Did you know that a typical five-day conference of 2,500 people will generate 2,000 plates, 87,000 napkins, 75,000 disposable cups or glasses and 90,000 cans or bottles?
The importance of hosting green meetings continues to grow in the conference industry. Reusable water containers rather than bottles and cups, more outdoor meeting spaces to reduce energy consumption, easy access to recycling bins, biodegradable food containers, conservative housekeeping practices and organically based cleaning products are just a few of the practices environmentally conscious meeting planners are looking for when choosing a venue. But their most important asset in their green meeting efforts? Venues with a culture of conservation.
Wingspread Retreat and Executive Conference Center, located in America’s Midwest, is a Johnson Foundation-owned and -operated property with a long legacy of true environmentalism. While the meeting spaces can accommodate larger groups, the property’s Sam and Gene Johnson guest house features 40 rooms. Since 2010, these accommodations and meeting spaces achieved and have consistently retained LEED Gold certification from the US Green Building Council. By encouraging intimate gatherings, we keep our environmental footprint small.
Both Wingspread and The Johnson Foundation exist today, in no small part, due to the efforts of third generation patriarch, Herbert F. Johnson, Jr., who was also one of corporate America’s first conservationists. In the midst of the Great Depression, Johnson’s thoughts turned to carnauba, the key ingredient for the Johnson Wax Company’s main product. Concerned about the security of his company, Johnson headed to the rainforests in northeastern Brazil to learn more. This trip inspired Johnson to pen a book encouraging corporate environmental responsibility and to form The Johnson Foundation.
His accumulation of property on the Wind Point Peninsula in Wisconsin culminated in the formation of a wildlife preserve. Eventually amassing 36 acres, Johnson often brought his children to the property to spend days reveling in nature. The preserve became home to the family with the construction of a prairie home, Wingspread, designed by renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Wright himself kept his architectural works in harmony with nature, and his design for Wingspread is no exception. Taking direction from the land, Wright used natural materials – including fine grain, first-cut rich white oak, Cherokee red brick and pink sandstone. Tidewater cypress composes the exterior, upon which the seasons cling as vines and snow.
The next generation of Johnsons has continued the cause of corporate environmental responsibility. In 1975, Sam Johnson removed chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from his company’s products. It was another three years before CFCs were banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and a dozen years before they were banned worldwide. Sam Johnson was a founding member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and was named by Fortune Magazine as “Corporate America’s leading environmentalist.”
Meeting planners can and should seek partnerships with conference venues striving to keep nature close and making every effort to conserve it. Working together, the members of the meeting industry can become diligent stewards of the careful balance of wildlife, plant life and human life.
“LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. Available for virtually all building, community and home project types, LEED provides a framework to create healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings. LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement.” – US Green Building Council