Transportation & events: omission of emissions?

Transport to and from meetings and events, and the carbon emissions which result, make many of us want to put our head in the sand.  We can hope that the problem will go away, but it sits there, a liability needing resolution.  Across the world, and in spite of commitment to reduce cost, climate impacts and delegate stress, travel to and from events represents an events’ largest exposure to risk from violating sustainability principles.

We’ve seen many studies and examples of the impact of travel (and here)  but fewer practical examples which outline solutions which can be replicated by event owners internationally.  Some fantastic designers are exploring big solutions which bring real promise to destinations.  Many such solutions, however, will bring benefit to events only in the distant future.

 What can be done today?

  1. Measure your transport impacts: Include carbon dioxide emissions from delegate travel and local transport.
  2. Set clear goals for improvement: Identify measureable targets, track progress and share performance on your website, newsletter or after action report.
  3. Choose wisely: the clever experts at The Carbon Consultancy have collaborated with NGO parter Cool Earth to create a search tool which provides better flight selection options. The tool includes carbon emissions as a decision factor in choosing flights.  By evaluating airplane type, age of fleet, staff training and which routes offer direct flights, this tool calculates complex data and provides simple and clear estimates to inform the buyer.
  4. Pursue sponsorships: The UN Global Compact Leader’s Summit gained Price WaterhouseCoopers as a sponsor for event sustainability. The package included their participation in event measurement and approving the recommended offset project
  5. Engage delegates: Provide recognition on name badges for delegates who travel ‘climate smart’ (also, registration site tip here)
  6. Regional events, connected virtually
  7. Work with CVBs to promote local transport options

Carbon emissions are part of meetings and events.  When we acknowledge them with measurement, we increase the likelihood that these emissions will be seen as a liability and will encourage investment in sound practices to meet targets of drastically reduced emissions.

Looking forward to practical tips and thoughts from your own experience!

Sustainable Events: On strength & Connectedness


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.

Sustainable Events: a novel idea

Authors understand that readers don’t want to know about the mechanics of a books’ construction.  They don’t go to pains to explain the manufacture of the paper that made the printing of the pages possible.  Instead, they focus only on creating the best story with a goal of delivering a meaningful experience. 

Is there a lesson here for ‘green’ and sustainable event planners?  Do we get tangled up with trying to deliver a  ‘great sustainable event’ instead of  ‘a great event which happens to be sustainable’?

Often, event owners pursue a traditional planning approach, then attach sustainable elements as an afterthought.  Better to create an event which delivers on determined objectives but in a measured, sustainable way.

Email response to a planner who wanted to create a sustainable event for a corporate client:

“Try not to think of the sustainable elements as an ‘in your face’ thing, but a spirit within the event that gives the participant a deeper connection to the experience.  It’s not about having recycling containers everywhere. it’s about :

  • finding a cool venue (which is close to public transport and is powered by alternative energy and takes good care of it’s employees)
  • with stylish screens & lighting (energy efficient)
  • beautiful food & gorgeous cocktails (seasonal cuisine, crushed organic fruit & local beer in real glasses)
  • cutting edge event design (high tech networking elements, non traditional sessions, artful elements)
  • collaboration with a social entrepreneur or NGO to diversify and give a sense of purpose (CO2 emissions measured and offset to a project benefiting this group)”

Will sustainability-for-events sooner become  mainstream if we think of these practices not as a separate list of technical actions which confuse and burden us, but a guide and an outline for the story we wish to tell… for the experience we wish to give?

Asian Meetings Industry Predictions 2011

I was asked to provide my predictions for the Meetings Industry in 2011 for a nice article for CEI Asia. The document has some really interesting perspectives and makes for good reading.

CEI Asia Jan 11 Predictions.pdf

Here are my comments:

It has been a solid year for sustainability in the meetings industry and I am impressed by many of the actions taken by organisations around the world. Looking across the Green Meetings Industry Council (GMIC) membership, I have seen a growing number of businesses that have elevated sustainability to a strategic management priority and have taken actions to embed CSR into day-to-day practices.

However, while 2010 was a good year we must ask whether ‘good’ is good enough? Global resource issues, destruction of nature and unhealthy practices continue. Oil prices will go up and the unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity is only worsening. The meetings and events industry is not doing enough and together we need to step up, scale up and speed up. Sustainability is a key management competence. It is good for profit, builds trust and gives competitive advantage.

The Power of Action: Giving thanks, sharing findings

Thank you! The Power of Action community service event  mentioned in our earlier post exceeded every possible goal we imagined.  The enthusiastic engagement and generosity of our team, partners and participants brought the following exciting results:

  • 171 people, including 125 kids, participated in a 4 hour long session to create 19 different figures of (mostly) waste materials
  • 108 graduation certificates were awarded to students graduating Young Guru Academy’s Read Think Share program
  • And, *drum roll* 6467 €uros were raised in support of the development of the 111th Read Think Share creative learning library in Turkey, this one in Istanbul

These small points can’t begin to tell the story, though.  We invite you to have a look at the fun videos and photos from the event.

What did we learn?

The integration of community action projects has become an important aspect of creating sustainable meetings and events. Without a ‘how to’ guide, many planners are left frustrated with the effort required to include a community action project.  Here are a few takeaways from our experience:

Purpose: Planners should give meaningful thought to their reason and intention for including a community action project.  It can be helpful to remember this: “It’s not about you”.   Start with a purpose to consider the needs of the people receiving your support.  That said, any project should be aligned with the central mission and values of the organization.

Selection: Non Government Organizations (NGOs) or charities are not event suppliers.  It’s possible the community partner is not (a) in need of the help you can provide or (b) able to respond to the needs of planners.  In this article, we’ve provided some thoughts of Do’s and Don’ts of working with NGOs.

Engagement: Increase participation through promotion in the weeks leading up to the meeting. Conference teasers, social media sites and individual emails can build a sense of excitement and increase the number of attendees. Reach out not only to potential participants but also the members of your network, including your supply chain.  MCI received school supplies and, from Parthen, we received real money needed to support the fund raising goal. Importantly, don’t forget to involve members of the community itself.  It’s important they have a stake in the organization and action.

Follow Up: Maintain contact with the NGO to stay apprised of their actions and provide updates to your stakeholders about the impact of their support.

What are some of the best ideas you’ve seen in the organization of meetings and events?  Please share your thoughts and examples!

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.

Sustainable Business: Til death do us part

In preparing for this event, a number of parallels have surfaced between matrimonial vows and, well, a solid sustainable business plan (or plan for sustainable events).

Maybe such parallels are evident only for those whose wedding anniversary happens the same week as the event in question, but we persist with the analogy. In the points that follow, we explore some traditional wisdom and some of what these seemingly disparate topics have in common (and we salute the significant others who cope with such persistence)

Success possible only with commitment of the principles involved. CSR, or sustainable business, requires business leaders to believe enough in the concept to commit to the time and resources necessary to allow the program to flourish and become integrated with the fundamental operation of the business.  A ‘toes in the water’ approach delays the success that awaits.

It takes work. It’s been said that nothing worthwhile is ever easy.  Relationships and sustainable business plans can be said to be alike in this way.  They represent new thinking and change to the familiar.  They require us to adjust–maybe even give up– long-held paradigms.  They each require us to admit our failings and to be open to help. A pursuit of a sustainable business plan brings confusion and difficulty.  Seek counseling before ditching a fledgling plan. The payoff is worth the investment.

Collaboration required. Similar to the above, but different, sustainable business requires that new networks be established.  Sometimes our old providers–the unkempt roommate or long time supplier–can adjust and make the cut to the new way of doing business, but sustainability, like new and important relationships, may require us to shrug off the weight that’s holding us back from the bright future of innovation and new discovery.

Provides a better filter for decisions “Does this sustainability plan make my asset look fat?” Rather, ‘does this decision align with our vision for a sustainable future?’ Sustainable business plans, like our significant others, equip us with important perspective for making decisions which build better business (or relationships). No fair asking loaded questions, though.

Transparency MattersHonest, forthcoming communication with stakeholders is the best policy. Share your goals and your plan to attain them.  Admit your shortcomings and any risks with the plan.  Be plain spoken and confident in the success of your venture. Share the results and seek feedback to speed performance improvement.

it’s important to take a moment to thank the people who are helping to make all that happen.  A thoughtful card, unexpected cookies.. an office party.. or, would it kill ya to clean the toilet once in a while? None costly, all appreciated and an important part of building a culture of trust and respect and esprit de corps.

So.. it’s not so odd, really, right?  A commitment to the development of a sustainable business plan brings real reward, but finding your way there can be a challenge. Thanks for making the leap.

What parallels to real life and relationships have surfaced with the creation of  your sustainability plan?

Green Meetings: FAQ’s

We continue to see a demand for answers to fundamental questions related to ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ events.  What follows are responses to some of the questions which, while general, may provide some helpful background of the concepts related to this rather complex process and which may help with the growing challenge so many people are facing: “We’re ready to start making our events ‘greener’, but we’re confused how to start”.  Away we go…

Does it cost more to have a sustainable event?

This depends entirely on the event and on what outcomes the organizer has targeted. Many case studies exist where event organizers have saved a great deal of money by implementing sound sustainable practices.  Sustainability is smart business and less waste=less cost.

How can sustainable events save me money?

In the short term, there can be costs in time (educating staff and suppliers, process improvement changes, etc). For single events, certain items may be more expensive (such as organic food, carbon offsetting and/or investment in local community project) .. but a holistic view of the event budget of a well-run, sustainable event will reveal cost savings in reduced transportation costs, reduced printing costs, reduced venue costs and more, depending on the nature and size of the event in question.

How can I get a ‘green stamp’ on my event?

For planners who are really committed to integrating sustainable practices, only a few certification labels will help to communicate a message of “we take sustainability seriously”:  BS8901 offers a pathway to having your event management ‘system’ certified as compliant with sustainable development principles. (Note that, with BS8901, the event itself does not earn a ‘stamp of approval’.  The series of processes and policies which make the event possible are what is certifiable. The event is only an outcome of the good process)  Soon, planners can comply with the ISO 20121 sustainable event management criteria and the APEX green standards for events. Note that planners should avoid simplistic, essentially empty, claims of ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘zero waste’ as they are at present difficult to defend as such.

What does ‘carbon neutral’ mean?

The term ‘Carbon Neutral’ means to balance emissions through an investment in a clean energy or avoided deforestation project which will, over time, avoid emissions equal to those you’ve created.  Note that it is recommended that planners avoid simplistic, essentially empty, claims of ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘zero waste’ as they are at present difficult to defend as such.

Are you saying ‘Carbon offsets’ are bad?

Most committed scientists and professionals see ‘Carbon Neutral’ claims as inappropriate. Carbon offsetting, done carefully and as part of a larger strategic plan, is an important part of a low-carbon future. Claiming ‘carbon neutral’ over-simplifies the issue. For planners who seek to show that they are committed to creating a positive difference through sound sustainable practice, this term should be avoided.

What if the client/ boss isn’t interested?

Leadership can be found at all levels of every organization. Engaged members of the team can help to influence the adoption of better practices over time by providing ideas and practical examples of how small sustainable actions can make a big business difference. Work to show that sustainable actions make good business sense. Identify actions which can help your boss look good. Build on existing examples to create a movement within your organization.

Won’t we get bad press if we try to do only a ‘light green’ event?

No.  Having 3 or 4 goals with targets and measurements along with a plan to improve over time is, at present, a leading practice. Very few organizations show a planned, thoughtful approach. Even if targets are not attained, good documentation and honest, transparent communication can underscore your commitment and build stakeholder trust. It’s about quality and sincere commitment, not quantity and empty claims.

Who are good examples or references?

The European Wind Energy Association

The Copenhagen Sustainable Meetings Protocol

Oracle Open World

Green Meetings Industry Council

Meetings Professional International

Didn’t answer your question?  Have something to add?  Don’t be shy, let’s hear them.  It’s an exciting time for sustainability in the meetings and events industry, thanks for being a part of the movement!

The awakening giant?

On a scale to most , the number and size of  healthcare meetings and events dwarfs other sectors. While meeting planners and marketers in the  IT and energy sector have undertaken pioneering steps at greening their events, the heathcare sector in general has been left way behind.

It seems ironic that a sector so focused on health in the communities has seemed to place so little focus on health of the planet in their meeting management. Leading economic and scientific gurus clearly state that health is clearly linked to climate change.  But then again that is fairly obvious no?

So when are we going to see change?

In the last month I have seen some very interesting signs from some large pharmaceutical companies and healthcare congresses. My questiondeloite is who will be the first to start a strategic sustainability initiative (i´m not talking about just recycling a few bottles, or printing less). Will we have a Novo Nordisk, Roche or Novartis who will start a campaign that will have an effect like Walmarts sustainability index?

The large pharma companies organise thousands of meetings a year. By translating their CSR principles into sustainable event practices and policies they would significantly accelerate the change happening in the meetings industry around the world.

Perhaps this report by Deloite can share a few clues? Deloite make a fair claim that sustainability is a significant trend that is destined to impact each of the health care industry’s major sectors. It is an imperative that will only grow in importance. Greening concerns more than providing an environmentally safe work environment for employees and promoting responsible business practices among suppliers who contribute to value chains. It is a fundamentally different way to lead and operate an organization.

Come on healthcare – get on the train and sustain your meetings! Less see some action and less conversation please.

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!


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