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 More than 200 million beef burgers have been withdrawn from sale in the last month in Ireland alone and the crisis threatens to sully some very large brands, notably Findus who’s 100% beef lasagnes products,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!

A Good Day for Sustainable Hotels

We all have good days and bad days, it’s a fact of life- Friday last week, fortunately was a great day, a re-invigorating day that reassured me that Singapore has some superb examples of a solid approach to sustainability in the hotel sector . At the frontline of meeting and events Guy and I work with a lot of venues, suppliers and hotels on their commitment to the environment and society and boy does their sophistication differ a lot- from the very basic to the leaders in our space. Working internationally, we come across hotels in some pockets of the globe that don’t know their armpit from their elbow when it comes to sustainable practice and it can be disheartening when they wheel out their finest sales person to take us round the hotel, highlighting their “green” golf course or talking about corporate HQ’s policies with no practice on the ground.

Integrated Tree

Integrated Tree

An “ECO Hotel” with substance

Fortunately, Friday was not one of those days. I had the pleasure of a site inspection at the Siloso beach resort . This resort, located close to convention facilities on Singapore’s Sentosa island has really demonstrated what can be done if you build and operate with sustainability in mind, but they’ve really gone beyond the everyday and thought about how they can do it radically differently. The most striking example being the integration of trees. Normally at the onset of a hotel development space will be cleared to build a hotel and perhaps if you are lucky, ornamental shrubs re-introduced once construction is over amongst the paving and water features. Not here, the Ng family wanted to integrate nature, build around it and include it within the structure- this means the existing trees stayed and the hotel and villas were built around them. This actually provided a threat to worker safety during  construction due to the common electrical storms in this part of the world- each  tree could be a lightning  conductor so every one was individually earthed with a copper wire to ensure safety first. The villas around the property have the existing trees either encased in glass (if they are fast growing) or included in the structure with rain umbrellas (if slow growers). 1 Villa has an amazing 17 trees within the structure and in most cases, the design and layout of the rooms was totally dictated by the position of trees meaning that no villa is the same. Upon questioning, the Manager of the hotel revealed that construction costs were 30% higher due to responsible sourcing & planning  and although the hotel took 18 months to build, the villas required 30 months.


The hotels impressive Roofgarden

What else left me impressed and excited? The 95 metre swimming pool, who’s shape was also dictated by trees but most interestingly avoids the more common heavily chlorinated type , using salt ionised spring water-I didn’t take a dip to test out the salt levels but there’s always next time. When it comes to food they’ve created a closed loop organic food cycle using 1 million Malaysian blue worms. Equipped with a fabulous roof garden, they grow 100% of their herb requirement for the restaurant and 10% of their vegetable needs but most impressively  everything stays within the system.  Fruit and vegetable wste from the kitchen gets mashed, then molasses and bacteria are added to promote decomposition. The friendly Malaysian blue worms then feast on the decomposed waste and create “worm castings” (which is worm excrement to you and me). These castings go back into the cycle as fertiliser for the plants and hence the nutrients are constantly recycled, again and again.  Likewise, other types of food waste are broken down with a sophisticated mulcher which even has a capacity to break bones.  Apparently a human body could be mulched in 12 hours with no remnants remaining, there’s a crime drama storyline in there somewhere.

Elsewhere the hotel source unwanted wood from property renovations to build furniture using their own on site carpentry workshop and house a sophisticated third generation modular heat exchange system that collects heat dispersed in air conditioning and uses it to heat water.  When you’ve got initiatives like this, towel and sheet re-changing programmes are somewhat less exciting so we’ll leave it there- if you are looking for a visionary eco-hotel with a conscious in Singapore, look no further.

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.

Resolved: Quality and Sustainability standards should align

When well-meaning ‘green meeting’ planners ask hotels to commit to sustainable practices (e.g. purchasing locally produced food products; providing ‘bulk’ soap/shampoo dispensers in guest rooms, etc) they inadvertently put hotel operators in a perplexing dilemma: Comply with the planner request  or violate brand standards?

Brand standards are only part of the picture.  Hotels participating in the Star ratings system risk compromising that 4th star should they make a switch to bulk shampoo.  That’s a tough sell for many general managers…  and a tough pill to swallow for committed green meeting planners.

Among the goals of the emerging sustainability standards for meetings and events is  to inspire resource efficiency for a traditionally wasteful industry.  Many who are involved in this movement are progressive thinkers who the adoption of better practices as being a simple matter of common sense.   The issue, perhaps, is the ossified system of hotel industry quality assurance standards do not yet consider sustainable practices in their criteria for compliance.

Can the corporate offices of the most successful hotel brands respond to the sustainability movement (efficiency criteria outlined by sustainability standards and the standards required by Green Seal, Swan and other respected Type 1 eco label certifications)?  Do they risk a loss of business if they do?  Will the installation of water smart shower heads, efficient guest room lighting or reduced amenity packages compromise the quality of their brand?  There’s a disconnect between what the brands hold as quality and what sustainability seeks as practice.

At what point in the ‘sustainability revolution’ can we agree that sustainability and quality are inextricably linked?

Deloitte 2015 Sustainability Report

In the recent whitepaper Hospitality 2015, Deloitte paint an interesting picture of how rising populations, resource shortage, pricing increases and consumer demand will effect the hospitality industry. And how sustainability needs to be embedded rather than added on.

The sustainability section makes for some good reading: You can read it here:


Simplify messages for sustainable event momentum

A review of any poll on the topic will reveal that meeting planners, suppliers and destinations like very much the idea of sustainable events as a practice and philosophy.  Dig a little deeper and many are challenged where to start.  People understand the ‘why’ of sustainable events, but so often express confusion–or frustration– on the ‘how’.

Meetings industry response to the interest in sustainability has been a rodeo of disconnected initiatives and convoluted standards.  The ‘how’, so often, is coded in dense ‘whitepapers’ or a wearying array of nuance related to carbon responsibility (VERs, CERs, CDM, etc).

With the possible exception of the emerging APEX standards , these documents are often a tangle of stilted language and complex processes.  During the resulting training sessions about these standards, the response so often is more “What what that again’” rather than “I can hardly wait to put these standards to use!”

During an enlightening conversation with Joe Oliver he touched on something rather important.  “Make the information accessible for the user”.  What a concept.  Can it be that part of the meetings industry challenge to act on BS89o1 is because we’ve not made it accessible?

There are many examples of new, complex concepts which have not been saddled with the same barriers to acceptance sustainability standards have faced.  How about automobiles?  The makers of the car didn’t start with showing potential drivers the electrical system and combustion theory.  The user was, instead, inspired by the thought of speed, status, efficiency.  Sure, they had to learn to drive, but this was a minor inconvenience. Sustainability for the meetings industry, if it is to become mainstream, needs different messaging.  Sustainability made simple? Consider this brilliant example from RealEyes:

We’ll be hard at work to make messages more accessible, more relevant for users with the hope of accelerating needed change.  Help us get there with your ideas and communication innovations!

Dealing your sustainable business a better hand

My grandfather spent a chapter of his life as a card dealer in a poker hall.  A maxim he often shared was “Call a spade a spade”.

Today, in corporate reporting circles, such an approach is called “Transparency” and it occurred to me as I read this article shared by MeetGreen’s twitter feed.  The rest of this post will make more sense of you read the actual article, but at issue is a hotel who earned uncomfortable attention for their ‘green’ initiative to reduce the total guest rooms cleaned each day, thereby ostensibly reducing the energy and water required to support the cleaning.  This initiative has also had the effect of reducing the weekly earning of the housekeeping team, which is where the drama begins.

I feel this train wreck can be a nice example for how organizations often get sustainable business wrong

(in no particular order)

  • Stakeholder Engagement. (on a limb here) The organization likely did not engage affected audiences before rolling out the program.  By not providing some background and/or getting their ownership (or at least a notice), they more readily open themselves up to employee backlash.  Perhaps theirs is not a culture where such a discussion/presentation would have been deemed welcome but, as has been proven elsewhere,  employee groups more easily support tough or smart business decisions when they understand the bigger picture or feel a part of the process
  • Lack of transparency:  Consumers are more educated/more jaded than ever and when a plan like this gets communicated as being all about the environment it is, to many, offensive.  Is it an important and creative method to partner with customers to reduce costs for mutual benefit? Say that.  Let it be ok that it’s a smart business move which has measurable benefit to eco-efficiency goals if that’s the case.  The biggest benefit to the property, one might gather, is the reduced labor cost.   How that pencils with the reduced room rate would take some study, but it appears to be a successful program to reduce costs.  Why not let that be part of what is measured and reported?  Transparent reporting/communication would have helped to build trust and might even have made this article read differently
  • Green. This article raises social responsibility issues which cannot be addressed through the green lens alone.  Businesses which successfully integrate a balanced approach to sustainability, with a measured eye on social and economic indicators as well as those of eco-efficiency, will sooner prosper with a healthy corporate culture in tact.

Many guests are comfortable with the idea of going without getting their sheets and towels changed everyday and might well appreciate a reduced rate as their part of the deal.  Initiatives like these are example of the sort of innovations which bring needed improvement to reducing our impacts on our natural resources.  It’s important that, in pursuit of such initiatives, organizations have clear plans based on triple bottom line considerations, including social elements of the business, and provide transparent reporting on the results of their decisions.  Call a spade a spade and avoid messes like these.

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.

Green Event Standards: weigh in!

The US-based initiative to create new voluntary standards for sustainable events will,  once finalized and accepted, drive real change in markets beyond US borders.  If you have any interest, business or personal with  sustainable practices within the meetings industry (and if you’re reading this, you do!), you have a vested interest in the outcome of these far reaching standards.  The APEX standards initiative is at a critical review stage and welcomes your input.

The initiative addresses 9 unique areas related to the meetings industry (Hotels, venues, transportation, audio/visual services, food and beverage, communication, event planner actions and the destination itself) and each of these areas now have a draft standard.  The APEX web site (link above) provides access to the standards, by area, and blog format to offer your comments.green_meeting

Important note: these standards, which offer specific expectations for tactical actions in support of sustainable practices,  are designed to work in tandem with the BS8901 standard, which is the best and most recognized management system from which sustainable events can emerge (think of BS8901 as the closet with shelves and the APEX standards as, well, all your stuff).

The APEX standards will dramatically influence the meetings industry as we know it.  Be heard.  Weigh in.

Can green event conversation activate green event action?

As our Stockholm office readies to deliver the  CSR event we designed and, with Scandic Hotels, will deliver on the 29th of May, here at the Scandic Malmen, Stockholm, we plan to put that theory to the test.  The whole mission and theme of this event, like this blog, is to equip people with practical tools to start integrating sustainable strategies and tactics into their event planning.  So, all this advocacy and this championing..  is this conversation or action?

Some are doing a great deal to make sustainable events more commonplace, but much more needs to happen and many more need to be involved.  Our theory, which will be tested with our CSR event, is that more education is needed to break down the perceptions that green events are expensive or difficult.  The idea requires that we successfully answer the ‘how’ (ACTION) and spend less time explaining the ‘why’ (Conversation).

Are you Interested in activating the meetings industry in your community to embrace and promote sustainable events?  Organize a ‘How to Green’ event, promote the Green Meeting Industry Council , ask your city leaders to get involved.  Help us convert conversation into action.  blog image


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