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!

Lessons for Sustainable Destinations & Events from Singapore- Water and Land

Once a River, now a Reservoir- Courtesy of 50MM Photography

Having lived in Singapore for most of the last 2 months I’ve still much to learn about this fascinating island state but in this relatively short time have already been left impressed by how the government has used sustainability as a catalyst for innovation- providing lessons for any events business.  The conundrum is why has Singapore come on leaps and bounds in some areas of sustainability where other countries are lagging behind?  The answer is fairly simple, resource scarcity is a very real and tangible challenge in Singapore, albeit due to the quirks of international boundaries.  Take water- 50% of Singapore’s water is imported from outside the country so they’ve invested in correcting this imbalance. Water management has had clear support and funding with the result that two thirds of Singapore’s land surface is now a water catchment area with water stored in 17 reservoirs. One of the most impressive is of course, the old Singapore river which used to be tidal. Although instrumental in creating much of the initial fortune of Singapore, shipping here  has long since moved to a larger scale and what was once a muddy and reeking place each day when the tide went out has now been dammed to create Marina Basin, right in the heart of the city. Other great initiatives include NEWater-  wastewater is collected from toilets, sinks and daily use and treated using micro-filtration, reverse-osmosis and UV technology to recycle it into water that’s good enough to drink. This meets 30% of the city’s water needs, a target that will be increased to 50% of future needs by 2060.

Looking at the population of the city, it’s simply boomed over last 25 years, nearly doubling to over five million. Over the same period, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Environment and Water Resources proudly stated at the recent launch official launch of the new TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) for Business Coalition Headquarters  on the 6th November  that when you arrive by plane- Singapore is visibly 50% green. This has increased from a little more than a third of the city-state’s area to this impressive percentage. Why? Because the Singapore Government has designated it a high priority- and that’s all part of Singapore’s next “green road map,” its 10-year development plan, the country aims to go from being “a garden city” to “a city in a garden.”

Singapore has built it’s success over the years from attracting the best traders, from spices, to opium to the trading of today- stocks, technology and services and Singapore wants to stay at the top of the places people will want to work, play, live, and raise a family. The government intends to increase the country’s National Park space from from about 3,300 hectares today to 4,200 hectares in the next 10-15 years and I’ve had the pleasure of visiting 3 such parks on my free weekends already and witnessing live the success of this project relating to biodiversity. One such example for the “twitchers” out there is the reintroduction of the Oriental pied hornbill — the bird’s population has increased from just a pair 16 years ago to about 160 today and here’s one of that small number photographed 2 weeks ago on a simple Iphone.

Oriental Pied Hornbill In Singapore Park- Photo R.Simons

So what are the valuable lessons from Singapore’s national approach for the events business?

  1. Designate sustainability a priority at the very top of the business or organisation and fund appropriately
  2. Understand your supply chain and focus on resource challenges
  3. Recycle whatever you can (including sewage)
  4. Treat your event attendees or employees like you would yourself, provide them with healthy environments, sustenance and lifestyles
  5. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly don’t be afraid to innovate!

Sustainability driving innovation in better meetings

Many great things came out of the recent European Sustainable Event Conference in Copenhagen but this great video sums up the key points and delivers some of the  energy from that event. The early adopters have known it for a while but here we have a selection of them on record sharing their expertise and knowledge, including leadership from Oracle, Symantec and a whole raft of familiar faces.

The conference was the first of its kind and designed to foster innovation in the meetings industry and illustrated how meetings of the future will be driven by collaboration, sustainable meeting design, innovation and hybrid technologies.

Check out the video and let us know what you think!

Sustainability Buzzwords- Biophilia

Biophilia is a word that has been cropping up a lot recently, and not only as the album title for the undoubtedly bonkers but distinctly brilliant Icelandic singer Bjork’s most recent album. It’s a hot buzzword in the sustainability field. So what does it mean? Put as succinctly as possible it’s “The basic need for human contact with nature” and isn’t a new word at all having been coined by biologist and Pulitzer prize winner Edward Wilson in his 1984 book “Biophilia”. Interestingly, a “philia” is the polar opposite of a phobia, so rather than an aversion or fear of objects in the natural world- a philia is the positive feeling and attraction to nature. Guy and I have the distinct pleasure of mixing with some fantastic innovators and visionaries across a mix of industries in design and greenbuilding and taking inspiration from some of these leading edge concepts. We’ve seen that biophilia is increasingly being considered in the design of new buildings and covers such basic areas as having a good view of natural scenery and access to daylight through to more innovative live biowalls inside buildings. The most striking biowall I’ve come across recently was at the Sky Comwell hotel in Copen

Biowall- Sky Comwell hotel, Copenhagen

hagen where they’d thought “inside the box” and brought the biowall into the building, more precisely- the breakfast room (see right).

It’s become clear that urbanization has taken us far down a lonely path away from nature and sustainable cities of the future are ones that correct that balance and feature nature strongly, be it as simple as a community garden to something more radical like the New York Highline Park turning a derelict Manhattan railway line into a natural shangri la in the city (

A biophilic future

Smart urban planners and architects are “bringing the outdoors inside” and it’s a good thing all round- the evidence of the emotional and psychological benefits of nature is mounting and impressive – research shows its ability to reduce stress, aid recovery from illness, to enhance cognitive skills and academic performance and aid in moderating the effects of autism and other child illnesses. But I’m wondering- how did we get to the stage where we needed academics to remind us that we innately love and need nature?

The death of Sustainability Reporting?

Many newspapers and business commentators have  recently dedicated column space to ethics and  Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – specifically to the gap between what many organisations have declared in  comprehensive polished reports and their  later actions. The economic crisis and the causes of it have provided much opportunity to reflect on the way modern business operates. The pariah of the corporate world this time last year was BP following one of the greatest environmental disasters in US history in the Gulf of Mexico .  While many factors were no doubt involved,   it is undeniable that deep sea oil drilling is a risky business and the most well intentioned companies will struggle to successfully manage every risk, everywhere.  Closer to home, this year’s pariah of the CSR reporting world are Barclays, see the news here.

Having issued sustainability reports for 12 years and been very committed to a responsible business culture, Barclays had become one of the darlings of the industry but with the Libor rate scandal and subsequent 290 million British Pounds fine it’s not only Barclay’s staff that are wringing their hands. Many commentators are questioning whether Barclays have lowered the value of sustainability reporting all together. Their latest document, the Barclays Citizenship Report and 2015 strategy now lacks any credibility because statements like the opening paragraph suggesting  that Barclays have a “clear sense of its business purpose – to help individuals, communities, businesses and economies progress and grow” ring entirely hollow.

Sustainability, reporting and the events industry

So what does this have to do with the events industry I hear you ask? Actually- everything.  Live events are the major touchpoint between an audience and corporations, associations, governments, even musicians and sports professionals arguably.  It’s one of the only times a customer, client or staff member can live and breathe the brand in the flesh and we know that every detail is important, from the venue, the sound and visuals, to content and catering. Increasingly live events drive the core marketing of new products, think IPOD unveilings in the era of Steve Jobs or even Barack Obama’s inauguration- marking the commencement of his 4 year term as president of the US.  MCI helps some of the worlds biggest brands and associations create that “magic” at their live events and is increasingly helping leaders of their respective industries bring sustainability strategies to life at their events.  Smart companies, most notably today in the IT industry are developing sophisticated sustainable event strategies, setting smart and measurable goals and evaluating from day one of their event planning where they can have a positive impact both on the locations where they hold events whilst taking progressive steps to reduce their negative impact through the careful monitoring and reduction of resource use and reporting honestly and clearly following the event.  Arguably, I’d suggest if a company wants to create a “clear sense of its business purpose” with it’s staff, customers and stakeholders it needs to be weaving it’s corporate values into its live events. By demonstrating that sustainability is important in a tangible manner – customers and staff will understand that language turns into action. If we are to progress from abstract policies and vague statements totally disconnected from true organisational culture, mature organisations would be smart to “walk the talk” across the full spectrum of their business, from their HQs to their field of operations and most importantly whenever they gather as a group- at events.


Image Courtesy of Graphic Stream

A new era for live events

Luckily 2012 is the dawn of a new era for the sustainable event industry with the launch of the APEX ASTM Green Meeting standards, the ISO20121 Event Sustainability Management system and the GRI Event Organisers Sector Supplement planners have never before had such sophisticated tools to guide the planning, managing and final reporting  on sustainable events. This year doesn’t mark the death of sustainability reporting, it merely marks the year that companies will have to face the music and really bring their promises to life. At the same time the live events industry has matured significantly and together major progress is possible.  The leading companies of the world will realise that in order to turn words to actions, live events are a significant weapon in their armoury and sustainability has the power to bring brands alive, motivate and guide staff,  engage customers and act more responsibly from the bottom of the organisations to the very top. If you need help bringing your sustainability commitment to life at your live events, let us know and check out our case studies here.

Sustainable Events: Holiday Season Medley

What better way to close out a busy 2011 than with rousing, inspiring, infectiously enthusiastic, innovative sustainable event initiatives?
We been busy elves of sustainability these last several months and wish to share a few of the events about which we are excited here. As always, we’d very much enjoy hearing about actions and ideas for sustainable events you’d like to share!

We draw attention to the collaboration underway in Denmark. In the lead up to the European Union presidency which will rotate to Denmark in January, 2012, the team that brought you the Copenhagen Sustainable Meetings Protocol comes Sustainable Events Denmark, a nationwide effort to elevate sustainability as a standard practice throughout the Danish meetings industry as a way to showcase Danish leadership, innovation and design.

Andreas Clausen Boor, Head of Logistics for Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, has been both the spark and, as the client representative, the patron of the initiative. Hear him explain it in his own terms in this great video.

Check out the new industry resource, the Sustainable Events Denmark portal, and share your suggestions, impressions and testimonials: here


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