Formerly a copywriter and creative director at several notable ad agencies, Andy Dumaine found himself gravitating to the travel and tourism industry. Seeing the need for a more equitable business model that would involve local communities in meeting planning processes, he founded Shrinkingfootprint, a consultancy for organizations working toward sustainability. Dumaine talked with Collaborate contributor Erin Caslavka Deinzer about how meeting planners can work toward creating more sustainable events.
How did you become involved in sustainable travel?
I came out of a tourism marketing background and saw early on that it wasn’t delivering the best model for sustainability. I started asking the questions, “How do you reduce the negative impacts of tourism in a meaningful way, and how do you make that materialize?” One of the major barriers to moving from potentially destructive habits to beneficial ones is in changing the concept of mass tourism so that you can instead create a shrinking footprint. I knew island communities would be the first to understand sustainability, so with that in mind, about 10 years ago I founded Shrinkingfootprint.
What mindset do you try to promote?
I try not to become focused on certain issues, like rising sea levels, because my feeling is that beneficial tourism practices are something we should be adopting regardless of any current crisis. I’ve also found it’s not terribly motivating for people on the ground. “Sustainable” is a term that can be unfriendly for some, so what I concentrate on is what people want to know. That is: How can I implement a practice that promotes efficiency and the reduction of waste, and has the ability to benefit my business and my community?
Another aspect of these countries and communities is the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Making sure as much revenue as possible stays behind is key. The United Nations Development Programme has calculated that tourism dollars equate to about a 30 percent retention rate. What that means is roughly 30 cents of every dollar spent actually stays in the destination. A lot of it goes toward paying for credit card transactions, a parent company’s bottom line, government taxes and fees, etc. Therefore, the more local ownership a community can encourage, the more the money will stay behind, and the local community will benefit as a result.
How do these practices relate to business travelers?
Many business travelers tend to stay at high-end resorts that generate a lot of waste. Some resorts can consume as much water as an entire community, and it can take up to 3 million gallons of water to support a golf course. With the demands of business travelers, there’s a sense of pressure that gets created, because hotel owners will say to themselves, “My competitor has a golf course, so I need one, too.”
But business travelers have as much opportunity to make their choices as beneficial and have as much impact as the leisure traveler. They can go into a hotel conference on an island and decide not to have a T-bone steak, which has to be imported from 8,000 miles away, and instead create a locally sourced menu. When planners submit an RFP, they can insist on things like not having a glass of water at each place setting and instead setting up stations with water for those who really want it.
What steps can planners take to host more sustainable events?
1. Greening a meeting starts with making thoughtful choices about how you travel, so getting your attendees in and out of the sky as quickly and efficiently as possible is a powerful first step.
2. Deliberately seek out hotels or resorts that are recycling, cutting back on water use, not providing disposable toiletries and so on.
3. Request locally sourced foods to be served.
4. Avoid serving boxed lunches, which create a lot of residual waste.
5. Ask your contact at the hotel or convention center what they do with their leftovers (i.e., flowers, food, decorations). If they go to a landfill, that’s just adding to the overall problem; but if they’re donating some of those items, they’re being purposefully reused.
6. Resist the urge to hand out plastic name badges. The sticky paper ones are just as efficient, and at the end of the day you won’t have all of that nonrecyclable plastic being sent to the local landfill.