Shannon Downey and her “green” event-planning business have evolved into a truth patrol of eco-friendliness.
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The entrepreneur, who started her Chicago-based company Pivotal Production three years ago, said the firm works to produce meetings, parties and seminars with authentic environmental credentials. Companies hire Pivotal to make sure no planet-saving stone goes unturned and also to avoid being seen as “greenwashing,” or falsely promoting themselves as environmentally conscious. Think clean coal.
“Tons of people are now saying that they hold ‘green events,’ and when you talk to them you find out that the only thing they have done to green their events is add recycling,” Downey said. “We work smart to find efficient alternatives that do not necessarily translate into higher prices.”
As companies like IBM (IBM) and Wal-Mart (WMT) work to grow their green credentials, small businesses like Downey’s are popping up to help them produce environmentally sound events. To win clients, Downey has taken her environmental stewardship to another level, advising clients on how they can be green even before an event is thrown.
She said she employs methods like using rented glassware rather than disposable items, serving finger foods to eliminate waste, and composting waste food. Downey also sources her food from environmentally-conscious caterers and provides ample information on public transport routes to events to minimize the use of cars.
But to non-believers of the green mantra, Downey seems like someone catering to a niche clientele at a higher cost.
“Often folks who are not in the ‘green scene’ have the misconception that the events I put on are ‘hippy – incense and Birkenstocks’ or more expensive than ‘traditional’ events,” said Downey, who denies both lines of thinking. “I’ve tried to counter that via my Web-site imagery, my messaging and just being out there and educating.”
To that end, she is working on an educational video for her Web site that explains green events. She said she also makes the rounds at her events to make sure any naysayers see that green parties can be thrown without higher costs. Downey explains that avoiding imported foods in favor of locally grown, seasonal items actually helps shed costs.
Downey started the company after traveling across the globe for eight months following grad school. She arrived back in Chicago and became a freelance event producer, but said she saw an opening as the green economy started to emerge.
“My trip inspired me to go on my own,” she said. “I had no financial support. I landed a huge contract right out of the gate and it funded my growth.”
Downey has managed to convince high-profile clients that green is the way and that it can be done on a budget. Her clients have included Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, a local business association called The Chicago Loop Alliance and a host of other artistic and eco-friendly companies.
“It’s an amazing network of businesses and people who ‘get’ the value of green and are willing and open to working together to help catapult other green businesses in Chicagoland,” she said.