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.”

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.

Protecting Biodiversity Through Sustainable Events in India

Last year Hyderabad, India was host to the groundbreaking COP11 -Convention on Biological Diversity hosted by the Ministry of the Environment and Forests. Our industrious team in India managed the logistics of more than 11,500 participants and 900 sessions over 11 long days in hand with leading AV provider Dorier Perfectus.

What’s most impressive is not just the sheer scale and complexity of such an important international event in India but what the team managed to achieve in sustainability including a 91% waste diversion rate. We are  pleased to be able to present the legacy and achievements of that event in the our recently released event report:

Sustainable Event Management Activities

The convention aimed to be a leading sustainable event for India, leaving long term positive social and environmental legacies in Andhra Pradesh and concerns were addressed through all phases of event design and execution, including the following activities:

-       Strategic Planning:  The planning team leaders met to identify a strategy for the sustainable performance of the event and created customized targets.

-       Supplier Engagement: Through a two hour educational event and a series of interviews, 50 suppliers were educated about the objectives of the event; key suppliers were questioned about sustainable practices and offered coaching and recommendations for improved results. In particular, the MCI team worked with the Novotel, waste management company and caterer to improve waste management, catering and sustainability measurement processes.

-       Sustainable Procurement: The event management team made a series of conscious decisions in the purchasing of material and services. This includes congress bags,bamboo stage set and exhibitions stands, exhibition USB sticks, printing, catering, communications as well as the selection of logistics teams that reduced transport requirements.

-       Community Impact: Amongst other great initiatives, a truly innovative engagement project was designed with social enterprises and sustainable businesses at the heart.  In  a unique market place within the perimeter of the Novotel Complex 40 local artisans and community groups were represented at The Biodiversity Haat. Stands featured groups selling organic produce, handmade artefacts and those using responsible materials.. Examples of local producers included the “Bodhana Tiruvalla Social Science Society”  who use bee products to fund and operate a Social Rehabilitation Programme; the Uravu  Indigenous Science & Technology Study Centre, a registered, non-profit trust supporting the livelihood of rural woman through end-to-end programmes in bamboo growth, harvest and product manufacturing. Projects like these within the Biodiversity Haat supported a vast number of Indian social development objectives including training in natural resource management, improving literacy, providing employment and women’s rights through to stimulating organic farming and renewable energy sources.

Enjoy a quick run through of the highlights of the event in our video:

Bearing Responsibility – Events and the Community

ImageCommunity Projects have been a part and parcel of events for decades – that will never change. What will change is the sophistication of the various projects. Gone are the days when guests happily gather around a solitary tree planting ceremony, participating only through rapturous applause. Increasing awareness of wider sustainability issues and activism are driving bolder approaches to event community project planning and your guests want to get involved and create more of an impact.

It’s the usual innovators who are at the forefront of this; Ovation Bear, Ovation Global DMC’s honorary CEO, conducted an informal straw poll of his global offices and identified 5 Innovative stories of sophisticated community integration at Events:

1. More often than not, the integration of the local community comprises a one-off bolt-on activity designed to tick the CSR box. Conversely, Ovation is increasingly working with clients to be more strategic in approach. This involves looking at how local communities can be deeper integrated into the event planning process. A recent example of this approach is an Ovation Canada project where social enterprise suppliers are being given preference over less socially aware suppliers. With handmade delegate bags and sustainability conscious food suppliers, this conference will have a lower carbon footprint than many comparable.

2. Another leading light in the area is “The Connection Crew”, a winner of Deloitte’s 2012 “Social Innovation Pioneers” award. 25% of this London-based crewing & AV company are ex-homeless people who have been trained up as technicians and crew for events.

3. At a 10,000 pax conference our team supported in Asia, a marketplace was constructed at the conference centre for 40 local artisans and community groups to sell organic produce, handmade artefacts and gifts made from responsible materials on site. Co-ordinated by our ground team, this powerful tool, ensured both the organisers and delegates spend was supporting long term economic prosperity in a developing nation.

4. All our Ovation offices can offer clients a selection of charities to partner with but our caring team in Barcelona chose one charity to focus their energy on over last year.  Fundación Fátima is home to 32 children aged between 0 and 12 years without families. With Spain facing its biggest economic crisis ever and public funds being slashed to an absolute minimum, the orphanage was seriously struggling. By putting the Foundation at the centre of a engagement strategy, they organised a number of creative fundraising activities, personally took the children out on day trips to the zoo and FC Barcelona and partnered with Ovation client Symantec to support the shelter through their annual conference. After pitching for an event with Supermarket chain Lidl that included a CSR activity, Lidl decided not to run the event but still wanted to help Ovation’s chosen charity and donated Christmas presents to all the children.

5. Ovation’s Strategic Partner in Greece, Kipling Events, recently organised a community event to coincide with a company training academy. Using the same trainers who were in town to train the Ovation staff, Ovation invited 85 volunteers from Greek NGOs, foundations and associations to attend special sessions delivered by the Ovation experts. The results were transformational for those in attendance; by sharing management strategies from a high-growth global business the organisers were able to spark new thinking and energy in a sector really suffering the worst of the economic downturn.

The last example is potentially a game-changing CSR opportunity. Do you have the power to transform cities and countries where you hold events by using the intellectual capital held by those in attendance?

By thinking big, events have an opportunity to generate a stronger legacy in helping communities, supporting economic prosperity and protecting the environment.

Contact Ovation to find out how you can support and activate your corporate values through live events.

Horsemeat and the events industry

There is much soul-searching in the UK and now the wider European Union after the discovery of horsemeat in a large number of beef products.  Discovered in both lower quality products and supermarket chains right up to the more costly and reputable options, the story is rapidly evolving across the F&B and retail industries. Although some of our continental cousins regular dine on “steak cheval”, this constitutes a major scandal for the public at large and the EU are scrambling to advise their national members. Read latest developments here  . More than 200 million beef burgers have been withdrawn from sale in the last month in Ireland alone and the crisis threatens to sully some very large brands, notably Findus who’s 100% beef lasagnes products, whether 320g, 360g or 500g all have horsemeat present.

So what has this got to do with the meetings industry ,or for the sake of this article -the “meatings industry”?

Price isn’t everything

The principle lesson is  that price is not everything- those among us in procurement in any sector would be wise to focus on seeking value rather than the lowest price- if you force your suppliers to make unhealthy cuts, evidence illustrates they will have less qualms about making unhealthy and in some cases immoral decisions.


Courtesy of Thinkstock

Know your Suppliers

It seems simple, but many organisations do not know where there are getting their goods from and in this case, even what those goods are. For our business we build deep relationships with our suppliers, in many countries we’ve actually organised what’s called the “MCI Pub” where we invite all our local suppliers to a social event just to get to know them better and build relationships. Senior staff become waiters for the evening and serve the suppliers in an ironic reversal. For more advanced clients, we evaluate the sustainability credentials of all the hotels for their event and produce a ranking on the event website to consider along with price and star rating- such scorecards for the supply chain are increasingly evident across a number of industries.

The Search for Authentic Brands

In dark times such as these, customers are looking for brands they can trust- open, honest transparent and engaging brands. Think of all the authentic brands over the years that have been bought out by the larger corporations; Body Shop by L’Oreal, Innocent Smoothies by Coca Cola and Ben and Jerrys by Unilever just to name a few. People buy from brands they trust and we’ve helped a number of leading brands demonstrate their sustainability principles, really bringing their values alive through live events- the key touch point for your customer and suppliers to engage with the brand. For those among us who say “who cares about CSR?”.  Here’s the evidence- responsible business matters and if you aren’t taking responsibility seriously with your supply chain it might come back to haunt you, lets ask Findus in a few months time.

Local Sourcing

The good news to come out of this crisis is that the local town butcher across Europe will benefit greatly from the failure of companies to take responsibility seriously. When people ask us “how do we green our event?” . We answer simply, when it comes to F&B- FLOSS! Floss is the abbreviation for Fresh, Local, Organic, Sustainable and Seasonal and there’s a growing movement around the world promoting local suppliers to homes and industry- go check them out!

Fueling Success: MCI Community Academy

In support of our industry colleagues and the people of Greece, MCI decided to locate its annual training meeting in Athens, Greece. Despite the crisis, Greece remains a wonderful location for events and meetings, and as a leading global agency we were pleased to show our support.

In addition to our business commitment, we wanted to find a way to give back to the local community as part of our CSR program. Brainstorming the idea with our friends at Greek NGO Boroume, we researched various community action projects but came to the conclusion that one of the best ways we could help the local charities was to share some of our core business knowledge and expertise. The idea is that by sharing management strategies from a high growth global business we could spark some new thinking and enhanced collaboration in the local non-profit sector.IMG_2607

MCI Community Academy

So after 1 quick month of planning, yesterday we were very proud to have organised the first MCI Community Academy. We had 85 managers (paid and volunteer) from Greek NGOs, foundations and associations. This was the first time they had come together as a community. Our program was entitled FUELING SUCCESS, and it was  focused on four key pillars. I had the pleasure of moderating these sessions, delivered by MCI’s senior and very inspiring management.

  • Leadership: The Power of Full Engagement – Sebastian Tondeur, Chief Executive Officer
  • Building your brand: Suzanne Fellay, Strategic Communication Director
  • Building your team: Managing and motivating talent -    Avinash Chandarana, Group Learning & Development Director
  • From strategy to action: Jurriaen Sleijster Executive Vice President


As a result of the meeting the audience created the possibility of developing a collaborative NGO platform where they can share knowledge and resources.

Thank you to all the volunteers and to the event sponsors: the Athens Intercontinental Hotel, Kipling Events and of course Boroume


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