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.

roofgarden

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.

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!

Embedding Sustainability into Copenhagen Meetings Industry

Recorded at EIBTM, Michael Luehrs interviews Steen Jakobsen, Director of Conventions at Wonderful Copenhagen. Steen talks about how Copenhagen has embraced sustainability and embedded it into the meetings product and culture of the MICE industry.  Steen shares the approach – called the Copenhagen Sustainable Meetings Protocol (designed by us), and how leadership, stakeholder engagement and a business approach are critical for success.

You can read more about the work we have been doing with Steen and the Danish Meetings Industry here:  This project know as the Danish Sustainable Events Initiative builds on the COP15 success to make the Danish Presidency of the EU highly sustainable and certified to the new ISO20121. In parallel the project aims to raise up the sustainability performance of hotels, venues and agencies in the rest of Denmark.

 

Sustainable Events: On strength & Connectedness

Organisations=Organisms

Within any organisation, individual department-based process are interrelated and interdependent.

Random example: The person working reception at a hotel, if they are to be productive and enthusiastic, relies on the successful observation of effective processes in the restaurant.  Poor systems will result in poor service and, eventually, problems for anybody involved in guest service.

What about sustainability.. and sustainble events?

Many organisations disallow themselves the benefits from aligning sustainability with traditionally recognized core business practices.

Random example #2: Marketing includes 2 pages on sustainability in the annual report yet procurement has no policy or practice related to sustainable practices.  The sustainable event planner in this organisation won’t deliver an event which reflects the promises sustainability outlined in the annual report because purchasing-often given influence over event-related expenses—have processes which are not aligned to the organisational sustainability initiative.

Strength through unity

Sustainable events are an expression of an organisations’ successful integration of sustainable business practices.  As part of a strategic approach to building a better business and responding to the widest possible stakeholder group, sustainable events are an extension of the core business initiatives which build the most resilient, innovative and successful companies.

Where to begin?

  •  Understand sustainability.  Check out The Natural Step for business-friendly guidance on identifying the ‘system conditions’ which define sustainability. See this for a brief intro.
  • Establish 2-way communication with stakeholders. Is your event deemed effective and valuable by participants? By the event host community? How do you know? Traditional 1-way communication will not help your organization improve and stay relevant.  Social media platforms, surveys and face to face sessions can provide pathways to needed feedback.
  • Commit to 2 or 3 specific process improvementsin support of sustainability for your next event.  This might mean choosing sustainable suppliers, or measuring waste or creating a safeguards to ensure that the meeting site is accessible to people with disabilities. Regard the tracking and sharing of results as essential to improving the process.
    • Random example #3: In 2008 EWEA set a goal to measure their event waste.  In 2011, they recycled and composted their way to an 89% diversion rate (which included 100% of their exhibition carpet)
  • Participate in the GMICThe Green Meeting Industry Council is focused on this stuff exclusively. (full disclosure: we’re members and active participants!) Ask questions, share best practices, absorb webinars, expand your network and help develop needed solutions.

Thoughts and additions welcome, as always.

The Natural Step for the Meetings Industry’s Sustainability Transformation

Michael and I often use the the Natural Step as a systematic approach to Sustainability. In this post my friend and GMIC board member Jan Peter Bergkvist wrote a nice article  which I think is worth sharing. It builds on our earlier article.

Many companies, event organizations and associations are currently concerned primarily with the global financial crisis. However, the bigger challenge and problem is unsustainability—and we, as a society, are running faster and faster in the wrong direction. It important to ask the following questions:

  • Does your organization have a robust scientific definition of social and environmental sustainability?
  • If so, what is the current gap to full sustainability?
  • What are you doing at the strategic level to bridge that gap?

People have a hard time seeing the bigger picture and this is often the biggest obstacle to sustainability. For example, a washing machine had to be taken off the market in Sweden only three weeks after it was released—the specialists who designed and built the machine had each been so focused on their own tasks and the technology itself, without understanding the effects in nature that they ended up making big mistakes such as adding silver ions in the last rinse water, which is toxic when spread in nature, and have negative effects on sewage plants. By not understanding how nature works you risk solving old problems with new problems.

This illustrates why sustainability is a question of management competence and strategic, holistic planning. Past modes of thinking about the environment are a “flawed-cylinder” perception. People felt that non-sustainability was a necessary sacrifice to ensure that society would be industrially successful. In fact, society can be viewed as being a funnel in which resources are decreasing for everyone as population continues to increase. Those who succeed in business will be the ones who know how to use sustainable solutions to guide their companies through the hole at the end of that funnel without hitting the walls.

 

 

The Natural Step (TNS) is an international not-for-profit research, education and advisory organization, founded in Sweden, by Dr. Karl-Henrik Robèrt. The Natural Step has initiated the development of a scientific and collaborative decision- making framework for leaders to be equipped to solve complex business, environmental and social challenges. The Framework includes four Sustainability Principles – a globally relevant definition of sustainability for organizations and is adopted by companies including: Nike, Scandic Hotels, Interface, and IKEA. The Green Meetings Industry Council recently signed a strategic partnership with The Natural Step to use their sustainability framework, developing and providing sustainability education and research for the meetings and events industry.

 The four Sustainability Principles guide decisions towards compliance with sustainability. The following are examples to show how each of the four principles can be related to the meeting industry:

  1. Eliminate contribution to systematic increases in concentrations of substances from the Earth’s crust. In the meetings industry, an example would be using renewable transportation and energy efficient solutions and phasing out scarce metals.
  2. Eliminate contribution to systematic increases in concentrations of substances produced by society. In the meetings industry, one example would be using bio-degradable chemicals, phasing out pesticides, using no PVC, and offering clear dosage instructions for cleaning products that do have chemicals.
  3. Eliminate contribution to systematic physical degradation of nature. In the meetings industry, the example would be using organic food, FSC-labeled wood, and recycled paper, and banning GMOs.
  4. Eliminate contribution to the systematic undermining of all people’s capacity to meet their needs. In the meetings industry, examples are using fair trade coffee, starting community programs, and sourcing locally.

One of the problems we have in the event and meetings industry is the difference between “sustainability lite” and “ultra-sustainability.” “Sustainability lite” provides no clear consensus and no clear definition of success. In essence, it means doing “less bad.” On the other hand, “ultra-sustainability” involves holistic thinking, a common language, and a clear definition of success. It is doing “more good” rather than less bad.

Source: Jan Peter Bergkvist, Founder of SleepWell www.sleepwell.nu 

Dr Karl Henrik Robert – the founder of the Natural Step will be speaking at the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference in Portland in two weeks.

Green and Sustainable events: can 2011 be a ‘corner turner’?

The many ’2010, a year in review’ lists (random example here) prompt consideration of what meeting industry trends might indicate, if anything, for 2011.  2010 saw many high water marks in the pursuit of greater sustainable event performance which, in list form, might look like this:

10.  The app.  Rapid uptake of smart phones and cool apps to help planners and suppliers integrate a wide array of services and communications in a user-friendly and paper-free way. This link offers a long list of viable apps for planners and, of course this one, too.

09. Food Banks. Creatively finding ways to bridge the gap between food safety and waste, a number of local food banks have been successful in receiving safe, unserved food from events which would otherwise have been wasted. We were inspired to see over 3000 meals go to communities in need during EWEC 2010, Warsaw

08. CVB Leadership.  Struggling for relevance in some communities, many CVB/DMO’s saw opportunity in not only promoting the sustainable features of their city, but worked to build capacity through the sponsorship of education and involvement in groups like the Green Meeting Industry Council

07. Community Action.  Sustainable events go beyond ‘green meetings’ by having effective plans to bring consideration, if not reward, to people in the communities they visit. Although not yet mainstream, many (such as UUA here and *blush* our own here) events are working to include ‘giving back’ programs.

06. Recycled carpets. The Carpet America Recovery Effort estimates that in 2009, 311 million (141M kilos) of carpet (of the 5.9 billion pounds thrown away) were recycled in the USA alone. That was a 19 million pound improvement over 2008, but way, way short of the goal of 40% of total carpet discarded.  Clearly, that huge pile of waste is not entirely from events/exhibitions, but carpet waste is something of a dirty secret in the meetings industry and it’s encouraging to see major players (IMEX, as one example) including plans to reduce carpet use and/or recycling what is used.

05. Hybrid events. Concerns that an integration of virtual elements (live streaming, video links, e.g.) will reduce attendance or bring risk for planners (reliability, cost) –or that virtual events would somehow push aside the need for face to face meetings–seemed to wane in 2010 as many events reported successful initiatives to blend face to face meetings with virtual elements, thereby creating ‘hybrid’ events. Still expensive and still not glitch-free, hybrid events are established as an industry mega-trend.

04. Exhibitor Engagement.  Exhibitions represent great waste, both material and carbon emissions. Efforts, such as those deployed by US Green Build, to engage exhibitors with education and incentive gained some traction in 2010 in spite of this being a sensitive area as planners are not keen to reduce booth space or put limits on sponsor investment.

03. Integrated carbon tracking tools. Practical, smart tools became accepted in 2010 and are being integrated into event registration systems allowing not only greater capture of delegate travel data but also increasing the amount of investment into carbon offset projects.

02. Sustainable Event Reporting.  Perhaps the only real cure against ‘greenwashing’ is effective and transparent reporting.  From the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit to Oracle Open World to the aforementioned EWEC 2010, diverse and influential organizers showed the importance of measuring and reporting sustainable event results.

01. The emergence of standards for sustainable event management. Actually a story from 2009, but continuing into 2010 and 2011 has been the development and release of standards which define criteria for sustainable event management.  Work was completed to advance the Global Reporting Initiative event sector supplement, the APEX green meeting standards and the ISO 20121 standard for sustainability in event management as well as the Copenhagen Sustainable Meetings Protocol which seeks to integrate and advance the use of each.

The above listed highlights from 2010 bring optimism that 2011 can build on this momentum and perhaps even ‘turn the corner’ for greater, more meaningful action in pursuit of sustainable events by an even greater number of suppliers and planners.  These 2010 highlights, indicate emerging trends for 2011—and beyond—because they represent advantage and benefit to event owners and planners. Each highlight listed here helps to build the business case for an improved, more responsible event industry which can continue to bring reward to communities everywhere.  Thinking that the meetings industry can bring real change across all market sectors is inspiring but such optimism must be fuel for greater effort.

Risk lurks in 2011.  Economies are struggling and people are busy.  Change is difficult. People want action but wait for others to deliver it.  A unbalanced focus on environmental responsibility may compromise needed advancement of social justice.

2011 is here and, for sustainable meetings and events, it’s time we turned the corner.

What highlights did we miss?  What examples need to be shared?  Please share your examples and thoughts here and, if at all possible, make a plan to attend the Green Meeting Industry Council’s Sustainable Meetings Conference next month in Portland, OR, USA and MPI’s European Meetings & Events conference, Dusseldorf, where, among other relevant sessions we’ll  hold a workshop on engaging suppliers for sustainable event success.

Do you have principles for sustainability?

There are hundreds of definitions of sustainability, and many people agree and disagree on what should be included. At the GMIC we follow the “Natural Step” Principles that define 4 conditions for developing sustainability.

 These were develop by an international network of scientists who have unanimously and publically concluded that human society is damaging nature and altering life-supporting natural structures and functions in three fundamental ways. Consequently, they were able to define three basic conditions that must be met if we want to maintain the essential natural resources, structures and functions that sustain human society. Further, acknowledging that human action is the primary cause of the rapid change we see in nature today, they included a fourth system condition that focuses on the social and economic considerations that drive those actions and the capacity of human beings to meet their basic needs . These four principles for sustainability state that: 

To become a sustainable society we must…

1. eliminate our contribution to the progressive buildup of substances extracted from the Earth’s crust (for example, heavy metals and fossil fuels)
2. eliminate our contribution to the progressive buildup of chemicals and compounds produced by society (for example, dioxins, PCBs, and DDT )
3. eliminate our contribution to the progressive physical degradation and destruction of nature and natural processes (for example, over harvesting forests and paving over critical wildlife habitat);
4. eliminate our contribution to conditions that undermine people’s capacity to meet their basic human needs (for example, unsafe working conditions and not enough pay to live on).

If you dont follow what i am saying then have a look at this video. In 2 mins our friends at Realeyes have put the theory into a very easy to understand cartoon. Its fun, relevant and simple. This is itself a lesson in how to communicate sustainability. Enjoy

 

Green Meeting Seminar Estoril – Presentations

Yesterday I was privileged to be in Estoril, Portugal and to be organising a seminar program about sustainable events. The days previous to the event I was participating in a workshop to co-develop the GRI Reporting guidelines for the event sector. My fellow participants are some of the best brains in event sustainability from around the world, so at the seminar we used a lot of this wonderful expertise to power the session. Speakers included Dale Hudson, Megan Jones, Manfred Koblmueller, Pedro de La Rocha, Fiona Pelham, Maiike Fleur etc.

Once again its great to see Pedro and his team at the Congress Center in Estoril lead the way. They are truly a global reference in how transformation can happen. What follows is the keynote presentation, update about standards and then some great case studies. Enjoy!

Leadership: Grab the bull by the horns

Grabing the bull by the horns

This week I have had the pleasure of working in Andalusia in the South of Spain. I had not been to Sevilla for some years and I was struck by how this beautiful  city had invested in pedestrianizing the center, installing a new hi-tech tramway and a public biking system. The city has a clear climate strategy and with other integrated plans they have made a substantial difference to the sustainability of the city (health, pollution, quality of life, environmental impact etc), and have become one of the leading green cities in Spain. However there is a total disconnect between the meetings industry and the city government in terms of sustainability. This is not a hard criticism of the CVB and other players but indicative of the issues we face in many destinations around the world. They lack knowledge and leadership: Someone to understand and see the risks and opportunities, grab the bull by the horns and implement a strategic sustainable destination sustainability plan.

This is what London, Melbourne, Portland, Copenhagen and Stockholm are doing, just to name a few of the leaders in sustainable tourism. They realize that add on green initiatives don’t deliver sufficient results – but strategic sustainability does!

Closer to Sevilla, The Costa Del Sol Patronato of Tourism have just started a sustainability project. Led by Belen Gascon, head of the CVB, it aims to transform the destination. Clearly a huge challenge – but we know that change is possible, and that this only happens when someone with guts and vision, stands up and goes against the flow. Belen is typical of the type of committed, remarkable people who are engaging their friends, colleagues and clients in a new vision of tomorrow’s destination; a destination that will be more competitive, more responsible and healthier. Basically a great place to live and work that will be financially, socially and environmentally more sustainable.

Tribe of leaders

In July I take over as President of the GMIC. It is becoming increasingly clear to me, that the GMIC’s role is to help these change agents become better and more fully equipped. The GMIC has to give them the tools, and tricks to become inspirational sustainability leaders, to become the special forces of the sustainable meetings world. The GMIC has to be the place where these guys can “hang out” to “refuel and recharge” with energy and knowledge, sharing their experiences with a tribe of people who speak their same language and stand for something much more important.

If you are a Special agent of change – I recommend you consider becoming a member of the GMIC. www.greenmeetings.info. We have a 67% growth rate in the last year, with 600+ members in 30 countries, 45 business partners, 8 chapters formed and or in formation.

GMIC members are the thought leaders of sustainability. Not surprisingly our members are building highly competitive businesses that our showing above average returns in these tough economic times: Portland, Copenhagen, Vancouver, Denver, The Estoril Congress Center, the Amsterdam Rai Congress Center, EWEA, AMEX, MCI, Novo Nordisk, Oracle, Microsoft, Cisco, MeetGreen and a long list of other leaders in sustainability.

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.

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