As mentioned in a previous column, I recently participated in a Sustainability Roundtable at Cornell University. At that event there was some discussion about the progress, or lack thereof, of the APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Meetings Standards. For those of you not familiar with the standards, they are the result of years of collaborative efforts and delineate procedural requirements and environmental sustainability criteria for meetings, events, trade shows, or conferences. There are nine standards and different levels of achievement within each standard. One can obtain certification to a standard through an organization called iCompli. Within the meetings community the standards are a big deal. Eight of the standards have been available for more than three years. E2772, the Specification for Evaluation and Selection of Accommodations for Environmentally Sustainable Meetings, Events, Trade Shows, and Conferences—the standard closest to those of you owning and operating lodging establishments—has been available for two years now.
I wrote an article about the standards this past week. I was curious to know how far along the standards really are. What I found is that results so far are really a mixed bag. As far as certification to the Accommodations standard is concerned, adoption has been almost nonexistent. By coincidence, the PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. just announced certification to E2772 this past week. Yes, in two years there has been just one lodging establishment that has certified to the Accommodations standard. Kathy McGuire, Executive Assistant, Manager, Sustainable Development, LEED Green Associate, PGA National Resort & Spa, told me she hopes her property will benefit by being a “first mover or first adopter.” I suspect Kathy is right. She told me she has had three requests from meeting planners in the last 30 days asking about green attributes.
Fortunately for those who put so much time in developing the standards, the standards are having more success at the convention center and destination level. According to the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC), which publishes a registry of suppliers that have achieved APEX/ASTM third party certification, about 30 organizations have achieved or will soon achieve some level of certification. The majority of those—at least 13—have been certified to E2774, the ASTM Standard pertaining to the Evaluation and Selection of Venues for Environmentally Sustainable Meetings, Events, Trade Shows, and Conferences.
More Education Needed
Why haven’t the standards gotten more traction in the lodging industry? I believe there are many reasons. First, not enough has been done to educate our industry about the standards. There has been some effort put behind marketing the standards but not nearly enough. There definitely needs to be more of a public relations effort. How many of you have never heard of the standards?
Those who run lodging establishments and who have meeting spaces to offer already have numerous certification programs from which to choose—most of which cost less than what certifying to the ASTM standards cost. For those of you who do not know, depending on the standard, certification costs range from about $2,500 to $6,000 for a two-year certification. After two years one must recertify, at which time the costs are half of that originally paid. There are some additional minor costs.
Another reason for the standards’ lack of traction so far, I believe, is the lack of sustainability champions at the property, destination or supplier level. A quick glance at the organizations that have certified so far reveals those one would expect to be first adopters—ones with a history of a green commitment (has LEED certification, employs full-time sustainability personnel or consultant, etc.). It takes time to get through what can be a complicated application process. Kathy McGuire at the PGA National Resort & Spa told me it took her and her associates about two and one-half months to put together the documentation for the Accommodations certification. Not many properties have someone on staff to push an application to the finish line.
Karl Pfalzgraf, Practice Leader for iCompli, told me most standards take time to gain traction. I am sure he is right. He also told me that in order for the standards to be successful, meeting planners have got to ask about and even mandate them. I am sure this is currently not happening enough.
On-site Inspection Found ‘Not to be Necessary’
Back to the cost of certification: I asked Karl at iCompli whether or not the cost includes an on-site inspection. He said it was found not to be necessary. “The cost could get to the point where it is not sensible [to certify],” he told me. Part of me understands that. Another part of me believes an on-site inspection should be mandatory and would add more teeth and credibility to the certification—even if the cost were somewhat higher.
I would love to know your thoughts about the standards. Have you looked into certifying but decided against it? Are you taking a wait and see approach? What are your barriers to getting certified? Have you certified to one of the standards or more than one and are benefiting from doing so? Is the cost too much? Is the cost reasonable?
I will look forward to hearing from you. I can be reached at (813) 510-3868 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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