Responsible Business in Action

We’ve just wrapped up the reporting for the game changing Responsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development organised at the end of last year with Global Initiatives here in Singapore. This unique event was designed to address the 21st century’s defining challenge- By 2050, the global population will hit 9 billion people and the increased demand for water, food and energy will exceed our current capacity to provide.Under the banner of “Transformation, growth and the green economy” the event brought nearly 450 leading business leaders, NGOs and policy-makers from around the world together to accelerate business solutions and policy frameworks for a more sustainable world. Held at Marina Bay Sands, the forum’s conveners  believe that nothing short of a revolutionary approach to the way government’s think and businesses operate is required to meet this global challenge.

Understanding that revolutionary thinking shouldn’t be unique to the delegates attending the room the organisers integrated revolutionary thinking into the way the event was managed and produced with audacious goals and achievements including a 100% vegetarian and local menu, a first for Singapore if not the wider region for an event of this scale and profile, an 88% waste diversion rate and 100% of the carbon footprint from the event offset.

Learn more about how we planned the event in a sustainable way in our video:

Strategic Overview

A strong strategy is key to success, we’d recommend these five areas to focus on if you want to execute your own sustainable event:

Strategic Planning: The planning team leaders met to identify the sustainability risks and opportunities that affected the Forum. A strategy was developed with clear objectives and actions to increase the sustainable performance of the event.

Supplier Engagement: Through a series of meetings with key suppliers, we shared our Sustainability Policy, Supplier Code of Conduct and were the first event to use the Singapore Sustainability Guidelines for the MICE industry (produced by the Singapore Tourism Board).  These helped our suppliers and our event team to review, discuss and improve the event management practices. We achieved basic level for 100% of organiser and supplier requirements and intermediate level for 50% of the event.

Sustainable Procurement: The event management team made a series of conscientious decisions in the purchasing of material and services. This included signage, badge holders, lanyards, printing, catering, communications as well as the selection of venue and location.

On-site Audit: MCI Sustainability Services provided independent assessment on the sustainability practices of the hotel, venue, catering, food and beverage and suppliers. They collected measurement data and documented results.

Review: The results and experiences from our sustainability initiatives were reviewed and learnings incorporated into the planning of our next events in order to improve performance.

Read and download the full sustainability report below

Top Sustainability Reports of 2013

Sustainability Reporting in the events industry is gradually picking up and there are staSustainability Reportsrting to be some great reports.

As we start to write MCIs 2013 annual sustainability report I reviewed some of my favourite reports. Excuse my bias for including some of our own:

MCI Produced Reports

Event Sustainability Reports


Venue Sustainability Reports

Hotel Sustainability Report

I am sure there many other great reports so please share your favourites as these are a superb opportunity to learn and improve from each other.

Lessons for Sustainable Destinations & Events from Singapore- Local Food


The concept of local food is in vogue and there’s a growing lexicon around the industry that’s mushroomed in recent years from “slow food” and “farm to fork” to the politically leaning “localism”.  Meanwhile in Europe, despite the naysayers who berate the bureaucracy of the EU, Brussels have been taking bold and important steps in protecting the origin of foods and valuable terroir in a globalized world. The expansion of the French “Appellation d’origine contrôléephilosophy across Europe is protecting everything from Cornish Pasties to Gorgonzola to Ouzo with the “Protected Geographical Indication” (PGI) status. All of this is good news for protecting heritage, promoting healthy and local food and reducing the food miles of a rapacious hospitality industry.

But what does this movement mean for sustainable events and destinations?

Guy and I have been working with a number of venues and events across Europe, Asia and the United States in the transition to more sustainable food sourcing. Particularly here in Singapore it’s thrown out some interesting questions in our work with the Tourism Board.  Just what is local to a nation only 710 kilometres square with one of the densest populations in one the smallest countries in the world?

Define your “local”

There is no agreed global definition of local and you’ll find that local food in the US might have travelled a lot further than local food in the Netherlands. Define what makes sense for your event, venue or destination. In the case of Singapore, “local” can’t be limited even just to the same country so we’re looking at Malaysia, Indonesia and even Thailand when considering that the bulk of fruit and vegetables are trucked down the 460 mile/740 kilometre Malay Peninsula, reducing carbon emissions significantly.

Set aspirations & projections early with your suppliers

Anything in life is possible with early preparation and even what once felt like a dream can become a plan with a leap of faith and commitment.  Share your aspirations early with your suppliers, your caterer or your local agricultural community and they’ll have time to work towards your goal. In Singapore, the challenge of feeding a growing population is pushing the concept of urban farming to new heights,  SkyGreen is the world’s first low carbon hydraulic water-driven, tropical vegetable urban vertical farm and 10 times more productive per square foot than conventional farming. Sounds like a dream?

Check out:

Maximise the strengths of the season

Seasons are unfortunately not one of Singapore’s many strengths but elsewhere in the world the cycles of nature can provide you with a constant source of fresh & flavourful local and sustainable food, be as flexible as possible- serve autumnal mushrooms and game in the fall and fresh berries and fruits in the summer.

 Dream big

The only barrier to “Fresh, Local, Organic, Sustainable and Seasonal” produce for the events industry is your aspiration and vision, collaborate with your supply chain and dream big. Who knows? Along the way we might discover a little more joy, to use the words of JRR Tolkien in the Hobbit “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

Sustainability as a competitive differentiator

Today I have the pleasure to be in the magic city of Medellin, Colombia speaking at the first International Symposium on Events and Conventions. The events industry in Colombia is in serious development at the moment with a growth of 47% during the last year alone. The leaders of this event realize that sustainability and quality are critical components for the development of the MICE industry, and invited me to share some best practices and trends from around the world.

My session was entitled “Sustainability as a Competitive Differentiator”.  In the presentation that you can see below, identified over the years from organizations who have used sustainability to deliver increase value to their stakeholders.

  1. Leaders Lead: They stop watching the game from the stands and they get on the pitch. They take a proactive role to inspire their teams to learn and implement more sustainable actions. They take a dynamic role in their industry and community to champion and advocate for more sustainable practices.
  2. Leaders understand the context: They research and educate themselves and their organisations to understand the social, economic and environmental trends and risks (ie. Climate Change). They understand how these risks will affect their business, and identify the opportunities that are available to create new or improve existing services/products.
  3. Leaders connect and collaborate: They understand the power of using their existing networks and joining new ones to engage with their stakeholders. They listen, they learn, they share, and most important they form partnerships to advance sustainability within their own organisations, industry and community.
  4. Leaders integrate and innovate: From a clear understand of the issues and expectations of their stakeholders, Leaders integrate sustainability into their operations. They don’t add on sustainability as an additional service or product; instead they embed sustainability into the standard operating practices across their business. Leader understand that sustainability is a core component of their “quality management strategy” and uses it to inspire innovation across their business.
  5. Leaders measure performance and its value: They are fanatic about measuring the impacts and results of their sustainability initiatives. They investigate and analyze their impacts, and use data to make decisions and investments that deliver value for their organization and their stakeholders.

ps. Colombia is an amazing destination. I totally recommend that you consider it for your next event, incentive or conference. Amazing service, great people, beautiful country.

The Undercover Boss and the Gamification of Corporate Values

Modern television can be rather formulaic but every once in a while a new show is created that is truly original, refreshing and swiftly franchised across the globe. The Dutch hit upon a winner back in 1997 with Big Brother, although it’s now stale back then it was fresh and felt like a new frontier in TV. Whizz through the early 00’s past Pop Idol,  X factor, The Apprentice and various celebrity debacles and you’ll come to the newest and freshest format to hit your screens: “Undercover boss”. First airing in 2009 in the UK, the Emmy Award-winning television franchise follows boardroom staff working undercover in their own companies to investigate how their firms really work and to identify how they can be improved whilst often doing a bit of PR and rewarding hard-working employees.

Courtesy of CBS

Courtesy of CBS

The series is now popular across the globe from the mountains of Austria to the golden shores of Australia and is currently in production for the first time in 7 other countries including Spain, Belgium and Israel. At it’s best the series illustrates a powerful story of the white collar worker rolling up the sleeves and working alongside his or her blue collar employees for the first time.

What always strikes me about the show is how disconnected the boardroom is from the day to day business. Policies, core values, staff support schemes and standards of quality are in the daily lexicon of the boardroom but down on the shop floor staff are commonly blissfully unaware of much of it and the management look shocked when they come face to face with their employees at the coalface of the business.

Check out the CEO of “Retro Fitness” experiencing a shocking disconnection between the values and policy of his company and one frontline employee:

So here, lies the problem: How can we spread our culture deeper within the business? And how do we do that in a fun and engaging way?

The Change Challenge

MCI recently piloted a programme in Belgium and Singapore that addressed this very need. Living sustainably and healthily is part of our core values but in a busy global business it’s not always something we see staff embracing. Combining the skills of our sustainability team with our newly launched “Performance Improvement” department, we racked our brains for a solution that would meet this challenge.

Enter Change Challenge –a cloud based multilingual solution that makes organizational change and employee development fun by using elements of social gaming, peer pressure, and gamification to drive business change and employee satisfaction.

The technology was originally developed for fitness challenges and is designed to create positive and inspiring social pressure among participants. Example Mailer for employees The Change Challenge offers a race rule engine with flexible scoring rules, challenges, medals and multi-level team management to use for groups, departments, companies, countries, divisions and has been used by multiple organisations from Atlas Copco to Zurich since 2005 with tens of thousands of participants.

Piloting the programme in our Brussels and Singapore office led to success beyond our wildest dreams, we had 80% of employees engaging with the system, logging 15,447 activities and 1247 hours of physical activity showing a great impact on their health.  Alongside the health benefits we wanted to see staff living our commitment to sustainability with activities focused on reducing waste and resource consciousness – 91% of staff registered recycling activities and 93% used less water for an entire week.

It was such a resounding success that we are now offering the service to clients, learn more about the expertise of our Performance Improvement team on their blog “Energise, empower engage”: and contact if you are interested in a cost effective solution to drive your values through your business.

Sustainability and quality – lets have a group hug

I am honoured to have been selected as an “influential” voice – by the American Society for Quality (ASQ).  For the last few months I have been part of a ASQ working committee looking at how we can better integrate sustainability and quality. This has been a key learning exercise for me, as I know a lot about sustainability but did not think I knew much about quality.

As I started to review my TQC training that I did 20 years ago at HP, I was struck how similar the two worlds are. Then I was down-founded by the the lack of integration of quality and sustainability in the meetings and hospitality industry.  Paul Borawski, the president of the ASQ, in a recent blog post   asked what was the big challenge facing quality?  My answer is simple – it’s time for a group hug and to get the quality people talking to the sustainability people and vice-versa: Many of us are focused on the samStrong Teame thing: ie Zero

  • Quality: zero defects, zero customer complaints
  • Sustainability: zero waste, zero water usage, zero human rights violations

Delving deeper  I reviewed the ASQ/BSR white paper CSR and Quality: A Powerful and Untapped Connection,” and discovered a few more key similarities and considered how they relate to the Meetings and Events industry:

  • Making hidden costs visible: From a quality perspective, hidden costs related to wasted materials, wasted energy, distracted employees, dissatisfied customers, and poorly performing products can amount to 10 to 40 percent of total costs. Similarly, sustainability can use lifecycle approaches to highlight costs buried deep in the event value chain. For Symantec at the moment we are looking at the costs to design, recycle and dispose of merchandising and branding materials used in an event.
  • Corporate governance: In quality, senior management holds complete responsibility for quality problems, and quality is made in the boardroom. The majority of quality problems are the fault of poor management rather than poor workmanship. Likewise, sustainability success is directly related to CEO commitment, as I can testify at MCI.
  • Empowerment: “Quality at the source” refers to an approach in which workers are given the authority to stop a production line if there is a quality problem or offer a customer an on-the-spot refund if the service is not satisfactory. Empowerment is also a primary pillar in promoting supply chain sustainability. In our industry event manager need to have the education and freedom to make purchasing designs and create new processes in favour of sustainability.
  • From reactive to proactive: In quality, prevention and continuous improvement are more effective than inspection. And in sustainability, supply chain monitoring approaches used alone fail to address root causes for social and environmental challenges. Its not about recycling event waste and offsetting carbon emissions. Its about design events from the first moment to be more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. If sustainability is a core element of meeting design, then the actual implementation becomes much simpler.
  • Internal alignment: According to the total quality approach, each department views other departments as internal customers, causing barriers to fall. This kind of cross-functional approach is useful in identifying and managing sustainability issues. Both quality and sustainability, therefore, encourage internal collaboration both vertically (from the CEO level to the factory floor) and horizontally (across departmental silos).

What do you think? Are there any great cases of quality and sustainability working together in your workplace?

With the introduction of the ISO20121 Event Sustainability Management System, organisations have a great opportunity to review processes and design innovation into their management journey. Quality does not need to stifle innvovation as some people complain. Working on projects such as the Danish Presidency of the EU, we have really learnt that sustainability and quality go hand in hand.

For more info on how to join together your sustainability and quality initiatives – check out the SRO webpage, this ASQ presentation and also this great article from John Elkington:

Disclaimer I’m part of the ASQ Influential Voices program. While I receive an honorarium from ASQ for my commitment, the thoughts and opinions expressed on my blog are my own.

Launch 2013 Scandinavian Destinations Sustainability Index Report

This week ICCA Scandinavia in partnership with MCI and VisitAarhus launched the 2013 Scandinavia Destinations Sustainability Index. For the last four years we have been working to bring together the meetings industry of Norway, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Denmark to collaborate and create the world’s first ever sustainable meetings region.

As part of the project, MCI Sustainability Services researched and benchmarked the social and environmental sustainability performance of 22 cities across the five nations. This, the second  Scandinavia Destinations Sustainability Index demonstrates how the Cities, their Tourism Authorities, Convention Bureaux,  and members are sharing best practice and working together to drive change. In the last year the project improved sustainability performance across the region by a superb 11% in the meetings industry category. Strategy improvement has been the key improvement across the region; in just one year Cities with a Sustainable Meeting Strategy increased from 25% to 47%. Over 59% of all venues and hotels across the region are now eco-certified.

We designed this project to foster collaboration, the sharing of best practices and to start to get cities reporting. It does not yet use the GRI Framework, but it uses some indicators and will evolve to use G4 and encourage full reporting across the region.

The project was sponsored by MCI and VisitAarhus. We are expanding the Index to include other regions and cities in 2014. Please contact me should you wish to explore how your destination could be included or wish to sponsor the 2014 research.

You can see and download the Index here


Click below to see a summary powerpoint presentation that we delivered at the IMEX tradeshow.


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