A sustainable network makes us stronger: GMIC

The Green Meetings Industry Council (GMIC) has been the most effective force for change in the meetings industry movement to find and integrate more responsible practices.  A wellspring of ideas, resources and friendships for the rapidly expanding network of committed business professionals who have discovered it, the GMIC is like no other meetings industry association. 

The GMIC is as much a tribe as it is a driver of business;  the culture is one characterized by palpable excitement and optimism for the potential of the future imbued with a fiery passion for leaving the world a better place.  Jaded enough, perhaps,  to know that idealism alone will not result in needed positive change for industry, members have come together to share best practices, uncover new technologies, and make incandescent the messages for the cause of sustainable, responsible ‘green’ practices for business.  In this way, this is an organization focused on creating business results in a faster, smarter way.

Next month, from 9 through 11 February, 2010 in Denver, Colorado, USA, the GMIC will hold the Sustainable Meetings Conference.

The emerging APEX Green Meeting Standards, itself a direct result of the passionate GMIC network of committed professionals, will serve as a framework for much of the content of the conference.

For any meetings industry professional who understands that we are stronger as a network of unified talents and voices, and who seeks practical resources and ideas to speed improved business performance, they are strongly encouraged to register and attend.  This conference is the most powerful conference and education experience for green meeting planners and suppliers.  Plan to come.

See you in Denver!

Carbon and climate and planes, Oh my!

For the meetings and events industry, it’s the elephant in the room and, for all it’s size and imminent danger, it’s not moving anytime soon.

Airline emissions represent a minimum of 80% of event-related emissions for larger meetings and a recent, information-rich article from the Guardian/Green Futures magazine reveals that, in spite of all the technological innovations and exciting developments with alternative fuels, no real change will happen for decades.

Now what?  The technology guys are working hard but more is needed.  Continuing, as an industry, with our head in the sand (our experience shows that fewer than 10% of events and business travel is measured and offset..  never mind integrated reduction efforts) is not responsible.  We know it’s an issue and yet– and here the aviation industry heartily agrees–we need to have meetings. 

So, champions of sustainable events, where does that leave us? Thoughts?…anyone?  (.. Bueller??)   There are no easy answers, which is why we need our inspired industry leadership.  We must commit to an approach, then galvanize and solidify our voice and speed the formation of a plan for immediate action.

Some ideas for event planners and suppliers:

1.  Promote renewable energy now.  Most destinations have a utility offering clean energy for business.  When selecting vendors, require they purchase clean, real-renewable (not nuclear, sorry nuclear team) energy.  Industry leaders, demand political action and investment to find faster solutions to climate friendly travel. Join forces with airline lobbyists.  We have shared goals here.

1.  Measure (placed here as co-#1).  Lots of helpful, easy-to-use methods and tools available, so no excuses for not measuring the climate impact of your event and business travel.  Don’t forget to include the travel incurred during planning phases.  Don’t forget to include RFI factor (1.9 suggested as a minimum).

2. Set reduction targets.  Perform an emissions forecast of your event or business travel.  There’s the size of your problem, so how will you minimize it?  Rail instead?  More speakers virtual technology? Print on site and eliminate shipping of heavy boxes for the exhibition?

How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.. and it’s chow time!

Social Responsibility FAIL: can we do better?

Two international retailers, H&M and Wal-Mart, just got a pie in the face of their (stated?) strong Corporate Social Responsibility programs. Today’s news from the New York Times revealed that bags and bags and bags of unsold, post-holiday clothing stock was destroyed before being discarded, ostensibly to prevent it from being re-sold.  A saavy business maneuver or ‘ Social Responsibilty: FAIL’?

Items destroyed and discarded represent huge waste (cost) not only to staff time, landfill costs, etc, but to both brands, neither of which needs the outpouring of bashing which has been the result.  While costly in terms of wasted resources, this incident represents huge lost opportunity.  A well organized initiative to donate these items would have avoided cost and boosted consumer trust in each brand.

These incidents have special resonance for large meetings and events, as well as other businesses.  We seem geared to see disposal, rather than planned donation, as the preferred method to clear out exhibition halls, registration desks and store rooms.  What meeting planner would not feel remorse if journalists splashed their event on the front page for  insensitive, irresponsible waste practices?  Why wait for such embarrassment before taking action to integrate a plan to donation usable materials post event?

As part of planning their European Offshore Wind event in Stockholm last fall, EWEA partnered with Majblomman, a Swedish NGO supporting children, to  donate congress bags.  Similar efforts are being observed by other meeting planners and venues, so the idea is neither new or difficult to understand, just rare in its occurrence.

We’re better than this, people!

In addition to the previously mentioned (here, tooGMIC Trash Challenge, Please share your thoughts, examples and resources for expanding on the idea to donate usable resources.

Carbon neutral? Why not ‘Climate responsible’?

Soon, the British Standards Institute will release a standard on ‘Carbon Neutral’ events.  That is, if your event does not follow and document key processes outlined in the standard, it cannot be deemed ‘carbon neutral’.

The pursuit of a standard which requires a commitment to reduced emissions is appropriate, but the Carbon Neutral “brand” needs to go.

Like a sassy ad for cigarettes, the current (pre-standard) ‘carbon neutral’ brand promotes unhealthy actions.  Event owners can now budget to offset varying degrees of carbon emissions and market the event with something that looks like responsible action although no effort to reduce event related emissions was planned.

Similarly, ‘carbon neutral’ smacks of the disigenuous.  ‘Neutral’ becomes re-defined by arbitrary parameters.  Did the measurement consider the emissions resulting from the production of the 20,000 square meters of carpet that will be landfilled or incinerated?  Probably not.  Still, the attractive ‘carbon neutral’ label is awarded. 

Granted, an investment in offsetting represents a still new and positive shift in how event owners account for the impact their meeting has on the climate. Further, the ‘carbon neutral’ standard, once released, will result in everybody using the same terminology and definitions.

Still, offsetting was never intended to be the solution, but one part of a multi-facted approach with emissions reduction requiring the most focus.  Even then, our response without a major effort to safely sequester carbon will prove inadequate to achieve the 350ppm to keep our familiar climate in balance.

Offsetting is not enough and ‘Carbon Neutral’ labeled events must not become the goal. Event planners and owners must do more.

One of the lessons from COP15 is the need for all actors to immediately commit to reducing emissions. The meetings industry, like other industries, must measure their Greenhouse Gas emissions and collaborate with respective stakeholders to set agressive goals to reduce total emissions while pursuing effective carbon sequestration, investment in–and efficient usage of– non-nuclear renewable energies in an effort to become ‘Climate responsble’.

Now, that’s a worthy label by any standard.

Your thoughts?

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