Multinationals talk marketing, while locals implement zero waste behind the scenes.

Achieving zero waste in the Portola Hotel & Spa kitchen was so successful, Monterey plans to roll out a commercial compost pick-up citywide.

Makers of environmentally sensitive products spent a good deal of time at the Sustainable Brands Conference talking about their ability to change people’s behaviors. Were they not for a noble purpose, such intentions might have come across as creepy. 

“We feel that we have the opportunity to touch people’s hearts and minds in a Starbucks store,” said Arthur Rubinfeld, Starbucks’ president of global development. 

“Change really lies in behavioral changes, rather than on technological changes,” said Marc Mathieu, global vice president of marketing for Unilever. 

At this annual four-day event hosted by San Francisco-based Sustainable Life Media at the Portola Hotel and Monterey Conference Center last week, some of the biggest names in sustainable marketing waxed on strategies and successes for marketing billions of dollars worth of green products to a range of conscious consumers, buyers they describe as anything from “dark green” to “values aspirational.”

Adidas, for example, launched an entire 3D store on a giant tablet-like screen, eliminating the need for floor – model sneakers (and shelves to put them on). 

Meanwhile, a quiet effort led by volunteers and the kitchen crew at Portola was underway to make the conference a zero-waste event. A dozen students from the Monterey Institute of International Studies spent breaks next to the trash, compost and recycling bins to help ensure attendees didn’t inadvertently contaminate the recycling or compost. 

“It’s interesting to watch how difficult it is, even for people who are so conscientious,” said Emily Ewins, a MIIS student and volunteer, eying a group of attendees with nearly empty Naked Juice bottles.

In the hotel kitchen, Amy Gibson, director of banquets and catering, brought on two extra staff people to sort through waste. Last year, they relied on conference-goers to separate their own trash. 

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“But within 10 minutes, we realized it wasn’t going to work,” Gibson says. Instead, they made a quick change from bins to trays, doing all the sorting themselves. Gibson’s dedicated crew even went so far as to tear open silk tea bags, composting the tea leaves and trashing the non-compostable silk. 

“The majority of our waste is compost,” Gibson says. Last year, the event produced only 19 pounds of landfill-bound trash. An exact figure for 2011 was not available at press time. 

Besides helping make the 797-person Sustainable Brands Conference a zero-waste event (which the industry defines as 10 percent), Gibson was piloting a commercial compost pick-up for the city of Monterey. Logistics and cost are still being negotiated, but solid waste program manager Angela Brantley says she hopes to roll out a program citywide in as soon as six months.

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