Green and Sustainable events: can 2011 be a ‘corner turner’?

The many ‘2010, a year in review’ lists (random example here) prompt consideration of what meeting industry trends might indicate, if anything, for 2011.  2010 saw many high water marks in the pursuit of greater sustainable event performance which, in list form, might look like this:

10.  The app.  Rapid uptake of smart phones and cool apps to help planners and suppliers integrate a wide array of services and communications in a user-friendly and paper-free way. This link offers a long list of viable apps for planners and, of course this one, too.

09. Food Banks. Creatively finding ways to bridge the gap between food safety and waste, a number of local food banks have been successful in receiving safe, unserved food from events which would otherwise have been wasted. We were inspired to see over 3000 meals go to communities in need during EWEC 2010, Warsaw

08. CVB Leadership.  Struggling for relevance in some communities, many CVB/DMO’s saw opportunity in not only promoting the sustainable features of their city, but worked to build capacity through the sponsorship of education and involvement in groups like the Green Meeting Industry Council

07. Community Action.  Sustainable events go beyond ‘green meetings’ by having effective plans to bring consideration, if not reward, to people in the communities they visit. Although not yet mainstream, many (such as UUA here and *blush* our own here) events are working to include ‘giving back’ programs.

06. Recycled carpets. The Carpet America Recovery Effort estimates that in 2009, 311 million (141M kilos) of carpet (of the 5.9 billion pounds thrown away) were recycled in the USA alone. That was a 19 million pound improvement over 2008, but way, way short of the goal of 40% of total carpet discarded.  Clearly, that huge pile of waste is not entirely from events/exhibitions, but carpet waste is something of a dirty secret in the meetings industry and it’s encouraging to see major players (IMEX, as one example) including plans to reduce carpet use and/or recycling what is used.

05. Hybrid events. Concerns that an integration of virtual elements (live streaming, video links, e.g.) will reduce attendance or bring risk for planners (reliability, cost) –or that virtual events would somehow push aside the need for face to face meetings–seemed to wane in 2010 as many events reported successful initiatives to blend face to face meetings with virtual elements, thereby creating ‘hybrid’ events. Still expensive and still not glitch-free, hybrid events are established as an industry mega-trend.

04. Exhibitor Engagement.  Exhibitions represent great waste, both material and carbon emissions. Efforts, such as those deployed by US Green Build, to engage exhibitors with education and incentive gained some traction in 2010 in spite of this being a sensitive area as planners are not keen to reduce booth space or put limits on sponsor investment.

03. Integrated carbon tracking tools. Practical, smart tools became accepted in 2010 and are being integrated into event registration systems allowing not only greater capture of delegate travel data but also increasing the amount of investment into carbon offset projects.

02. Sustainable Event Reporting.  Perhaps the only real cure against ‘greenwashing’ is effective and transparent reporting.  From the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit to Oracle Open World to the aforementioned EWEC 2010, diverse and influential organizers showed the importance of measuring and reporting sustainable event results.

01. The emergence of standards for sustainable event management. Actually a story from 2009, but continuing into 2010 and 2011 has been the development and release of standards which define criteria for sustainable event management.  Work was completed to advance the Global Reporting Initiative event sector supplement, the APEX green meeting standards and the ISO 20121 standard for sustainability in event management as well as the Copenhagen Sustainable Meetings Protocol which seeks to integrate and advance the use of each.

The above listed highlights from 2010 bring optimism that 2011 can build on this momentum and perhaps even ‘turn the corner’ for greater, more meaningful action in pursuit of sustainable events by an even greater number of suppliers and planners.  These 2010 highlights, indicate emerging trends for 2011—and beyond—because they represent advantage and benefit to event owners and planners. Each highlight listed here helps to build the business case for an improved, more responsible event industry which can continue to bring reward to communities everywhere.  Thinking that the meetings industry can bring real change across all market sectors is inspiring but such optimism must be fuel for greater effort.

Risk lurks in 2011.  Economies are struggling and people are busy.  Change is difficult. People want action but wait for others to deliver it.  A unbalanced focus on environmental responsibility may compromise needed advancement of social justice.

2011 is here and, for sustainable meetings and events, it’s time we turned the corner.

What highlights did we miss?  What examples need to be shared?  Please share your examples and thoughts here and, if at all possible, make a plan to attend the Green Meeting Industry Council’s Sustainable Meetings Conference next month in Portland, OR, USA and MPI’s European Meetings & Events conference, Dusseldorf, where, among other relevant sessions we’ll  hold a workshop on engaging suppliers for sustainable event success.

1 Comment

  1. [...] time last year, we created a list of predictions.  While a few examples were perhaps a bit optimistic, we maintain that the list remains viable [...]

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