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!

Behind the scenes of a sustainable EU Presidency

“To have success in sustainability – you just have to make it sufficiently hard for yourself that it becomes easy”. This was the advice from Kirsten Aggersborg, the director of the super sustainable Hotel Axel in Copenhagen.

I think there is some real value to this observation, and this is no where more true than with the Danish Presidency of the European Union Council.

By June 30, when the European Union Presidency 2012 Denmark concludes, the Danish Foreign Ministry Logistics team will have supported the organization of 100 meetings serving 15,000 total participants while meeting criteria of the ISO 20121 event sustainability management system.

With a team of just 22 people, the logistics team delivered an EU Presidency at a fraction of the total cost of past Presidencies. The €30million savings were an important result of the strategic meeting design and sustainable event management system

Working with Wonderful Copenhagen, we made the following video to show how sustainable event management is not complicated, but  that it requires leadership, vision, commitment and discipline.

I take my hat off to Andreas and the Government team for demonstrating the business case of sustainable meetings. And also to the Bella Center, for the paradigm shift in sustainability performance in the last 3 years.

MCI Sustainability Services supported the Danish Foreign ministry in the development of the ISO20121 Sustainable Event Management System, and in the application for third party certification. This project will be one of the largest most ambitious implementations of sustainability in the meetings industry.For more info.

MCI have also led a stakeholder engagement initiative to increase the sustainability and outreach of the Danish Meetings Industry. A sustainability report will be available in the summer on http://www.sustainableeventsdenmark.org

The Business case for Sustainability in tough times

Following on my Michaels post earlier, I wanted to attached a presentation that we created to really define the business case for sustainability in the meetings industry. The presentation details the opportunities and costs benefits using a whole list of research data collected by us and many of the global top publications and consulting organisations.

Its prepared in a generic way and so is very relevant for agencies, planners, suppliers and destination manager.

In the last week I delivered it to a packed house at the Costa Del Sol Convention Bureaus annual innovation forum and in Lisbon at ExpoEvents.

Remember: Greenwashing is ’Sly’, not cool

In spite of a the litany of columns, reports and studies on the topic of Greenwashing, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenwash), it seems that confusion ensues, resulting in more unsubstantiated claims which only serve to make the market more jaded and fussy with those that make them. I think the causes can often be traced to over-enthusiastic marketing teams who forget that what you do matters more than what you say. For these teams and others like them, I offer the following helpful memory device:

Responsible communication is Clive Owen. Children of Men, Clive Owen, especially. children-of-men-theo

Discounted by many, dogged and committed, often indelicate, the guy backs up his statements and pretty much single-handedly saves the world. No pretentiousness, just results. Action first, communication second. Have you seen this movie? You must.

Greenwashing, then, is Sylvester Stallone, let’s say in Rambo III. ramboiii

Bless him for his energy and creativity, there’s a lot more bluster than substance here. Overly produced and with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, his performance is wholly unbelievable. He phones it in. The result is a lot of irritation and an immediately forgettable product.

Both get attention, but which would you rather be? Cool and current and relevant and admired? Or somebody… well, somebody used as an unfavorable comparison?

Not that you’ll ever need more than this mental image, here’s some links to deeper research on the topic:

http://www.terrachoice.com/Home/Six%20Sins%20of%20Greenwashing

http://archive.greenpeace.org/comms/97/summit/greenwash.html

http://www.futerra.co.uk/downloads/Greenwash_Guide.pdf

Creating and Marketing Sustainable Destinations

With the growing trend of sustainability, many destinations are now preparing themselves as “green meeting destinations”. In 2008, we increasingly started to work with DMOs and CVBs who wanted to go green. Not surprisingly cities are seeing that green has financial, branding and motivational benefits.

The following presentation highlights the high level findings of some introductory research into the green pioneering cities. We extrapolated the best practice and top ideas from these and others examples, and then created a strategic sustainable destination framework. We are now using this in our consulting work, and it is helping to speed up strategic planning and implementation of operational and marketing programs.

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