Three U.S. Destinations Innovating for More Sustainable Events


Skift Take

Sustainability is top of mind for event planners around the world today. Consider hosting your next meeting in a smaller city already introducing green energy, waste reduction, and nature conservation solutions in the local community.

This content was created collaboratively by Brand USA and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.

Sustainability is a growing concern for many professionals worldwide, and meeting planners are no exception. Research suggests that the event industry accounts for over 10 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. On an individual level, the average event attendee produces over four pounds of waste per day. Beyond the industry’s immediate impact, wildlife conservation is a top priority for many sustainability-conscious consumers.

Fortunately, destinations across the U.S. are making inroads in these three main sustainability areas: the transition to greener energy, waste reduction, and nature preservation. The importance of this progress is not lost on planners, 44 percent of whom say their organizations have “set a corporate net zero journey with defined sustainability goals,” according to AMEX GBT 2024 Global Meetings and Events Forecast.

According to Knowland’s 2024 State of the Meetings Industry, sustainability is the third biggest industry trend. More specifically, the AMEX GBT report found that minimizing waste and identifying certified sustainable suppliers are today’s top sustainability challenges. And 78 percent of planners said they either have already begun measuring the carbon emissions of their events or will soon.

While many event professionals are already turning to secondary cities to help reduce their overall costs, budget savings may not be the only advantage. These smaller and mid-sized destinations are often the testing ground for innovative approaches to more sustainable meetings. In this article, we’ll review some of the most forward-thinking initiatives in Portland, Monterey, and St. Louis.

Portland, Oregon: Green Energy Awards and Salmon Sanctuaries

Portland sustainability
Photo Credit: Flickr

According to U.S. News and World Report, Oregon is the third most energy-efficient state in the nation. That gives Oregon cities a leg up, but Portland has earned several of its own accolades: In 2023, WalletHub named Portland the best U.S. city for vegans and vegetarians and the third greenest U.S. city. The nods are no surprise, considering the great strides Portland has made in its sustainability stance.

Half of Portland’s power comes from clean energy sources. Some of the city’s public transportation options, like the MAX Light Rail and Portland Streetcar, run on 100 percent renewable energy. Bicycles are also a popular mode of transportation among locals, thanks to the city’s acclaimed bike trails and cycling lanes.

Further signaling its leadership in the clean energy space, Portland was the only U.S. stop during the recent Formula E season, as the world’s foremost all-electric motorsport race series and close cousin of Formula 1, Formula E races in iconic cities like Berlin, London, Rome, Monaco, Cape Town, Hyderabad, and São Paulo.

In the nature category, Portland is a leader in preservation and conservation. For example, the city boasts the largest number of urban green spaces per capita in the country. Underwater, Portland’s wild salmon and steelhead sanctuaries are designed to rejuvenate critical — and endangered — fish and wildlife ecosystems. These initiatives are also front and center at the LEED Platinum-certified Oregon Convention Center. Its watershed stewardship program is rooted in a groundbreaking stormwater management system and includes a blue ribbon Salmon-Safe certification.

Monterey, California: Regenerative Economies and Waste Reduction

Monterey Sustainability

Monterey may not be the biggest or the best-known part of California, but the city leads the state’s sustainability efforts. Monterey is the pilot region for Regenerative California, an initiative devoted to making the state the first regenerative economy in the U.S. Projects under that umbrella include affordable housing efforts, large-scale transitions to organic farming, and Project Kelp, which aims to restore the coastline’s kelp forests. These flora are vital to the health of local marine ecosystems and are a key factor in carbon sequestration.

In keeping with the city’s broader efforts, the Monterey Conference Center is a LEED Platinum-certified venue outfitted with 330 solar panels on the rooftop. The conference center is committed to reducing waste even further through its partnership with Pass It On Please, a non-profit that collects, repurposes, and distributes excess trade show swag and signage to schools and those in need across the country. Monterey’s destination management organization also provides sustainability services and resources to all guests and planners, including zero waste event services, carbon offset programs, local and sustainable F&B sourcing, environmental and social volunteer opportunities, and LEED-certified green business partnerships.

These meeting-specific resources are at home among citywide sustainability initiatives. Monterey follows the California Green Building Code, and its Environmentally Preferred Purchasing Policy encourages municipal workers to consider the environmental and health impacts of all purchases. Further, the city of Monterey provides free recycling services, diverting over 60 percent of the region’s waste from landfills. Meanwhile, the Commercial Food Scrap Collection Program limits unnecessary food waste, and a ban on plastic bags and polystyrene keeps unnecessary pollutants out of Monterey’s natural ecosystems.

St. Louis, Missouri: Solar Power Initiatives and The Butterfly Byway

St. Louis sustainability
Photo Credit: Anonymous Traveller

In St. Louis, multiple citywide solar power initiatives put green energy at the top of the sustainability agenda. The city’s Solar-Ready Ordinance was signed into law in 2019 to help make rooftop solar power more accessible for new construction projects. Similarly, its Solar Workforce Development Pilot is designed to build equity in the space, just as rebates and discounts offered through various statewide organizations encourage and reward green development. St. Louis was also awarded a portion of the federal government’s $7 billion Solar for All grant, which aims to deliver solar power to over 900,000 U.S. households.

At America’s Center Convention Complex, a $256 million expansion and renovation project puts those sustainability efforts on display in the heart of the city. In addition to a new 72,000-square-foot exhibit hall in the center of highly walkable downtown St. Louis, the complex prioritizes outdoor gathering space and an on-site food garden for fresh, hyper-local produce.

When it comes to conservation, St. Louis has focused on nurturing the monarch butterfly population. As important pollinators, much like bees, monarchs thrive on specific local plant varieties — depending largely on native milkweeds. Over the past decade, St. Louis has pioneered innovative solutions to restore milkweed habitats citywide.

There are now 50 monarch gardens on public land and 50 in local schools, in addition to the city’s widely shared instructions anyone can use to start their own monarch garden close to home. The St. Louis Riverfront Butterfly Byway is a 30-acre pollinator pathway along the beautiful Mississippi Riverfront, putting the city’s conservation efforts front and center for all to appreciate and study.

Green Solutions Beyond the Biggest Cities

Although large metropolitan cities are often in the spotlight, plenty of smaller U.S. cities already host large-scale, impactful meetings and events. For the sustainability-minded planner, choosing a city like Portland, Monterey, or St. Louis makes it easy to incorporate key priorities like green energy, waste reduction, and nature conservation into event programming. To host successful meetings that protect the planet, planners should look to mid-sized cities with big sustainability plans and major accolades to boot.

This content was created collaboratively by Brand USA and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.