the convention center.
Dale Venturini, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, said that for some conventions considering the Ocean State, “part of the bid process is to find out how green we are.”
But while the PWCVB continues to feature a “green meetings” page on their website, in recent years it’s become less of a marketing effort for the group. Not because sustainability isn’t important, but because it’s becoming core to doing business in the hospitality industry.
“We note that we are a ‘green destination’ because our planners expect us to be and it keeps us in the consideration set,” said Martha Sheridan, president and CEO of the convention and visitors bureau.
More and more businesses are recognizing that staying competitive means going green. Lepore said that roughly 30 percent of businesses that approach him now require some sort of sustainability initiative. Take the UUA: While the Dunkin’ Donuts Center and the convention center have already put several environmentally minded practices in place – such as LED lighting and an extensive recycling program – the association wanted the venues to go further. So local staff worked with the association to organize a composting program for their upcoming meeting, finding a local farmer to take the group’s waste.
Rhode Island hotel staff are seeing a similar rise in meeting planners’ requests for information on green policies. Greg Nawrocki, senior sales manager at the Newport Harbor Hotel and Marina, said that over the past two years, he’s seen more and more corporate and association groups including questions about green practices in their request for proposals.
The hotel is one of 23 in the state’s Hospitality Green Certification program (in addition to several restaurants and other businesses). Nawrocki said the green certification and other sustainability initiatives have helped the hotel stay competitive with meeting planners.
“I’ve attracted businesses as far as New York and New Jersey where the green certification has been a deciding factor in their selection process,” he said.