San Francisco, a decadent cocktail, and a green conference planner’s ideal venue.

As a conference and trade show planner, my work takes me to convention centers and major venues around the world, giving me a unique view into what cities and large facilities are doing to address sustainability issues.

In this blog I’ll be writing about three of my passions — sustainability, event planning, and fine food and beverages. This is actually the second blog in this series: you can find the first post here.

Today, I’ll be sharing some lessons I learned from planning green conferences in the fanatically eco-friendly city of San Francisco. But first, sit back, relax and let me order you a…

Decanted Mother-in-Law – Bourbon, curaçao, maraschino, amber, Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters, served in an apothecary bottle from The Interval Bar, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco.

I highly recommend this drink at this bar after a long week producing a 2500+ person conference at Fort Mason Center. Especially if you are a would-be sustainability expert and want to level-up your game.

The bar is operated by The Long Now Foundation, which fosters thought leadership on sustainability issues with a 10,000 year lens. Some of the decanted spirits leading this organization include executive director Alexander Rose, artist Brian Eno, environmentalist & writer Stewart Brand, and Kevin Kelly, senior Maverick at Wired magazine. We’ll need another cocktail to talk about the 10,000 year clock, the upcoming Long Now Member Summit, and other visionary programs of this unique organization.

The Interval and Long Now Foundation are located in Fort Mason Center. A former military base, it is now a vibrant arts and cultural center, and an ideal setting for planning a green event. Across the 13-acre campus are 15 venue spaces, including the 50,000 square foot Festival Pavilion, the 437-seat Cowell theater, and the recently renovated and gorgeous Gallery 308. 

Solar panels on the roof of Fort Mason, a green conference venue

Solar panels on the roof of Fort Mason

Among other green initiatives, Fort Mason has invested in a massive solar installation, reducing their reliance on coal-generated electricity: the single largest contributor to global warming. And events hosted at Fort Mason are required to use the SF Conservation Corps, who provide recycling and waste removal services, with a track record of diverting almost 90% of all event waste away from landfill and into compost and recycling streams.

Fort Mason is unusual in that the event host is able to choose from a list of preferred caterers. For our recent event, we partnered with Acre Catering, who is able to provide organic and locally sourced food on a big scale: a 3 day conference with over 2,500 attendees.

If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing you already know a few good reasons to hire caterers who source organic foods. You already know that organic food is tastier, it’s better for you, and organic farming don’t use damaging pesticides that run off into streams and reservoirs. But many people are not aware of the benefits of sourcing food locally. Of course, most of us greenies know that local sourcing creates less food miles, minimizing the GHG emissions produced in getting the food to your event. But most importantly, sourcing local food creates local food security.

Food security is a broad topic that ranges from short-term risk assessment to long-term national security. Like an unleashed mother-in-law, there are forces out there beyond our control. Disasters happen: it could be a terrorist attack, an SF-Style earthquake, Godzilla taking out the Golden Gate Bridge, Tim hitting the master Kill Switch, or storms as big as Katrina or Sandy. Whatever it is, there’s always a possibility that with no warning, the area’s roads, bridges, tunnels, rail lines, airports, and other infrastructure could become impassable for an extended time. And if a city’s food supply is dependent on big farms thousands of miles away, the situation will become very bleak, very fast.

We event planners can have a lot of influence through who we choose as partners. By selecting caterers that source locally, we help support local farms, who our communities will be reliant on should a disaster strike. Though it’s unlikely that the Act of God clause in your venue contract will come to pass, sourcing food locally isn’t just a good plan to make sure your event runs smoothly: it’s good planning for the future.

And that, really, is what green event planning is all about.

If you want to learn more about producing a socially and environmentally conscious conference at Fort Mason, please read my recent blog post about Sustainability at SOCAP. Another post is coming up soon. Until then, stay green and enjoy your cocktail.