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.

Engaging Suppliers in sustainable business

Can an organization bring positive change to the world through supplier engagement?

Any number of compelling examples exist. Wal-Mart, once vilified as a leech on local economies is now celebrated for effectively changing everything from supplier packaging to supplier commitment to green business practices.  To support their own mission to reduce the impacts of meetings, the US Environmental Protection Agency spearheaded an effort to develop the APEX green meeting standardsScandic Hotels, in a fruitless search to find in-room televisions that met their criteria for energy efficiency, collaborated with supplier Philips to create one that would.

Still, within the events industry, many event owners delay the development of their sustainable business plans by failing to leverage the support and talent of their suppliers. In an effort to identify a few fundamental actions event planners can take, we developed a short ‘webinar’ to provide some context and, thanks to EWEA and COP15, a few examples.

Please note that this presentation should, in no way, infer that the meetings industry lacks initiative from suppliers.  In many cases, hotels, venues, caterers and others have fantastic services only to have planners select suppliers who show less engagement for projects.

If there’s one message to be taken away from exploring this topic, it’s the need for all organizations to collaborate. Only through collaboration can event owners, planners and suppliers accelerate the development of their sustainability initiatives and create innovations needed for the better world ahead.

Now, over to you. What are the supplier engagement methods and actions you see as most effective?  What suppliers bring the best examples of support to sustainable events?

Are “Green Meetings” hurting sustainable fisheries?

‘We have met the enemy and he is us‘   Pogo

Hotels, conference centers, caterers and wholesale vendors across the globe routinely offer non-sustainable fish choices in response to real or perceived client demand.  Should they?

Meeting planner and supplier polls show expanding interest in  ‘green meetings’. Meanwhile, perhaps in the name of tradition and/or good customer service, these same planners and suppliers purchase huge quantities of fish stocks deemed endangered or harmful to sustainable fisheries.  Doubt it?  Go to Hong Kong and ask for shark fin soup.  Go to Baltimore and ask for farm raised salmon.  You’ll be pleased with the speed of service.

“The customer is always right”. Really?   What responsibility do we have (as buyers and suppliers) to refuse to carry threatened species, or to deny a client request for same? Will the market punish us if we commit to buy only sustainable seafood?

It’s unclear where ‘responsible purchasing’ stops and ‘advocacy’ starts, but one wonders if the lack of industry complaint against non-sustainable fisheries and the tolerance of suppliers who offer non-sustainable fish, is a tacit approval of harmful practices.  Let us not be our own enemy.

Education is key.  The more one learns, perhaps, the more one will challenge a flawed system and work to activate a change.

Find out more about sustainable fishery issues by reading the UNEP guide,  the new WWF report, and Daniel Pauly’s informed, disturbing assessment Aquacalypse NowHere, at the Marine Bio site, too.

Have answers and thoughts on the questions above?  Please share.

The meetings industry is a paper tiger

Oddly, as technological innovations have advanced, and use of handheld communication devices expanded, so has the production of paper and consumption of trees.  In 1961, world production of paper and paperboard stood at 77 million tons.  In 2005,  354 million tons (more here).

Meanwhile,  recycling of paper and paperboard in industrialized nations is consistently less than 50% of the waste stream.

Fun fact:Recycling 1 ton of paper saves the energy equivalent of 185 gallons (700 liters) of gasoline.

Less fun fact: In 2008, the US EPA reported that in the US alone, over 35 million tons of paper went unrecycled.

Meetings Industry example: COP15  exceeded 8 million printed pages for its 10 day event (=the weight of  two Caterpillar dump trucks).

There exist many, many tools, resources and recommendations to guide a move to reduced printing. What’s needed now is social change (getting comfortable with practices to reduce paper use at the source) and action.  Some fundamentals:

1.  Measure your use and attach a monetary value to that.  Set a goal to reduce use using money as a goal.

2.  Convert your paper use to interesting environmental impact figures: Check out this

3.  Change your purchasing practices to mandate a minimum of 35% post consumer recycled paper.  In most industrialized nations, it’s cost is at par or below virgin paper stock.  Pressure suppliers.

4. Educate your stakeholders (see above) and advise them that your Congress directories, annual reports, telephone directory, newsletter, etc, will only be available online.  Encourage readers not to print.

5.  Collaborate with your printer.  The more you print, the more they make, but good providers have practical solutions for reducing (expanded margins, smaller sizes, paper types, etc).  Explain your goals and approach them as a resource and a partner.

Let’s tame that paper hungry beast

Your ideas?  Helpful resources?

Fighting for freshwater at World Water Week

This week, here in Stockholm, Sweden, 2200 participants from around the world have gatheredwater3 to address the critical issues related to freshwater.  World Water Week, now in its 18th year, focuses on “new thinking and positive action toward water-related challenges and the impact on the world’s environment, health, economic and poverty reduction agenda”.

One exhibitor, World Wildlife Fund, provided practical advice for businesses seeking to improve water issues at home and abroad.  In addition to advocating the need for making businesses “water efficient at every stage of the supply chain” they urge businesses and individuals to push governements to support the only global water agreement available, the UN Watercourses Convention.

The need for greater focus on water issues has been addressed by us before but World Water Week is an inspiring–and humbling- event offering urgent reminder of the need to take action to preserve and protect freshwater for the benefit of  every community across the globe.

Green Meeting menu initiative: low carbon meals

Cheese= Greenhouse gasses (GHGs). Who knew, right? But cow milk, coming from the same many-stomached , fossil fuel eating, methane belching ruminants as beef (and, of course, veal), carries a heavy GHG load. Lamb, too!

Like it’s not confusing enough…Meeting Planner plates are already full of confusion with the local/organic/pesticide/herbicide stuff mentioned in previous posts. Still, these confusions don’t get us off the hook from responsibly reducing climate change impacts where we find them.

A beacon in the confusion storm: Consider the provocative work from Bon Apetit, the American company who has re-shaped their entire service concept to integrate sustainable practices. Their food calculator is perhaps more cute than a rigid delivery of hard science but it’s an impressive and helpful resource to provide context for the sustainable food discussion.

The takeaway for green meeting menu planners is to add ‘consider the climate’ to your menu planning checklist.  Some fundamentals:

  • Get and communicate accurate counts to reduce waste (and cost)
  • Regionally harvested fruits and vegetables in season.
  • Seafood from sustainable fisheries, preferably from the Zone closest to your event
  • Chicken from responsible farmers
  • Dynamism and creativity!

As confusing as it they can be, green meetings/sustainable events offer us the opportunity to evolve professionally and personally as we work to find answers to sustainability challenges.

Got better ideas? As always, we welcome your comments and hope to share your best practices!

What is sustainable procurement?

After my recent post about the 4Ps of Sustainable procurement, a few people asked me- well “what’s sustainable procurement?”

After starting to write a nice post, I realised that the BS8901 standard has an excellent section on this in their sustainable event management standards. So hoping that I am not infringing on copyright, here it is:

B.1 What is sustainable procurement and why is it required?

Successful implementation of event management for sustainable development depends on the sustainable development objectives being extended throughout the supply chain. This requires engagement with a wide range of suppliers, from specialists to non-specialists.

Sustainable procurement is the integration of sustainable development management into all aspects of the procurement cycle including:

  • a) defining the need for sustainable procurement;
  • b) evaluating possible options;
  • c) design and specification;
  • d) supplier selection;
  • e) tender evaluation;
  • f) post-contract management;
  • g) supplier development; and,
  • h) performance review.

Four key aims should be addressed when integrating sustainable development management into the procurement process:

  1. minimizing the impacts of products and/or services (e.g. impacts on health, air quality, generation of hazardous waste);
  2. minimizing demand for resources (e.g. by using resource-efficient products such as energy efficient appliances, fuel-efficient vehicles and products incorporating recycled content);
  3. minimizing the negative impacts of the supply chain itself, in particular the social aspects (e.g. giving preference to local and/or smaller suppliers and those that meet minimum ethical, human rights and employment standards); and
  4. ensuring that fair contract terms are applied and respected.

If you want to know more about BS8901 – then i suggest you read this post

4Ps for reaching out to your supply chain

For most event organizers and many supplier, our ability to really increase sustainability performance is contingent on our ability to manage the supply chain.

When we work with our clients we advise them to better manage their supply chain management. Michael and I created something called the 4Ps that may help you to think about how your drive sustainability performance in your organisation


Policy: For sustainability to be integrated into the DNA of the organization (as the cliché goes) it needs to become part of your corporate or association policy. We normally start here by creating a sustainability vision for the organization and then formalizing this with a sustainability commitment statement and supplier code of conduct. We like to link this code of conduct to the UN Global Compact 10 principles. This provides a solid base of social (human and labour rights), environmental and anti-corruption principles

Process: With the formal policy, you can start to share this with your stakeholders and to integrate into your day to day procurement processes. This should cover all aspects of how you identify, interview, contract and manage your suppliers.  We use the MeetGreen system and over 40 documents to help put process into these procurement processes. Many people forget the last step – which is about Contracting. Its critical for real sustainability performance that aspirations are put into contractual language and clauses.

Performance Management: Up to here is the easy bit, now its about audit and assessment. Everyone and their dog would like to be a better business partner, but their green and social claims don’t always match their actions. Here one needs to visit, interview and analyze the suppliers operations: Go behind the scenes and check to see if they are doing what they say they are doing. At this point Michael and I normally spend a lot of time talking with all members of the staff and looking through trash cans checking recyling levels etc. This audit work is performance pre and during the event. Its needs to be supported by a data measurement process to quantify and report on impacts. These then help to set objectives and targets for improved performance

Partnership: The last P for me is the most important. By using a carrot and engaging/partnering with your suppliers you can achieve much more than by using a stick approach. We recommend creating virtual teams with your key stakeholders. The Bs8901 process is very useful here to guide you on how to engage and communicate with your stakeholders.

Michael’s post about the European Wind Energy Association and their EWEC event is a good example of someone who is following this process

The BS8901 sustainable event management system provides excellent guidelines on sustainable procurement. For more info read next post


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