Managing performance sustainably at London 2012 – through ISO20121

To function any business or event requires a management system. The new ISO20121 standard specifies what is required for a well-functioning sustainable event management system. One that considers and includes approaches to manage the performance of social, environmental and economic aspects.

We were involved with the development of ISO20121 and have been pioneers at implementing it. We supported the 2012 Danish Presidency of the EU to become one of the first (I think first) organizations to achieve third party certification.

Here in the second of a series of mini-interviews David Stubbs, head of sustainability for the London 2012 Olympics and ParaOlympics shares his views on why you should have a management system. In his word – “if you don’t have a management system you don’t know really what your doing”. His opinion (and ours) is that a management system is critical if you really want to achieve any of your sustainability objectives in a structured, meaningful and economically viable way.

The London Olympics realized that they needed an event management system but one was not available. So they integrated the creation of a standards as part of their Olympic bid. When they won the bid, LOCOG collaborated with BSI (British Standards Institute) to  create BS8901 which then morphed into ISO20121 – a standard we love and cherish:) . Here from David Stubbs – head of sustainability of London 2012, as he explains that journey that resulted in Locog achieving ISO20121 certification.



Green Meetings: FAQ’s

We continue to see a demand for answers to fundamental questions related to ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ events.  What follows are responses to some of the questions which, while general, may provide some helpful background of the concepts related to this rather complex process and which may help with the growing challenge so many people are facing: “We’re ready to start making our events ‘greener’, but we’re confused how to start”.  Away we go…

Does it cost more to have a sustainable event?

This depends entirely on the event and on what outcomes the organizer has targeted. Many case studies exist where event organizers have saved a great deal of money by implementing sound sustainable practices.  Sustainability is smart business and less waste=less cost.

How can sustainable events save me money?

In the short term, there can be costs in time (educating staff and suppliers, process improvement changes, etc). For single events, certain items may be more expensive (such as organic food, carbon offsetting and/or investment in local community project) .. but a holistic view of the event budget of a well-run, sustainable event will reveal cost savings in reduced transportation costs, reduced printing costs, reduced venue costs and more, depending on the nature and size of the event in question.

How can I get a ‘green stamp’ on my event?

For planners who are really committed to integrating sustainable practices, only a few certification labels will help to communicate a message of “we take sustainability seriously”:  BS8901 offers a pathway to having your event management ‘system’ certified as compliant with sustainable development principles. (Note that, with BS8901, the event itself does not earn a ‘stamp of approval’.  The series of processes and policies which make the event possible are what is certifiable. The event is only an outcome of the good process)  Soon, planners can comply with the ISO 20121 sustainable event management criteria and the APEX green standards for events. Note that planners should avoid simplistic, essentially empty, claims of ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘zero waste’ as they are at present difficult to defend as such.

What does ‘carbon neutral’ mean?

The term ‘Carbon Neutral’ means to balance emissions through an investment in a clean energy or avoided deforestation project which will, over time, avoid emissions equal to those you’ve created.  Note that it is recommended that planners avoid simplistic, essentially empty, claims of ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘zero waste’ as they are at present difficult to defend as such.

Are you saying ‘Carbon offsets’ are bad?

Most committed scientists and professionals see ‘Carbon Neutral’ claims as inappropriate. Carbon offsetting, done carefully and as part of a larger strategic plan, is an important part of a low-carbon future. Claiming ‘carbon neutral’ over-simplifies the issue. For planners who seek to show that they are committed to creating a positive difference through sound sustainable practice, this term should be avoided.

What if the client/ boss isn’t interested?

Leadership can be found at all levels of every organization. Engaged members of the team can help to influence the adoption of better practices over time by providing ideas and practical examples of how small sustainable actions can make a big business difference. Work to show that sustainable actions make good business sense. Identify actions which can help your boss look good. Build on existing examples to create a movement within your organization.

Won’t we get bad press if we try to do only a ‘light green’ event?

No.  Having 3 or 4 goals with targets and measurements along with a plan to improve over time is, at present, a leading practice. Very few organizations show a planned, thoughtful approach. Even if targets are not attained, good documentation and honest, transparent communication can underscore your commitment and build stakeholder trust. It’s about quality and sincere commitment, not quantity and empty claims.

Who are good examples or references?

The European Wind Energy Association

The Copenhagen Sustainable Meetings Protocol

Oracle Open World

Green Meetings Industry Council

Meetings Professional International

Didn’t answer your question?  Have something to add?  Don’t be shy, let’s hear them.  It’s an exciting time for sustainability in the meetings and events industry, thanks for being a part of the movement!

APEX green meetings and events standards: the Debut

Next week, in sunny Vancouver, BC,  Meeting Professionals International will present the 2010  World Education Congress.  There, the Green Meetings Industry Council will present for the first time ever an introduction to the APEX/ASTM Green Meetings and Events standard.  A day long training session will provide attendees an understanding of how these standards are organized and provide insight to how they can be implemented in support of the organization of more sustainable businesses and events.

Never heard of APEX/ASTM? You will.  By some accounts, the APEX standards are the answer meeting planners wanted before wandering down the path of BS8901. With its prescriptive, ‘checklist’ approach to defining what makes a green meeting, it aligns nicely with how many industry professionals work and measure performance.  Recently, Marlene Goldman of Meetings Media, posed a few questions for

a just released article The Green Standard? In the responses below, I provide some perspective on what APEX is all about.

The debut of the APEX standards is the highlight of the season!  Please attend the event in Vancouver, and make a point to participate in the APEX session.  Then come back and share some feedback regarding the experience.

As promised, the question and answer section of the program:

At what stage is the rollout of the APEX Standards for green/sustainable meetings?

After 2 years of planning, discussions, workgroup, region meetings and review by more than 200 industry volunteers and professional standards writers, the APEX standard is scheduled for release in the summer of 2010.

APEX standards for green/sustainable meetings, are in effect 9 standards covering 9 areas unique to the meetings industry

  • Accommodations
  • Audio/Visual and Production
  • Communications & Marketing
  • Destinations
  • Exhibits
  • Food & Beverage
  • Meeting Venue
  • On-Site Offices
  • Transportation

Because each of the 9 areas have been subject to a separate committee of professionals and have different degrees of complexity, each section has taken a different amount of time to complete.  This highly complex process produced different formats which had to be unified and reviewed by technical writers for consistency before review by ASTM, the American Standards body.

How will the standards change and shape the green meetings industry?

Because the standards were written by a cross-disciplinary group of buyers and suppliers, and because they spell out specific actions/specific steps (as opposed to strategic philosophy), environmentally responsible actions become accessible.  APEX has the potential to activate players in the market who are not yet engaged.  Among the sparks which have led to the inception of the standards was a stated need by the EPA for a way to determine what travel-and-event-related products were environmentally responsible.  If there becomes a requirement for hotels, venues, caterers, etc to meet a minimum standard for green practices to win government contracts, it could have profound influence on the market.

How are they different/similar to the British standards and other green standards from other countries?

There are similarities amongst all the standards but APEX and BS8901 are markedly different in how they are formatted and what they require for compliance.  In simple terms, BS8901 is a way of working or a defined ‘process’. APEX is a specific checklist of tactics and expectations which define ‘what to do’.  In addition to the CSMP, the BS8901 presentation at this link explores the way the two standards are similar and different:

Are planners still eager for the standards? How about suppliers?

A select group of planners are very eager for the standards and for a clear way to identify suppliers who will support their agenda for creating sustainable events.  A larger, less engaged group of planners are not even aware that the standards are about to be released.  There remains a large gap between the industry players who are working to better integrate sustainability and those that perhaps are not interested in changing the way they currently do business.  Like television, which eventually offered buyers no option but color, APEX may have the effect of encouraging suppliers to adopt sustainable practices to the degree that, eventually, even without asking, planners will be organizing events which are by current thinking, ‘green’.

Will the added work that goes into creating an APEX standard meeting be a deterrent to planners?

For some, without question, yes.  For the resisters mentioned above and perhaps others, the time to get educated about the standards and the time to ensure compliance with the standard will likely be reason to defer their compliance.  The hope is that the market will reward those suppliers and planners who adopt the standard.  In time, the laggards will comply even though a time investment may be necessary.

How will the standards change how MCI produces a sustainable event?

The APEX standards, as well as BS8901/ISO 20121 and the Global Reporting Initiative meetings sector supplement, are all influencing how we evolve as a company on our quest for quality, of which sustainability is a cornerstone.  We currently use the standards to inform the Standard Operating Procedures for our project teams, and for the reports we issue our clients.  With guidance from the standards, and ongoing innovation, we will continue the pursuit of sustainable event management for each MCI project.

COP15 Event Sustainability Case Study

I am in New York where we are organising the United Nations Global Compact Leaders Summit . As a prelude I prepared a case study of how the Danish Government implemented a more sustainable COP15 climate conference.

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!

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 events: Examples & Strategy

When it comes to sustainable events, most professional meetings planners understand the ’why’ but not the ’how’. An intrepid few invest time and effort to piece together different tactics in support of a more responsible event, but rarely does the approach have any strategic plan. Rarer still are the events which produce a thoughtful report which transparently communicates to stakeholders the environmental and/or social impacts incurred as a result of the event itself.  CSR reporting experts like Elaine Cohen have taken note (see post)

A number of imminent, important happenings may help bring order and support to meetings industry professionals seeking to improve their commitment to the organization of sustainable events. First, the release of a report on the organization of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Copenhagen (COP15) offers among the most recent examples of a sustainable event report. Exhaustive in detail and revealing of both planner failings and successes, the report will provide concrete examples of specific actions planners (and communities) can, and should, take to improve chances for a more responsible event. COP15, the first United Nations event to successfully seek compliance with the BS8901 sustainable event management standard , becomes the first to submit an event assessment report to feature Global Reporting Initiative compliance.

A corollary document to the COP15 report will also be released next week. Titled the “Copenhagen Sustainable Meetings Protocol” (CSMP), the whitepaper seeks to provide a framework for planners to integrate existing local and international certifications and standards for sustainable event management. Placing a special focus on BS8901, the APEX green meetings standards and the Global Reporting initiative for events, the CSMP gives clear guidance for developing strategy and for stakeholder engagement, which was a special hallmark of the COP15 event planning process. MCI Sustainability Services is proud to have authored the documents and to have participated in the watershed event and vibrant discussions which informed them. Information about the release of the documents can be found here next week. Here, too. For more sustainable events, stay tuned!

COP15 conforms to BS8901 certification standard!

Hot off the press! Danish Certification issued today their official report which confirms “The management system used to plan and deliver COP15 conforms to BS 8901:2009″.  For sustainable event enthusiasts, this is much welcome news.

For those of us with MCI Sustainability Services, who have worked behind the scenes to help document and guide the process, it’s nothing short of thrilling.  As you can see with the smile on Guy’s face.

The arrival at this stage of a long and difficult process allows us to make the following observations:

1)  The organizers of COP15, Jan-Christoph Napierski in particular, are highly organized and skilled in the arts of observing good, systematic approaches which included impressive effort to identify and engage their stakeholders.

2) No planners or stakeholders were injured in the process to document COP15 compliance with BS8901. In other words, it’s possible and even recommended that others work to pursue higher standards of sustainable events.

Over the next several weeks, we will be working hard to capture the details and processes behind the organization of the event and will integrate them into a document called ‘The Copenhagen Sustainable Meetings Protocol’.  Look for more information about the CSMP here

Look for more information about sustainable aspects of COP15 at their web page

BS8901: not what you think

Unless, that is, you already knew that it’s a package of time honored, business management processes which can apply to almost any business.   There are many things the  standard is not:

  • it’s not a checklist to create a ‘green meeting’
  • it’s not a stamp of approval for your event
  • not just about environmental stewardship (‘green’)
  • it’s not just for event planners
  • it’s not something you ‘phone in’ or enter into half heartedly
  • it’s not perfect

What it is:  BS8901 is all about practical systems for effective business outcomes.  It’s for the owner of the business, not the junior member of the green team.  It’s for committed business professionals who aspiblog2re to realize triple bottom line (economic viability, social justice, environmental stewardship) benefits.  BS8901 is for businesses who want to minimize risk and position for growth over the long term.

The benefit of the standard is not in the marketing value of saying you’re compliant, or in the thinking that it makes you more ‘green’.  The value of integrating a proven business system is what’s on the other side of the challenging process of asking the tough questions about creating a sustainable business model (what is our purpose?  What are our values and why? What is our measure of success?).

This process, both time consuming and difficult for most of us, is not what you thought it was, but it could be the key to your sustainable future.

Check out the updated version of the standard here

Looking for Sustainable Meeting Standards

Further to an early presentation given at Green Meetings Germany, the attached document provides a short and sweet summary about  developing Sustainable Meetings standards.

Driven by industry professionals seeking clear, uniform definitions of absi-logo sustainable event or green meeting, two separate and unique voluntary processes are available to meeting planners, organizers and industry suppliers: BS8901 sustainable event management standard and the Convention Industry Council’s APEX Green Meeting and Events Voluntary Standards.

Please see the attached pdf for more information that should help to reduce the confusion.

In addition , GRI – the Global Reporting Initiative has just launched a project to create guidelines for the sustainability reporting of events. Read more about this sector supplement.

Thanks to Anne and to Amy from Bs8901 and the Apex team for their help with this document.


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