Managing performance sustainably at London 2012 – through ISO20121

To function any business or event requires a management system. The new ISO20121 standard specifies what is required for a well-functioning sustainable event management system. One that considers and includes approaches to manage the performance of social, environmental and economic aspects.

We were involved with the development of ISO20121 and have been pioneers at implementing it. We supported the 2012 Danish Presidency of the EU to become one of the first (I think first) organizations to achieve third party certification.

Here in the second of a series of mini-interviews David Stubbs, head of sustainability for the London 2012 Olympics and ParaOlympics shares his views on why you should have a management system. In his word – “if you don’t have a management system you don’t know really what your doing”. His opinion (and ours) is that a management system is critical if you really want to achieve any of your sustainability objectives in a structured, meaningful and economically viable way.

The London Olympics realized that they needed an event management system but one was not available. So they integrated the creation of a standards as part of their Olympic bid. When they won the bid, LOCOG collaborated with BSI (British Standards Institute) to  create BS8901 which then morphed into ISO20121 – a standard we love and cherish:) . Here from David Stubbs – head of sustainability of London 2012, as he explains that journey that resulted in Locog achieving ISO20121 certification.



Sustainability as a driver for successful associations

I was at the IMEX tradeshow this week in Frankfurt, and had the opportunity to present at the Association Day. This is a yearly event which brings leaders together to discuss trends and issues effecting the successful management of associations and societies.

Together with Lucy Goodchild of the Global Reporting Initiative, we ran a workshop that looked at the how associations can increase member value through sustainability. We looked at how global change is effecting associations, and how they can and should respond to support their members with the increasing demand for new knowledge, skills, tools, advocacy and commitment.  In the ppt you will see case studies from various associations around the world.

Let us know what you think?

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

Launch of GRI event organizers reporting guidelines

Launch of new event reporting guidelines from GRI

In continuation on our series of posts about reporting, we have a great announcement to make: From today event organizers around the world now have a new tool that can help them to report on economic, environmental and social sustainability issues.

The new guidelines have been developed by Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and a group of volunteers (including me) from events companies, governments, labour and civil society organizations. Together we have worked together for 2 years to develop the guidance. The public then responded to two Public Comment Periods, before the Working Group took the consultation feedback into account and finalized the Supplement.

Today’s new Event Organizers Sector Supplement (EOSS) will help event organizers to report their sustainability performance in a comparable way. The sustainability reporting guidance, specifically tailored for the events sector, aims to make reporting more relevant for event organizers by defining how to provide qualitative and quantitative information on sustainability issues. In addition to more widely applicable issues such as greenhouse gas emissions and waste, the guidance helps event organizers report on more specific issues including attendee travel, legacy of the event, and initiatives taken at the event to promote sustainability and transparency.

Why report?

It is becoming increasingly important, and is often required, to disclose an organizations impacts (see our post about reporting trends). With trust at an all time low, Stakeholders require more transparency and accountability from corporations, associations and governments. Local communities and event attendees are increasingly interested to know the sustainability strategies behind events and the resulting impacts.

Who is it for?

The Event Organizers Sector Supplement provides reporting guidance that is suitable for all types and sizes of events. The guidance covers the complete project life cycle of an event, from bid to planning, execution and, finally, post-event – including the issue of event legacy. The Supplement can be used to report before or after an event has taken place. So an agency like MCI could use it for its own company report or for one of its events.

What are the benefits?

According to Sebastien Tondeur, our CEO here at MCI and Chairman of Meeting Professionals International (MPI), “transparent reporting is fundamental to organization success and growth.” At MCI we have seen some of the associated benefits include:

  • Brand enhancement and associated economic benefits
  • Financial savings resulting from increased monitoring and evaluation of resource use
  • Increased understanding of potential economic, environmental and social impacts
  • Ability to benchmark and compare data
  • Risk avoidance

Reporting is also about sharing best practices and can enhance learning for event organizers not yet so familiar with sustainability strategy and reporting. This can help to advance innovation and the event experience.

So what exactly is it?

The Event Organizers Sector Supplement is a guidance document that enables event organizers to provide qualitative and quantitative information on their sustainability performance. The Supplement is an amended and expanded version of GRI’s G3.1 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. It has three sections that provide guidance on:

  • Profile: How to disclose your events or organisations strategy, profile, and governance structures.
  • Management Approach: How an event organiser addresses a given set of sustainability topics in order to provide context for understanding performance in a specific area.
  • Performance Indicators: Specific indicators that elicit comparable information on the economic, environmental, and social performance of the organization and/or event.

Is it very complicated?

Yes and no. Its up to you. Currently GRI recommend that you report based on one of three application levels: A, B, C.

  • For C level: an organizer needs to use report fully on at least 10 Performance Indicators, either core or additional, including at least one from each Indicator Dimension (Economic, Environmental, and Social).
  • For B Level: an organizer needs to report on Profile Disclosures, Management Approach (DMAs), and at least 20 Performance Indicators, including at least one from each Indicator Category (Economic, Environmental, Labor Practices and Decent Work, Human Rights, Society and Product Responsibility).
  • A level is the works: basically you need to report on all aspects and indicators in the guidelines.

Where do I start? Do you have any examples

Michael and I have written over 25 reports for MCI and our clients, here are some recommendations with examples:

  • For Beginners: Look at the guidelines and choose a handful of performance indicators that you think are relevant and useful to disclose. You don’t need to do a full C level to start. The most important thing is to start, and the guidelines will help give you structure, indicators and advice. Here are a couple of examples:

o UN Global Compact Leaders Summit Report

o Shanghai Fashion Week Sustainability Report

  • For organizations who have started to report on their events or organisations, aim at doing a C level report. Consider getting an application level check from GRI.

o MCI 2010 Sustainability Report

o UN COP15 Climate Change Conference

  • For advanced reporters, go for gold: Get it verified and assured.

o London 2012 Olympics Sustainability Report

o 2010 Vancouver Olympics

For more information and to download the guidelines

In a future post we will look at best practice in reporting, verification and share a few tips and tricks…

In the meantime, please share insights and experiences, concerns and questions, related to reporting event impacts.

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.


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!

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.

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!

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!

Resolved: Quality and Sustainability standards should align

When well-meaning ‘green meeting’ planners ask hotels to commit to sustainable practices (e.g. purchasing locally produced food products; providing ‘bulk’ soap/shampoo dispensers in guest rooms, etc) they inadvertently put hotel operators in a perplexing dilemma: Comply with the planner request  or violate brand standards?

Brand standards are only part of the picture.  Hotels participating in the Star ratings system risk compromising that 4th star should they make a switch to bulk shampoo.  That’s a tough sell for many general managers…  and a tough pill to swallow for committed green meeting planners.

Among the goals of the emerging sustainability standards for meetings and events is  to inspire resource efficiency for a traditionally wasteful industry.  Many who are involved in this movement are progressive thinkers who the adoption of better practices as being a simple matter of common sense.   The issue, perhaps, is the ossified system of hotel industry quality assurance standards do not yet consider sustainable practices in their criteria for compliance.

Can the corporate offices of the most successful hotel brands respond to the sustainability movement (efficiency criteria outlined by sustainability standards and the standards required by Green Seal, Swan and other respected Type 1 eco label certifications)?  Do they risk a loss of business if they do?  Will the installation of water smart shower heads, efficient guest room lighting or reduced amenity packages compromise the quality of their brand?  There’s a disconnect between what the brands hold as quality and what sustainability seeks as practice.

At what point in the ‘sustainability revolution’ can we agree that sustainability and quality are inextricably linked?


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