It’s amazing to reflect that we started our sustainability journey over 10 years ago. Since then, the world has changed significantly, and aside from an increasingly isolated American President, the world’s governments’ and businesses are united in the need to tackle climate change, environmental degradation and social challenges head on. But what has changed for MCI and what lessons have we learnt in the past decade?
1. It’s about business or is it?
Most of us can comprehend that even a strong business won’t survive on a dead planet, or in a society that is breaking down. However, in most situations sustainability needs to make immediate short term business sense. Consequently it’s always important to highlight the impacts of environmental and social actions on the bottom line. For example what’s the financial cost when a company is legally required to compensate for all of its carbon emissions? What is the saving by reducing your printing? How much will you save by recycling more waste at the venue? How much business are you making from clients who care about sustainability? What is the potential for new projects in high growth sustainability areas such as renewables, SMART cities etc.?
At the same time we have seen that MCI’s employees believe it’s an ethical decision and not solely a business responsibility for us to act. In our recent stakeholder engagement questionnaire, 76% of our talent think MCI have a moral obligation to support the development of a more sustainable and responsible global economy (up 10% from 2014). Combining the financial arguments and stakeholder pressure has made a strong business case that we have increasingly leveraged.
2. Client as catalyst
Winning a new client that is focused on sustainability has proven to be a major catalyst to our own program. To date we have delivered over 850 projects about climate change, conservation, responsible business, social innovation and energy. When our teams start to work on these projects, they typically get inspired and motivated by the cause, and are driven to think creatively and act more sustainably. We use a scorecard system to benchmark all of our offices for their sustainability performance and can now model how engagement, sales and results go hand in hand.
3.Reward and recognise
Although we have a sustainability team at MCI, the big change is driven by our 100+ champions around the world. These are the professionals challenging their clients, supplier and colleagues to implement more sustainable solutions on a day to day basis. It’s very important that these efforts are recognised and rewarded. Consequently we created and continue to evolve an annual internal award for Leadership in Sustainability and Innovation in Sustainability. The process of asking offices to present their best projects and enter into friendly competition has significantly enhanced and accelerated our internal sustainability program and the commitment to sustainability internally among our talent.
4. Communicate, communicate, communicate
To build a culture of care and responsibility, we have learnt that you have to be creative, persistent and dogmatic in your communication. Sustainability themes need to be weaved throughout the corporate communications strategy and not just added on. Yes it’s good to have a dedicated sustainability blog (like our www.lessconversationmoreaction,com) but we have seen that we get greater outreach and engagement if we integrate articles about responsible business in our company blog, internal and client newsletters. And it can’t be just a whim – communication needs to be consistent, regular, personal and ideally humorous. A great example was the creation of “Adam Greenie” – the MCI Amsterdam sustainability mascot, who is the personality that communicates about the efforts of the Dutch team. Adam is also good at chastising the team for poor performance and is responsible for communicating to HQ.
5. Millenials and Aspirationals
In the last ten years, the numbers and influence of millennials at MCI has grown considerably. Our research has shown that our millennials care. Over 85% of new employees read our sustainability website before their interview and it’s this group of people that is the most supportive of our sustainability program, but also the most critical. Over 58% of these talents believe that inconsistent action is a key threat to MCI and they don’t mind reminding us.
However, we have discovered that the majority of our staff are from a target group entitled the “Aspirationals” – a group defined not by their year of birth but by their desire to be part of something bigger and to achieve a better world. These Aspirationals represent 40% of the global market, and are driving companies like MCI to embody a new set of values that drives a transition to a more sustainable world. This group of Aspirationals wants and expects companies to communicate their sustainability “story”. In fact 83% of MCI Talent wants to hear even more stories of how their colleagues are working with sustainability to better integrate it into their day-to-day operations.
6. Make it relevant and simple
The vast majority of our staff want to integrate sustainability into their daily work. However at times in the last decade we have made sustainability too complicated and too abstract. Key to effective engagement and culture change is creating processes and products that are easy to understand and implement, but equally relevant to the teams. We’ve learnt over the years that our teams often appreciate hearing more about small actions in everyday projects rather than our uber-sustainable projects. The simple reason being that super sustainable clients are not that common whereas everyone has a client where they can do a few sustainable actions.
7. Competition drives performance
As much as we’d not like to admit it, we are truly social animals and constantly look to our friends, family or colleagues for validation. This is even more evident in sustainability, over the 10 years we’ve seen a lot of clients and suppliers take action because their competitors have taken action. We’ve been able to use this peer validation to great affect with our office scorecard system. Ranking our office performance and sharing this in management meetings via a little shame and fame session has really helped keep the focus and motivate action. Wherever you can stimulate competition you’ll see stronger performance. This we have also demonstrated in our project the Global Destination Sustainability Index – where we benchmark over 40 destinations for their sustainability performance.
8. One dedicated individual really can change the world
Anthropoligist Margaret Mead famously stated “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world” and we’ve found this truer than ever in our business. Having the right person in the right position can create a huge impact and we’ve been lucky to see a number of our “Sustainability Champions” take senior level positions later in their career and wield a lot of influence whilst creating a lot of opportunity. Just one person asking one question in a single project meeting can create a whole avalanche of decisions resulting in much higher sustainability achievements.
At times, championing sustainability can be a very tough and unrewarding responsibility. Yet it can also be the most inspiring, motivating job in the world. When I see how our staff have changed, and how sustainability is now considered in how we make acquisitions, select suppliers, recruit staff, appraise our talent, select finance partners, build our offices, organise our events, construct our stage sets and design our food offering – I am overcome by a sense of collective achievement. However to be frank, we are only just scratching the surface and over the next ten years we need to turn the “volume up”, and become seriously creative if we are going to significantly reduce the environmental impacts and maximise the positive legacy potential of the +5700 events we organise every year.