Simple steps that make a difference

This year I have had the pleasure of working with software giant Symantec, to help them on their journey to organize more responsible and better events. As a recognized leader in corporate responsibility, Symantec decided it was time to look deeper into how they run their Vision users conference, and so kicked of the sustainability initiative at this year’s event in Barcelona. One of the areas where they did a particularly good job was with the Social Responsibility projects. Reflecting on this, I was reminded how simple, yet how powerful the inclusion of a community project can be within an event. Not only can it demonstrate a corporations commitment to sustainability but it can serve to animate a conference plenary, connect delegates with the local community and enhance the entire event experience.

In Barcelona as part of their multilevel sustainable event strategy, Symantec supported the global children’s initiative Plant for the Planet, which aims to raise awareness of and respond to the issue of climate change. Symantec supported the organization of an educational training session held within the Vision conference for 50 children from 3 local schools. The Plant-for-the-Planet Academy is recognized as an official project of the UN-Decade “Education for Sustainable Development”, a concept which conveys sustainable thinking and behaviour to children and adults.

Felix Finkbeiner, the 15 year old founder of Plant for the Planet was the inspirational speaker during the opening keynote session.  Afterward this young superstar was joined by Symantec management to plant a symbolic tree in the grounds of the CCIB venue. In response to his plea, Planet for the Planet received 86 pledges to plant 36851 trees: 14 of these were made by Symantec employees, including a significant contribution from one employee who pledge to plant 14,000 trees. Symantec coorporation pledged to plant 10,000 trees, and I pledge to plant 1000.

Felix’s speech is brilliant. The young guy has helped build a movement that has planet over a billion trees. His goal is to plant a TRILLION. Now that’s what I call vision. Here you can watch his dynamic and inspiration performance, which earned the second highest speaker rating of the conference at 89%.

In addition Symantec donated $5,000 and left over conference materials (bags, pens, water bottles) to the Fundación Fatima foster home in Barcelona. This is one of MCI Barcelona`s projects and it was really satisfying to see that we were able to help them another little bit. With the austerity measures in Spain, these organization are increasing relying on donations to get them through these tough times. With the donation the center can now afford to insulate the area where the babies sleep.

In January Symantec will release the event sustainability report which will explain more about their strategy and progress. Watch this space.


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

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.


Business Case for Sustainable Events

At EIBTM I was interviewed by Paul Salinger, VP of Marketing at Oracle and President of the GMIC.  In this short video both Paul and I share some of our key views on the business case for sustainability: including perception that sustainable meetings are more expensive, reporting, measurement and supplier engagement. We also discuss about the importance of leadership, best practice and community activation.

“What do the leaders do? the ask lots of questions”

Thank you to Maarten Vanneste for the production.

The Business of Sustainability

More than half of the world´s population lives in cities. This urban population is responsible for of 80% of the greenhouse gas emissions. With this in mind the future of cities and the future of the meetings industry cannot be imagined without considering sustainability. In this presentation, that I delivered in Singapore I share my views and expert research into the risks and opportunities created by the sustainability revolution and how there is a very solid business case. The presentation provides examples of cities innovating and working together, and then lays out the key elements required to climb mount sustainability.

Let me know what you think?


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?

BP: Beyond Practical. The point(s) we’ve missed about sustainability

Many have observed that the BP oil spill is a reminder that corporate responsibility to community and the environment requires more than a clever re-brand.

There’s something missing from the conversation, however. These observations of BP (and the many companies who are very glad they are not BP), don’t seem to make the link between company displays of sustainability and the utter lack of a corporate culture of sustainability in so many companies.  No community investment, eco-certification or annual report can replace a culture of sustainability which would have prevented the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the first place.

The recent intense focus on ‘the business case for sustainability’ retards, perhaps, business leadership (CEOs, COOs, CFOs) understanding and acceptance of the potential sustainability can have for a business.  Beyond the savings which result from eco-efficiency initiatives, beyond the increased stock value from consumers who trust the brand, beyond the practical benefits of recycling or supporting community, sustainability for business is more about philosophy and spirit that it is about any series of actions or stated commitments.

This philosophy of sustainability guides responsible actions and sparks innovation for better practices.  In a culture of sustainable business, certain decisions don’t get made because they violate the fundamental tenets on which the business-and the greater natural order– are based.  Reward systems are created to inspire greater commitment to the philosophy of balance and restoration than short term profit and exploitation.

Have you ever known (or been?) an absent parent or lover who substituted emotional investment with monetary investment?  The purchase of a new bicycle after a family argument, or the buying of flowers for the forgotten anniversary might serve as familiar examples.  But what would most people rather have?  Most would choose to have the heart, spirit and trust-affirming emotional presence of the loved one, rather than a material surrogate.

BP invested heavily in Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. Yet, in spite of their focus on the Carbon Disclosure Project, or their annual reports compliant with Global Reporting Initiative criteria, or their contributions in support of communities struck by natural disaster they, like so many companies, missed the larger point.  It might be said that The Deepwater Horizon tragedy was the result of a lack of corporate culture—an emotional investment in sustainability as a core value and business philosophy and way of working that would have prevented the disaster in the first place.

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. 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.


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