Behind the scenes of a sustainable EU Presidency

“To have success in sustainability – you just have to make it sufficiently hard for yourself that it becomes easy”. This was the advice from Kirsten Aggersborg, the director of the super sustainable Hotel Axel in Copenhagen.

I think there is some real value to this observation, and this is no where more true than with the Danish Presidency of the European Union Council.

By June 30, when the European Union Presidency 2012 Denmark concludes, the Danish Foreign Ministry Logistics team will have supported the organization of 100 meetings serving 15,000 total participants while meeting criteria of the ISO 20121 event sustainability management system.

With a team of just 22 people, the logistics team delivered an EU Presidency at a fraction of the total cost of past Presidencies. The €30million savings were an important result of the strategic meeting design and sustainable event management system

Working with Wonderful Copenhagen, we made the following video to show how sustainable event management is not complicated, but  that it requires leadership, vision, commitment and discipline.

I take my hat off to Andreas and the Government team for demonstrating the business case of sustainable meetings. And also to the Bella Center, for the paradigm shift in sustainability performance in the last 3 years.

MCI Sustainability Services supported the Danish Foreign ministry in the development of the ISO20121 Sustainable Event Management System, and in the application for third party certification. This project will be one of the largest most ambitious implementations of sustainability in the meetings industry.For more info.

MCI have also led a stakeholder engagement initiative to increase the sustainability and outreach of the Danish Meetings Industry. A sustainability report will be available in the summer on http://www.sustainableeventsdenmark.org

Sustainable Events 2012: Bold (and not so bold) predictions

As 2011 becomes 2012, lists and reviews abound (including this frightful recounting).  In this spirit, and to bring a focus to meetings industry issues, we consider the influence sustainability will have on the organizations that comprise the industry.

This 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 (it’s just ahead of it’s time!).  Because they are poised to be trends, some appear again in this list for 2012.

A thoughtful review of international business trends (recent relevant random sampling here, here and here) shows clearly that sustainability, and sustainable business practices, are more relevant and, indeed, more important to business than ever before.  Return on Investment (ROI), risk reduction, cost containment, stakeholder engagement and innovative  initiatives to increase revenue streams are terms which are not only near the top of every business leaders ‘to do’ list, but also characterize sustainable business results.

Given the increasing import of sustainable business practices in a difficult and ever more competitive marketplace, it’s appropriate to look more closely at the most influential of sustainability trends which will inform the 2012 landscape of meetings and events internationally.  Identified are 8 total trends.  To ring in the New Year and to make things even more enticing, we’ll portion these out just 2 at a time over the next few days (suspense!).

Trendspotting 2012: sustainability is smart business

  1. Fewer actions, greater results: Rather than struggle to integrate multiple new actions, ideas or processes, planners and suppliers will focus on 2 or 3 specific and measurable tactics which can yield tangible returns or progress.  In 2012, more planners will mature in their approach to sustainable event management and find concrete results by narrowing their focus to improve areas most material to their unique conference or business.   This approach will help underscore the business case for actions taken and inspire additional actions which provide value.
  2. Destination Marketing Organizations as sustainable business hubs.  As a first point of contact for many planners, DMO’s and CVB´swill become increasingly responsive to demand for sustainable suppliers and activity options for events.  Through their connections with regional membership, DMO’s have the opportunity to gather industry leaders around the topic of sustainability and facilitate training to bring mutually beneficial business returns to the region.  (This finding is based, in part, on the projects in which we’ve been proudly involved in with DMO leaders in Gothenburg, Copenhagen and the Costa del Sol.)

Share your thoughts on these and any sustainability related predictions of your own.  Stay tuned for more soon!

A bit about eco labels

 So many labels, so much confusion

It’s a jungle out there.  There are over 400 labels known worldwide. (For a review of each of these labels, see the Eco Label Index site) 

Many people comment that with so many labels, it’s hard to know what is ‘good’.  Yet, certifications can provide real value to meetings industry professionals seeking to improve business performance.

For Suppliers:   Eco Certifications provide practical guidance for integrating sustainability into their operations in a fundamental way. An investment in a certification system can save money while helping to earn credibility in the marketplace.  Labels should not, though, supplant constructive dialogue between buyers and suppliers.  If  sustainability goals are to be met, an ever increasing amount of collaboration and innovation will be required.

For planners:  Because most eco labels require a sustainability policy and documentation showing performance improvement over time, they provide planners some reassurance that leaders on site are at least somewhat engaged in the supporting of responsible business practices. Planners can reasonably ask for statistics and examples of actions. Certification, in this way, lowers risk for planners.

 

Certification Snapshot

Green Globe: Green Globe offers a good balance of environmentally sound practices with a focus on social responsibility criteria.  Event planners gain indication that the certified supplier has good systems in place for a responsible business.  Green Globe has different criteria for different kinds of businesses, including offices. That said, criteria for planner offices are not particularly agressive.  This label is a better indication for the level of leadership engagement in sustainability at hotels and conference venues.

Green Key: Originally designed to help leisure travelers better access environmentally responsible locations and activities, this certification is exclusively focused on ‘green’ aspects of business impacts and engagements.  The requirements of Green Key are such that it represents a good first point of entry for businesses seeking to get started with sustainable practices. While international, Green Key has been localized to only a few regions and is not widely recognized in Asia or Southern Europe.

BS8901 / ISO 20121/14001:  These are internationally recognized management standards that are regarded as being robust and holistic. Critics point out that, because the individual organization set the scope and level of improvement required, a business could technically meet certification with only nominal levels of real improvement.  Still, the requirement of solid, proven processes is a strong indicator of leadership engagement and commitment to sustainability.

Nordic Swan: The most rigorous standard for environmental sustainability, the Nordic Swan does not yet integrate requirement for social responsibility issues such as fair wages, diversity, or labour rights. It is a regional label, localized to Scandinavia and does not currently offer certification options for venues.  It is a strong indicator of good leadership and planners are encouraged to consider this when organizing events in Scandinavia.

EU Flower: Developed with good intentions, and requiring a good commitment to environmental sustainability, the EU Flower label is not widely recognized or understood by most in the meetings and events industry.  It lacks criteria for social responsibility and does not offer criteria for meeting venues.

Brief summary

  • Eco labels are valuable indicators of leadership engagement and well run businesses
  • Eco labels help businesses save money
  • Eco labels don’t replace the need for dialogue between planner and supplier
  • Seek out certified suppliers as a first choice to reduce risk to your business or event

Do you have experience with certification labels you can share?  Would you like to suggest changes to any of the above?  Let us know in the comments section.

Sustainable Events: On strength & Connectedness

Organisations=Organisms

Within any organisation, individual department-based process are interrelated and interdependent.

Random example: The person working reception at a hotel, if they are to be productive and enthusiastic, relies on the successful observation of effective processes in the restaurant.  Poor systems will result in poor service and, eventually, problems for anybody involved in guest service.

What about sustainability.. and sustainble events?

Many organisations disallow themselves the benefits from aligning sustainability with traditionally recognized core business practices.

Random example #2: Marketing includes 2 pages on sustainability in the annual report yet procurement has no policy or practice related to sustainable practices.  The sustainable event planner in this organisation won’t deliver an event which reflects the promises sustainability outlined in the annual report because purchasing-often given influence over event-related expenses—have processes which are not aligned to the organisational sustainability initiative.

Strength through unity

Sustainable events are an expression of an organisations’ successful integration of sustainable business practices.  As part of a strategic approach to building a better business and responding to the widest possible stakeholder group, sustainable events are an extension of the core business initiatives which build the most resilient, innovative and successful companies.

Where to begin?

  •  Understand sustainability.  Check out The Natural Step for business-friendly guidance on identifying the ‘system conditions’ which define sustainability. See this for a brief intro.
  • Establish 2-way communication with stakeholders. Is your event deemed effective and valuable by participants? By the event host community? How do you know? Traditional 1-way communication will not help your organization improve and stay relevant.  Social media platforms, surveys and face to face sessions can provide pathways to needed feedback.
  • Commit to 2 or 3 specific process improvementsin support of sustainability for your next event.  This might mean choosing sustainable suppliers, or measuring waste or creating a safeguards to ensure that the meeting site is accessible to people with disabilities. Regard the tracking and sharing of results as essential to improving the process.
    • Random example #3: In 2008 EWEA set a goal to measure their event waste.  In 2011, they recycled and composted their way to an 89% diversion rate (which included 100% of their exhibition carpet)
  • Participate in the GMICThe Green Meeting Industry Council is focused on this stuff exclusively. (full disclosure: we’re members and active participants!) Ask questions, share best practices, absorb webinars, expand your network and help develop needed solutions.

Thoughts and additions welcome, as always.

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.

Green Meeting Seminar Estoril – Presentations

Yesterday I was privileged to be in Estoril, Portugal and to be organising a seminar program about sustainable events. The days previous to the event I was participating in a workshop to co-develop the GRI Reporting guidelines for the event sector. My fellow participants are some of the best brains in event sustainability from around the world, so at the seminar we used a lot of this wonderful expertise to power the session. Speakers included Dale Hudson, Megan Jones, Manfred Koblmueller, Pedro de La Rocha, Fiona Pelham, Maiike Fleur etc.

Once again its great to see Pedro and his team at the Congress Center in Estoril lead the way. They are truly a global reference in how transformation can happen. What follows is the keynote presentation, update about standards and then some great case studies. Enjoy!

Can reducing food waste help to cool the planet?

This recent article about food waste in the United States, and the energy it represents, offers reminder that this is an area worthy of focus for event professionals and their suppliers. Indeed, a recent session at the MPI WEC conference offered practical actions to reduce carbon emissions related to events.

Reducing food waste is by no means a new concept. Yet, many industry professionals who have interest in saving money while reducing the environmental impact of their events employ only a minimum of tactics to reduce food waste.

Every event is different and it’s difficult to identify a single list which applies to all. Still, we try. Here’s a hardly-exhaustive list of tactics planners might consider when creating an event which offers food and beverage:

The supplier: Caterer success has much to do with how effectively they eliminate waste. Established processes and team trainings can help. Effective purchasing and storage and rotation can all reduce food spoilage or breakage. Menu design, as well, can influence rates of waste. There are some software solutions that have proven helpful in some cases, such as LeanPath. Planners should ask prospective suppliers about their practices and how their practices can support the no waste agenda.

The venue: The type of venue selected may influence how effective is the support for food waste reduction. Hotels, because they serve many meals in many different outlets, can often re-allocate safe, un-served food completely. Ask. If the supplier advises that no waste is experienced, then this should inform the negotiation for how they’ll charge if the planner doesn’t meet the guaranteed number (savings opportunity). Exhibition halls often have no food and beverage service of their own and contract with local providers. They may have suggestions for who can perform best to help reduce food waste, so planners should ask.

The counts: Old news, perhaps but still a challenge. Many hotel venues require planners to commit to a number 72 hours in advance and then charge the planner that minimum, even if fewer people attend (see ‘venue’ above for the disconnect) Large events have benefitted from requiring delegates to indicate meals they’ll attend during the online registration process.

Donations: For the recent EWEC 2010 conference in Warsaw, planners worked hard to successfully overcome the barriers to donate food to the regional Food Bank. Concerns about food safety were mitigated with written agreements between parties and participation from Food Bank representatives whose equipment and on-site presence allowed them to immediately collect safe food product for same day distribution. Their efforts resulted in 2,900 meals being donated to a ready infrastructure in need, rather than discarding them as waste. Note: the Iceland volcano eruption caused attendance reductions and food count challenges the first few days of the conference, making the Food Bank initiative especially important in this case

Type of service: plated meals are more labor intensive and more costly but can mean less waste under most circumstances. Effectively monitored buffets can control waste but, in most cases, everything left on the table gets discarded. Bold suggestion: invite staff, volunteers and even visitors to grab a plate before the catering team clears the room. Box lunches are normally a big waste but sealed beverages, whole fruit and packaged snacks can all be re-used if not consumed, but only if they’re not left in a heap on top of the tables. Consider placing a separate receptacle for such re-usable items at the service location.

For planners that are looking for specific actions and practical steps to improve sustainable event performance, can the above actions be a place to start? Who knows? You might just help cool the planet.

What examples have you seen be effective? What are some solutions for different kinds of events?

Sustainable Meetings, Copenhagen style

COP15 was a transformative event for those closest to it, the organizers and the host city, Copenhagen.  The largest political event to ever happen in Denmark, COP15 brought unique challenges and opportunities. The story of how they worked together to deliver the first United Nations event to ever achieve BS8901 sustainable event management criteria is remarkable and a noteworthy case study for any city.

The strategy and stakeholder engagement approaches they developed were so successful, they’ve been captured in two very special reports: The COP15 Sustainable Event Report and, it’s corollary document focused on high level strategy, The Copenhagen Sustainable Meetings Protocol (CSMP). These reports represent the latest, leading example of just how far the meetings industry has come on the journey to more sustainable events.

Webinar Launch!

In honor of Earth Day, the Copenhagen Sustainable Meetings Coalition will officially launch the two reports. In addition, a free webinar (register here) administered by the team that organized COP15 and the Copenhagen city preparations, will provide background and greater detail to sustainable event management strategy as outlined in the CSMP.

Download your copy of the reports here:

Truly a group effort from the entire coalition team, Guy and I are both proud to have participated in this project as authors of both reports. Please share with us your thoughts and ideas for getting these strategies into action throughout the industry.

Sustainable Event Management Trends

This week I was presenting at an ICCA conference on sustainability in the meetings industry. In the presentation I approach the following key questions:

Is Sustainability a trend or short term fad? 
Is it more expensive to be sustainable ?
Do clients really want sustainable venues, agencies and providers? 
What are the trends and developments in certification and standards? 


Are “Green Meetings” hurting sustainable fisheries?

‘We have met the enemy and he is us‘   Pogo

Hotels, conference centers, caterers and wholesale vendors across the globe routinely offer non-sustainable fish choices in response to real or perceived client demand.  Should they?

Meeting planner and supplier polls show expanding interest in  ‘green meetings’. Meanwhile, perhaps in the name of tradition and/or good customer service, these same planners and suppliers purchase huge quantities of fish stocks deemed endangered or harmful to sustainable fisheries.  Doubt it?  Go to Hong Kong and ask for shark fin soup.  Go to Baltimore and ask for farm raised salmon.  You’ll be pleased with the speed of service.

“The customer is always right”. Really?   What responsibility do we have (as buyers and suppliers) to refuse to carry threatened species, or to deny a client request for same? Will the market punish us if we commit to buy only sustainable seafood?

It’s unclear where ‘responsible purchasing’ stops and ‘advocacy’ starts, but one wonders if the lack of industry complaint against non-sustainable fisheries and the tolerance of suppliers who offer non-sustainable fish, is a tacit approval of harmful practices.  Let us not be our own enemy.

Education is key.  The more one learns, perhaps, the more one will challenge a flawed system and work to activate a change.

Find out more about sustainable fishery issues by reading the UNEP guide,  the new WWF report, and Daniel Pauly’s informed, disturbing assessment Aquacalypse NowHere, at the Marine Bio site, too.

Have answers and thoughts on the questions above?  Please share.

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