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.

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.

COP15 carbon footprint report

Integrated into the COP15 event sustainability report was an excellent study of local carbon emissions conducted by the Copenhagen office of Deloitte. COP15 Carbon Footprint Deloitte 2010.pdf

With lessons learned from the carbon footprint measurement of COP15, Deloitte is providing a list of recommendations for successful carbon footprint measurements for future COP meetings.

1. Establish an effective governance structure

Understanding the most significant GHG sources should be included in the decision-making process for the logistics of the COP meeting in order to achieve the best results and to demonstrate commitment. The governance structure may include a body of representatives from the national government hosting the COP and the UNFCCC to ensure effective planning, coordination and communication.

2. Adopt a step model

The 8-step model described in chapter 2 may apply for measuring the carbon footprint of events. First of all the model makes it possible to focus on the most significant as well as the most uncertain factors; secondly it ensures an effec-tive process; and lastly it provides key messages to communicating in a timely manner during the process. The steps, however, should not necessarily be seen as a sequential process, as they may overlap.

3. Engage with organizers and suppliers on interchange and collection of data

The access to valid data is essential for achieving a credible and applicable result, and most data are collected in collaboration with direct or indirect sup-pliers to the COP meeting. In order to ensure sufficient and timely data collec-tion, the requirement for data should be agreed at an early stage, preferably by the engagement of suppliers.

4. Use acknowledged standards and units of measurement

Standards for organisations (eg. GHG Protocol and ISO 14064) and events (eg. BS 8901 and ISO 20121 in the future) may be deployed at COP meetings, however the standards designed for organisations must be adjusted to suit the purpose.

5. Keep track of documentation

All data and information sources as well as preliminary results should be tra-ceable. Focus on the ability to revise and compare estimates as they evolve before and after the conference – including the possibility to estimate and doc-ument GHG emission reductions from specific initiatives.

6. Make control calculations by alternative methods

Whenever an alternative source of data or method of calculation is available, it can be used to control the validity of the method applied in the methodology. If large deviations occur, the causes for those deviations may be found and explained, and potential errors may be corrected.

7. Get third party viewpoint

Involve a third party such as an independent research institution, NGO or similar in decisions regarding scope, methodology and data sources. Such involvement may help increase credibility in the results, ensure that special public interests are considered, and – to some extent – prevent criticism from observers. The involvement may be established on an official or ad hoc basis. In addition, the reporting entity may engage an independent auditor to express an opinion on the carbon footprint.

8. Compare and benchmark to similar events

When possible, similar events whose carbon footprint has been measured may be studied to compare and benchmark, and to control the validity of applied calculations. As described in the introduction, some factors may vary greatly and make it challenging to compare. Those factors include the nature of the events’ activities and local conditions such as infrastructure and weather conditions7.

9. Estimate the level of confidence

Quantitative measurements of the level of confidence is a time consuming and costly discipline. Therefore a more simple qualitative consideration of level of confidence may be used to evaluate whether the overall results have a high, medium or low level of confidence, and whether initiatives should be taken to raise confidence levels. If the level of confidence of key data is relatively low due to factors yet unknown, it is recommended to add a buffer to the total estimate. As an example, please see Appendix II – levels of confidence. (comment: VERY IMPORTANT)

10. Utilize results for communication and awareness raising

The results of the pre-conference estimate are suitable for communication and awareness raising during the conference. Using sufficiently plausible numbers for quantifying the effect of participants’ behavior may encourage more people to behavioral changes.

Down load the report: COP15 Carbon Footprint Deloitte 2010.pdf

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!

The meetings industry is a paper tiger

Oddly, as technological innovations have advanced, and use of handheld communication devices expanded, so has the production of paper and consumption of trees.  In 1961, world production of paper and paperboard stood at 77 million tons.  In 2005,  354 million tons (more here).

Meanwhile,  recycling of paper and paperboard in industrialized nations is consistently less than 50% of the waste stream.

Fun fact:Recycling 1 ton of paper saves the energy equivalent of 185 gallons (700 liters) of gasoline.

Less fun fact: In 2008, the US EPA reported that in the US alone, over 35 million tons of paper went unrecycled.

Meetings Industry example: COP15  exceeded 8 million printed pages for its 10 day event (=the weight of  two Caterpillar dump trucks).

There exist many, many tools, resources and recommendations to guide a move to reduced printing. What’s needed now is social change (getting comfortable with practices to reduce paper use at the source) and action.  Some fundamentals:

1.  Measure your use and attach a monetary value to that.  Set a goal to reduce use using money as a goal.

2.  Convert your paper use to interesting environmental impact figures: Check out this

3.  Change your purchasing practices to mandate a minimum of 35% post consumer recycled paper.  In most industrialized nations, it’s cost is at par or below virgin paper stock.  Pressure suppliers.

4. Educate your stakeholders (see above) and advise them that your Congress directories, annual reports, telephone directory, newsletter, etc, will only be available online.  Encourage readers not to print.

5.  Collaborate with your printer.  The more you print, the more they make, but good providers have practical solutions for reducing (expanded margins, smaller sizes, paper types, etc).  Explain your goals and approach them as a resource and a partner.

Let’s tame that paper hungry beast

Your ideas?  Helpful resources?

Carbon neutral? Why not ‘Climate responsible’?

Soon, the British Standards Institute will release a standard on ‘Carbon Neutral’ events.  That is, if your event does not follow and document key processes outlined in the standard, it cannot be deemed ‘carbon neutral’.

The pursuit of a standard which requires a commitment to reduced emissions is appropriate, but the Carbon Neutral “brand” needs to go.

Like a sassy ad for cigarettes, the current (pre-standard) ‘carbon neutral’ brand promotes unhealthy actions.  Event owners can now budget to offset varying degrees of carbon emissions and market the event with something that looks like responsible action although no effort to reduce event related emissions was planned.

Similarly, ‘carbon neutral’ smacks of the disigenuous.  ‘Neutral’ becomes re-defined by arbitrary parameters.  Did the measurement consider the emissions resulting from the production of the 20,000 square meters of carpet that will be landfilled or incinerated?  Probably not.  Still, the attractive ‘carbon neutral’ label is awarded. 

Granted, an investment in offsetting represents a still new and positive shift in how event owners account for the impact their meeting has on the climate. Further, the ‘carbon neutral’ standard, once released, will result in everybody using the same terminology and definitions.

Still, offsetting was never intended to be the solution, but one part of a multi-facted approach with emissions reduction requiring the most focus.  Even then, our response without a major effort to safely sequester carbon will prove inadequate to achieve the 350ppm to keep our familiar climate in balance.

Offsetting is not enough and ‘Carbon Neutral’ labeled events must not become the goal. Event planners and owners must do more.

One of the lessons from COP15 is the need for all actors to immediately commit to reducing emissions. The meetings industry, like other industries, must measure their Greenhouse Gas emissions and collaborate with respective stakeholders to set agressive goals to reduce total emissions while pursuing effective carbon sequestration, investment in–and efficient usage of– non-nuclear renewable energies in an effort to become ‘Climate responsble’.

Now, that’s a worthy label by any standard.

Your thoughts?

Sustainability and Reputational Risk Management

Perception and Risk Management

For the last 2 weeks COP15 has been in the newspapers, prime time tv and on the radio. But I am not talking about the political leaders; I am talking about our client Jan-Christian Napierski – the head of sustainability for COP15.

COP15 Media Center

The multi-lingual diplomat, has become a superstar in the last 14 days having been interviewed by over 31 different press crews. Why? They want to know what the Danish government is doing to reduce and manage the environmental impacts of the event.

Most of the interviews are friendly and the reporters are generally interested in the far reaching efforts of Jan-Christoph and his team to push the knowhow of sustainable event management. However out of the 5000 accredited journalist (see photo of the media center) there is a developing trend of reporters who are more aggressive and want to really push the question of the considerable carbon footprint of the conference.

This high level of press coverage has done a wonder for spreading the word about event sustainability, but it also creates an issue over reputational risk management. Managing this reputational risk is and will become a huge driver for event greening in the future. Failure to have a good story and to tell the story correctly could have severe knock-on impacts for the reputation of the organization.

The Danish government always realized that there was a risk of press pressure, and so has incorporated these issues into the management of the event. Successful techniques used to lower this risk included:

  • Excellent stakeholder management. Get your critics involved in designing the processes. Get their impact and make sure they feel heard.

    COp15 green team

  • Proactive communication: Reach out using the web, blogs and speaking engagements to highlight your sustainability initiatives
  • Don’t be perfect. Claim to be imperfect at all times. Ie Underpromise and over delivery. Don’t pretend that you will have the greenest event ever. Be humble
  • Hire a person with excellent engagement and diplomacy skills
  • Use an international recognized certification and get it externally certified. In this case it was BS8901
  • Get your carbon calculations assured by a recognizable third party. The Danes used Deloitte.
  • Make sure that the highly visible aspects of the meeting are sustainable: Limos, Vans, Food etc
  • Recruit and manage a highly visible green team to engage participants and share the sustainability story.

Jan-Christoph also did press management training – which is a crucial skill when working on an event of this profile. Some of the press will try to catch you out. They will try and get you to use short sentences that they can edit and perhaps use out of context (of course they never do things like this). Below the friendly Dutch journalists are asking a delegate why he is photocopying his papers, when he could use a PC. To the right the crew ironically are asking about the huge electricity consumption of having so many journalists in the building..

These and other lessons from COP15 will be included in the Copenhagen Sustainable Meetings Protocol – out for release in March.

Joining the praying masses

I am not a very religious man but i find myself praying that our illustrious leaders can reach deep into their souls and empower their negotiators to find the right text for an agreement.

It wont be perfect but lets all hope that they agree at something that can propell the transformation that we need.

Ironically from a meeting perspective climate change has created and will create a lot of events and meetings in the future. However our industry is at great risk. Next week i will share my views on what cop means for the industry..

For now all we can do is pray and hope the money and effort in organising the cop wont be in vain.

Sent from my Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1.

Sust-Daneable even in the snow

Copenhagen Bike Capital of the World

As you probably have read, over 37% of the Danes use the bicycle daily. The mayor’s goal is 50% and you can see his plan here.

You could understand these fantastic figures in a country with a warm climate – but look at the pictures. Its snowing – cold – and windy and those sust-Dane-able Danes are out there on their bicycles. This tenacity and determination is why the Danes are leading the world in climate solutions.

Performance by Commitment

The lovely smiling face is Sandra from the Hotel Guldsmeden. She is the general manager and owner of the Axel and group. For me, the Axel is one of the top performing sustainable hotels in Copenhagen and probably in Europe. Their attitude to life, services, the community and the planet is exceptional. Sandra and the team decide to pursue and now have achieved GreenGlobe certification. That’s interesting when the majority of the city is GreenKey – however as Sandra commented; GreenKey was to easy for us to achieve. We wanted a standard that would push us to get even better.

In the photo Sandra was giving me a lift to the train-station. Now that is what I call Danish Service.

Accreditation – what went wrong and right?

So you have seen and heard on TV about the chaos of people trying to get into to COP15, but really what are the issues?


  1. Registration or Accreditation is managed by the UNFCCC Secretariat directly. The Danish Government nor the Bella center nor MCI were involved in this process
  2. The event was planned for between 12000 to 15000 people. 46000 people were accredited
  3. Yvo De Boer – head of the UNFCC, wanted an event that was really inclusive. He wanted to really let civil society play an important part in the meeting and let the NGOs have active participation and influence the political decision makers.
  4. Their are heads of state from 120 plus countries. Security is the key priority

    Friends of Earth protest inside Bella

What went wrong?

  1. “Size 6 boots – size 12 feet”. 45000 people accredited but the legal and safe limit of the Bella Center was 15000 people. Entrance restrictions had to be put in place for safety and security reasons.
  2. The accreditation strategy went wrong. Clearer guidance and control on the amount of people accredited needs to be established.
  3. Logistics: You need enough registration desks and staff to receive the people. Christian Kjaer, the CEO of EWEA, who had waited in line for 7 hours, commented; “I have twice as many registration desks and people for my conference with 4000 people”
  4. Logistics: You need good IT. On an event of this profile, you cannot have IT systems that crash and fail. On the first few days, the registration staff were using paper lists, as the databases were not updated
  5. I would say this – but the UNFCCC should have outsourced the work to a PCO – professional congress organiser. Someone (like MCI) used to working with large events. They have such a huge content task at hand they should have limited their risk and focused on the content.

What went right?

  1. Take responsibility. Yvo de Boer head of the UNFCCC, took 100% responsibility.

    DE BOER... we can't fit a size 12 feet into a size six shoes

    Asking who is to blame in a press conference – he responded “ME”.  You can see his honest and direct reply on BBC

  2. React. The Danish govt have set up an alternative venue for the NGOs who cannot enter.
  3. Yvo de Boer,  had the courage to try something new and work towards including all areas of civil society in the meeting. This has created some amazing scenes inside the Bella Center. Sit ins, hecklers, activists on stage in the plenary. See his explanation and request for assistance to the NGOs who were organizing a sit in – inside Bella Center. For me this is excellent statesmanship and you can see what this guys has to deal with, and the way some people react. At the same time you can understand their frustrations – as many people paid out a lot in hotels, flights etc to be here.

We have technical passes and even we had to wait in line for 3 hours on the first day. Together with the window cleaners, engineers, waiters and many other staff we could not get in to work.


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