Most Innovative Meetings 2013: #1 McDonald's Worldwide Convention

The innovation of the fast-food giant’s annual gathering lies in the massive scope of sustainability initiatives, which included collaborating with vendors and its venue.

By Mitra Sorrells September 11, 2013, 7:00 AM EDT

Photo: Courtesy of McDonald's

Consider these figures: 84,000 pounds of food composted, 67,000 pounds of materials donated, and 71 percent of waste diverted from the landfill. Those are just three of the statistics that illustrate the scope of the sustainability program McDonald’s created at its Worldwide Convention last year in Orlando. The fast-food chain initiated the strategy at the biennial event beginning in 2008, and since then it has been developing new and innovative initiatives to create continuous improvement.

New for the April 2012 iteration was a composting program to handle leftover food from the event’s buffets and restaurants that couldn’t be donated. “The challenge was that there was no one in the Orange County community that could handle the compost coming from the center,” said Julie Larson, a project manager for McDonald’s meetings and events who leads the convention’s sustainability program. “So McDonald’s, with our vendor Havi Global Solutions, was able to identify a new compost venue that waste management had just opened, so for the first time we were able to provide this service.” McDonald’s success has prompted the Orange County Convention Center to offer food diversion as a standard service.

McDonald’s also worked with the venue and its general contractor, Freeman, to identify exhibits and materials that could be donated to organizations around Central Florida. Countertops and cabinets went to Habitat for Humanity, drapes went to a local theater group, and an entire marketplace exhibit went to a nearby fairgrounds. McDonald’s is already identifying nonprofits to receive materials from its 2014 convention planned for Orlando. 

Nearly 17,000 people attended the 2012 convention, and Larson said communication with those attendees and exhibitors is critical to the success of the sustainability efforts. “As they are receiving their final confirmations, they also get an additional link back to the McDonald’s sustainability home page to tell them how they can participate on site,” she said. “They are alerted to our recycling efforts; they are encouraged to turn off the lights in their hotel room; they are told to close the shades on hot days. It’s really about how to be an environmental steward while they are on site.”

Many attendees bring children, and McDonald’s conveys the “green” message to the kids through programs offered at the convention’s daily children’s camp. The camp, which ran each day of the 2012 convention and served about 150 children from newborns through teens, offered programs and field trips on health, wellness, and water and animal conservation.

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