VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA—Beginning this month, the Inn at Laurel Point—which bills itself as British Columbia's first carbon-neutral hotel—takes its sustainability creed to new heights. Planners who bring programs to this waterfront Victoria property now have the option to host a carbon-neutral gathering with its Carbon-Neutral Events Program.
“Our hotel sits on six acres, and every guest room has a water view—so it makes sense that we would want to look after Mother Earth, right? We’re completely surrounded by it,” says Brooke Harris, director of sales and marketing for Inn at Laurel Point.
The 200-room hotel already offsets a guest’s carbon footprint when they stay at the hotel through technology such as hydrothermal cooling and net-zero air conditioning, plus initiatives like turning worn sheets into bandages to provide first-aid supplies to developing nations—but this did not originally apply to meetings and events hosted on-site.
Now, it does. In honor of Earth Month, the hotel debuted the Carbon-Neutral Events Program, where the property aims to meet an observed industry need as planners increasingly place a higher importance on a venue or vendor’s sustainability efforts.
“For years and years they’ve asked that question, but if they were comparing two properties, sustainability initiatives weren’t enough to sway them if it was coming down to a cost measurement,” Harris explains. “However, in the past couple of years, we have really noticed that they are choosing to stay with a hotel because of the [sustainability] work that they’re doing. They want to be cognizant of their carbon emissions.”
How the Program Works
The Inn at Laurel Point worked with long-time partner and local environmental consultant Synergy Enterprises to create a carbon calculator and toolkit. If a group really wants to offset their meeting emissions—created by things like transportation and food-related emissions—the hotel can now create an estimate of how high or low those will be.
The calculator inputs things like the number of guests, the type of event (regional, national, international), the number of meals hosted at the hotel and the off-site activities planned.
“We can then provide an ‘ish’ sort of quote for them, as to how much your event's footprint would be at the hotel and what it would cost to offset that,” Harris says. “Then the planner can decide, ‘Yes, this is something that we’ve got within our budget, and we would like to go ahead and hold a carbon-neutral event’—or ‘I didn’t realize how much it was going to cost to hold a carbon-neutral event, but I’m going to build this into my planning for future conferences.’”
If the planner decides to use the program, the hotel can then offset the event’s emissions with actions such as:
- Implementing low-carbon and vegetarian banquet menus (made easy by Victoria’s long growing season)
- Using Vancouver Island-sourced products and plated meals (which Harris says saves 30% in food waste compared to buffets)
- Working with an electric bus company for transportation
- Recommending like-minded businesses in Victoria for off-site activities, such as Eagle Wing Whale Watching and Harbour Air
At the end of their event, planners will be provided with a certificate of authenticity to recognize their commitment to carbon neutrality.
“Based on the amount of repeat clients that we’ve got, they have been asking for this,” Harris says. “It’s an exciting time to showcase something new for the meetings industry. We’re already seeing a huge uptick in re-bookings and people wanting to get back together in person. But it’s coinciding with this crisis when it comes to climate change and climate action. We saw this gap, and we thought, 'Let’s create this package and start offsetting some of these emissions.'”
Harris adds that she expects stakeholders for social events at the hotel, such as weddings, will be interested in the Carbon-Neutral Events Program—but for right now, the primary focus is on corporate and business events. The program has no expiration date, and planners can read more about it on the hotel’s website.
Sustainability Tips for Events
For any planner who is serious about creating and meeting sustainability goals with their meetings or events (or even through their company), Harris recommends working with a qualified organization to conduct an audit.
“Syngery has been instrumental in helping us become carbon neutral,” she explains. “We do an annual audit where they measure all of our waste diversion, our water usage, our fuel usage from staff commuting to and from work. What that does is it gives us the full metrics of where we’re at and where we want to get to.”
Harris also recommends leaving room in the budget to implement emission-offsetting actions. “It doesn’t have to be a huge line item, but show that it’s something that’s important to your organization or to your conference that you hold every year,” she says. “Build that into your program from a monetary perspective, then people will have ideas and different ways that you can support and make these things happen.”
Planners can also ask their hoteliers or other partners what they do to stay sustainable, or what can their group do to stay on track? That could be small things like jugs of water on the tables versus bottled waters.
“Just ask those questions, almost like a checklist for your conferences,” she says. “I think those are some ideas that could be really helpful.”