Protecting Biodiversity Through Sustainable Events in India

Last year Hyderabad, India was host to the groundbreaking COP11 -Convention on Biological Diversity hosted by the Ministry of the Environment and Forests. Our industrious team in India managed the logistics of more than 11,500 participants and 900 sessions over 11 long days in hand with leading AV provider Dorier Perfectus.

What’s most impressive is not just the sheer scale and complexity of such an important international event in India but what the team managed to achieve in sustainability including a 91% waste diversion rate. We are  pleased to be able to present the legacy and achievements of that event in the our recently released event report:

Sustainable Event Management Activities

The convention aimed to be a leading sustainable event for India, leaving long term positive social and environmental legacies in Andhra Pradesh and concerns were addressed through all phases of event design and execution, including the following activities:

-       Strategic Planning:  The planning team leaders met to identify a strategy for the sustainable performance of the event and created customized targets.

-       Supplier Engagement: Through a two hour educational event and a series of interviews, 50 suppliers were educated about the objectives of the event; key suppliers were questioned about sustainable practices and offered coaching and recommendations for improved results. In particular, the MCI team worked with the Novotel, waste management company and caterer to improve waste management, catering and sustainability measurement processes.

-       Sustainable Procurement: The event management team made a series of conscious decisions in the purchasing of material and services. This includes congress bags,bamboo stage set and exhibitions stands, exhibition USB sticks, printing, catering, communications as well as the selection of logistics teams that reduced transport requirements.

-       Community Impact: Amongst other great initiatives, a truly innovative engagement project was designed with social enterprises and sustainable businesses at the heart.  In  a unique market place within the perimeter of the Novotel Complex 40 local artisans and community groups were represented at The Biodiversity Haat. Stands featured groups selling organic produce, handmade artefacts and those using responsible materials.. Examples of local producers included the “Bodhana Tiruvalla Social Science Society”  who use bee products to fund and operate a Social Rehabilitation Programme; the Uravu  Indigenous Science & Technology Study Centre, a registered, non-profit trust supporting the livelihood of rural woman through end-to-end programmes in bamboo growth, harvest and product manufacturing. Projects like these within the Biodiversity Haat supported a vast number of Indian social development objectives including training in natural resource management, improving literacy, providing employment and women’s rights through to stimulating organic farming and renewable energy sources.

Enjoy a quick run through of the highlights of the event in our video:

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.

Discover the Power of Taking Action

Today Symantec released their first event sustainability report. Written by yours truly, this report celebrates the commitment of the software giant to organising more responsible and effective meetings.

For their flagship Vision conference organised in Barcelona, significant steps were taken to engage suppliers and implement better environmental event practices whilst on the social front they worked closely with NGO partners to support two community projects raising awareness about climate change and social issues.

MCI Sustainability Services were hired as an consultant, to review the sustainability processes, assess practices onsite, measure the event footprint and make recommendations for future improvement. As a conclusion to this stage of the journey we prepared this, the first event sustainability report to transparently disclose the sustainability approach, impacts and progress.

Key results achieved at this year’s event include:

  • $40,000 of costs were avoided through sustainability program
  • The venue, all key suppliers and 59% of the hotels provided sustainability measurement data. Carbon emissions were measured at 1,017 tons CO2e
  • 55% of event waste was diverted from landfill
  • 55% of all food served was sourced locally
  • $15,000 donated to community projects
  • Attendee satisfaction of the sustainability initiative was evaluated at 78%

Respect and congratulations go to the sustainability champion at Symantec – Claudia van’ t Hullenaar, from their EMEA events team. Claudia has demonstrated “the Power of Taking Action” , which became the theme for the report. A big salute goes to the CCIB Congress Center for their commitment and significant improvement in sustainable operating practices over the last few years; and also to all the suppliers who helped make this project a reality (WSP Environment & Energy, Events That Matter Ltd, BK Productions, A-Booth B.V., Kopfwerk, MCI Spain and Active Networks.)

In the words of Paul Salinger, VP Marketing Oracle: “Symantec is among a too small group of leaders who are active in pursuit of sustainable event innovation. The size and attendance at these type of events represents a tremendous opportunity to influence change in corporations, destinations and venues around the world. I commend Symantec for their approach.  At Oracle, our focus on sustainable events has helped us to significantly improve our environmental footprint, avoiding over $1 million in costs and driving innovation into the way we organize OpenWorld.” (check out his sustainability initiative and report at Oracle OpenWorld)

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.


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.

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!

Fashionably sustainable

As recently shared on our Danish Sustainable Events blog, this week Copenhagen is hosting Europe’s second largest Fashion Show. Sustainability has become a very critical element of fashion design and manufacturing with mainstream and haute-couture  designers  such as Vivienne Westwood  champion better more ethical and eco practices. Next June,  Copenhagen will host  the Copenhagen Fashion Summit – the worlds most important meeting about sustainability and the fashion world.

While this is brilliant, if you have ever been to a Fashion Week, then you may have notices how incredibly wasteful and non-green the majority of them are. It seems that on whole the principle of sustainability need to be much better integrated into the organisation of the actual fashion shows.

To debate this question lets look to Asia and see how the Chinese approached sustainability with the Shanghai Fashion Week. For the 2011 Closing Show the organisers decided to take a bold step and work to make the event more sustainable. The attached sustainability report and video that we produced using the GRI Reporting guidelines shares their approach, their achievements and their learnings. It’s an interesting case study showing how organisers can implement sustainability into event even in areas where sustainable infrastructure, knowledge  and services are limited.

PCMA: Partners in sustainable event education

Dateline San Diego, PCMA Convening Leaders conference

The cup runneth over. Not since GMICs Sustainable Events conference has so much high quality, relevant educational content been available to the events professional. The Professional Conference Managers Association (PCMA) has worked hard to feature relevant and timely sessions to help planners understand sustainability as smart business.

Education Needed
Loved and respected educator and expert Sue Tinnish quoted a recent survey which revealed that 4 in 10 planners are unfamiliar with the topic of sustainability. If the industry is to stay viable and if planners and suppliers are to meet business objectives, professional education is going to be the key. PCMA sessions included topics on writing policy (MeetGreen’s Amy Spatrisano), marketing and communication (the aforementioned Sue Tinnish) and engaging stakeholders (Wonderful Copenhagen’s Steen Jakobsen and I), among others all offered example and ‘get started’ tips as well as deeper thinking on more advanced application of sustainable event management.

The strong turnout (4000 attendees) at Convening Leaders has much to do with the quality of the educational content. PCMA, like Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC), are important partners in the transition to creating a sustainable meetings industry. Smarter, more profitable, more innovative, more effective meetings require different thinking, concrete examples and a sharing of best practices. Industry events like these may represent the best method to improve skills and gain access to education and collaborations.

Partners are more than providers of services. Partners share in our concerns and our successes. They understand out needs and feel compelled to support us. Partners are integral to our success. In providing great, timely, practical educational content, PCMA earns the ‘partner’ title.

Predictions for sustainable meetings and events, 2012: part 3

We ring in the New Year by rounding out our predictions list for 2012.  As with our earlier posts (here and here) we explore the trends and practical sustainable business practices which are helping planners and suppliers save money, build community and help the planet.  If we were counting these down New Year’s style, we’ve come to the part where the crowd chants and the ball drops setting off fireworks and big band music (cue celebratory din):  Here we go….

  1. Measurement and Reporting: 2012 will see a defined growth in measurement of event impacts and reporting to stakeholders.  This trend will be a natural extension of the rapid growth in reporting seen in the corporate sector.  At present, 95% of the Global Fortune 250 companies now complete sustainability reports to investors and stakeholders. One reason for the intense interest in reporting can be attributed to organizational effort to build trust with investors and clients.  The economic crisis has compromised the perception of business integrity and transparent reporting of financial returns. Sustainable business practices are an effective way to show that organizations are committed to responsible behavior. For more and more such organizations in 2012, tracking sustainability data will be fundamental to goal setting and trust building.  Top 4 list of things the industry will measure this year:
  • Return on Investment
  • Event related carbon emissions
  • Total waste/recycling/donations
  • Investment in local communitySee this brief, informative presentation on the topic of organizational sustainability reporting  from Ethical Corporations’ Toby Webb
Corporate responsibility reporting 2011 trends

View more presentations from Toby Webb
2-  Supply Chain Management: ‘Greening the supply chain’ has been a focus of many industries but will be a larger issue for the meetings industry in 2012.  Suppliers, such as hotels and conference centers, who attain eco-certifications will be required to conduct a review of the suppliers with whom they work.  Planners seeking compliance with any of the internationally recognized sustainability standards for meetings and events will also be evaluating the ability of their suppliers to support sustainable event outcomes.  The result will be a re-writing of purchasing policies and a shift away from suppliers who lack a proven engagement in sustainable practices.
3.  Education:  The proliferation and release of voluntary industry standards (ISO 20121, Apex Sustainable Meeting Standards and the Global Reporting Initiative Event Organizer Sector Supplement), along with the increased interest in reporting impacts, will increase interest in building planner and supplier skills through education.  Industry associations such as the Green Meeting Industry Council , Professional Conference Managers Association and Meeting Professionals International are, along with private sector sustainability resources, well poised to offer relevant and cost effective sustainability training for the industry.


2012 predictions: Sustainable Meetings and Events, part 2 (of 3)

On what we will see more of in the coming year

Earlier (this post), our list of predictions for 2012 was introduced. The thinking is informed by many conversations, readings, client requests and a dash of common sense.

  • Technology:  As with all sectors, the meetings and events industry will see a rapid evolution resulting from the increased usage of event-specific smart phone applications.  These apps provide individual delegates personalized, customized mapping to optimize their event experience, saving time and increasing productivity.  Social Media, as a platform for two way communication between even owners and event participants (‘what’s with the air conditioning?’ ‘The Audio Visual is awful’) provide real time opportunity to address any event improvements needed to enhance participant experience.  Social media makes it possible for the event to begin at the time of registration giving real value to sponsors and exhibitors to engage event attendees in constructive dialogue before the official event start date.  2012 will see an industry awakening in the practical use of simple-to-use-yet-powerful social media as a meaningful resource for planners and delegates.
  • Virtual presence: Regional events connected internationally: Ok, so this is a technology thing, too, but the easy availability of ever-improving-and-affordable technologies will create a shift to more events creating ‘hub and spoke’ formats. Not only will this reduce costs (time, travel expense) but can also provide meaningful focus on regional issues.  2012 will see increases in the number of event planners who understand that allowing virtual audiences increases stakeholder engagement in their organizations (rather than, as many worry, compromise attendance).  Regional ‘nodes’ which connect at focused times during their respective events can be highly engaging and offer exciting opportunities to share knowledge while reducing costs and carbon emissions from flights and other transport. The Green Meeting Industry Council webinar (Midori Connolly and Jessica Levin) and Event Camp Vancouver provide recent example not only of evidence of how well this can work but also ‘how to’s’ for integrating such technology for positive effect.
  • Community Actions: Social programs are fundamental to any meeting or event.   The change we will see in 2012 will be in what planners offer as activities.  Rather than invest exclusively in more traditional activities such as theme parties or cocktail mingles, planners will offer more examples of socially responsible actions which give back to community.  Participants in these sessions are moved to enthusiastic expression of these sessions being a highlight of their event experience as they offer highly personal connections not only with the charities supported but also other attendees.  These sessions completely change the networking dynamic so that attendees interact as people with a shared interest and not just representative buyers and sellers.   Also, greater effort will be made to measure social responsibility.  Hours worked, funds raised, meals served, media hits, etc.  Measurement of social responsibility is increasing in importance as organizations work to provide stakeholder groups concrete examples of how they are responsible and worthy of trust.


Thoughts on these?  Look for a consolidated list of all 7 predictions later this week!

Sustainable Events 2012: Bold (and not so bold) predictions

As 2011 becomes 2012, lists and reviews abound (including this frightful recounting).  In this spirit, and to bring a focus to meetings industry issues, we consider the influence sustainability will have on the organizations that comprise the industry.

This time last year, we created a list of predictions.  While a few examples were perhaps a bit optimistic, we maintain that the list remains viable (it’s just ahead of it’s time!).  Because they are poised to be trends, some appear again in this list for 2012.

A thoughtful review of international business trends (recent relevant random sampling here, here and here) shows clearly that sustainability, and sustainable business practices, are more relevant and, indeed, more important to business than ever before.  Return on Investment (ROI), risk reduction, cost containment, stakeholder engagement and innovative  initiatives to increase revenue streams are terms which are not only near the top of every business leaders ‘to do’ list, but also characterize sustainable business results.

Given the increasing import of sustainable business practices in a difficult and ever more competitive marketplace, it’s appropriate to look more closely at the most influential of sustainability trends which will inform the 2012 landscape of meetings and events internationally.  Identified are 8 total trends.  To ring in the New Year and to make things even more enticing, we’ll portion these out just 2 at a time over the next few days (suspense!).

Trendspotting 2012: sustainability is smart business

  1. Fewer actions, greater results: Rather than struggle to integrate multiple new actions, ideas or processes, planners and suppliers will focus on 2 or 3 specific and measurable tactics which can yield tangible returns or progress.  In 2012, more planners will mature in their approach to sustainable event management and find concrete results by narrowing their focus to improve areas most material to their unique conference or business.   This approach will help underscore the business case for actions taken and inspire additional actions which provide value.
  2. Destination Marketing Organizations as sustainable business hubs.  As a first point of contact for many planners, DMO’s and CVB´swill become increasingly responsive to demand for sustainable suppliers and activity options for events.  Through their connections with regional membership, DMO’s have the opportunity to gather industry leaders around the topic of sustainability and facilitate training to bring mutually beneficial business returns to the region.  (This finding is based, in part, on the projects in which we’ve been proudly involved in with DMO leaders in Gothenburg, Copenhagen and the Costa del Sol.)

Share your thoughts on these and any sustainability related predictions of your own.  Stay tuned for more soon!


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