Sustainability as a competitive differentiator

Today I have the pleasure to be in the magic city of Medellin, Colombia speaking at the first International Symposium on Events and Conventions. The events industry in Colombia is in serious development at the moment with a growth of 47% during the last year alone. The leaders of this event realize that sustainability and quality are critical components for the development of the MICE industry, and invited me to share some best practices and trends from around the world.

My session was entitled “Sustainability as a Competitive Differentiator”.  In the presentation that you can see below, identified over the years from organizations who have used sustainability to deliver increase value to their stakeholders.

  1. Leaders Lead: They stop watching the game from the stands and they get on the pitch. They take a proactive role to inspire their teams to learn and implement more sustainable actions. They take a dynamic role in their industry and community to champion and advocate for more sustainable practices.
  2. Leaders understand the context: They research and educate themselves and their organisations to understand the social, economic and environmental trends and risks (ie. Climate Change). They understand how these risks will affect their business, and identify the opportunities that are available to create new or improve existing services/products.
  3. Leaders connect and collaborate: They understand the power of using their existing networks and joining new ones to engage with their stakeholders. They listen, they learn, they share, and most important they form partnerships to advance sustainability within their own organisations, industry and community.
  4. Leaders integrate and innovate: From a clear understand of the issues and expectations of their stakeholders, Leaders integrate sustainability into their operations. They don’t add on sustainability as an additional service or product; instead they embed sustainability into the standard operating practices across their business. Leader understand that sustainability is a core component of their “quality management strategy” and uses it to inspire innovation across their business.
  5. Leaders measure performance and its value: They are fanatic about measuring the impacts and results of their sustainability initiatives. They investigate and analyze their impacts, and use data to make decisions and investments that deliver value for their organization and their stakeholders.

ps. Colombia is an amazing destination. I totally recommend that you consider it for your next event, incentive or conference. Amazing service, great people, beautiful country.

Horsemeat and the events industry

There is much soul-searching in the UK and now the wider European Union after the discovery of horsemeat in a large number of beef products.  Discovered in both lower quality products and supermarket chains right up to the more costly and reputable options, the story is rapidly evolving across the F&B and retail industries. Although some of our continental cousins regular dine on “steak cheval”, this constitutes a major scandal for the public at large and the EU are scrambling to advise their national members. Read latest developments here  . More than 200 million beef burgers have been withdrawn from sale in the last month in Ireland alone and the crisis threatens to sully some very large brands, notably Findus who’s 100% beef lasagnes products, whether 320g, 360g or 500g all have horsemeat present.

So what has this got to do with the meetings industry ,or for the sake of this article -the “meatings industry”?

Price isn’t everything

The principle lesson is  that price is not everything- those among us in procurement in any sector would be wise to focus on seeking value rather than the lowest price- if you force your suppliers to make unhealthy cuts, evidence illustrates they will have less qualms about making unhealthy and in some cases immoral decisions.


Courtesy of Thinkstock

Know your Suppliers

It seems simple, but many organisations do not know where there are getting their goods from and in this case, even what those goods are. For our business we build deep relationships with our suppliers, in many countries we’ve actually organised what’s called the “MCI Pub” where we invite all our local suppliers to a social event just to get to know them better and build relationships. Senior staff become waiters for the evening and serve the suppliers in an ironic reversal. For more advanced clients, we evaluate the sustainability credentials of all the hotels for their event and produce a ranking on the event website to consider along with price and star rating- such scorecards for the supply chain are increasingly evident across a number of industries.

The Search for Authentic Brands

In dark times such as these, customers are looking for brands they can trust- open, honest transparent and engaging brands. Think of all the authentic brands over the years that have been bought out by the larger corporations; Body Shop by L’Oreal, Innocent Smoothies by Coca Cola and Ben and Jerrys by Unilever just to name a few. People buy from brands they trust and we’ve helped a number of leading brands demonstrate their sustainability principles, really bringing their values alive through live events- the key touch point for your customer and suppliers to engage with the brand. For those among us who say “who cares about CSR?”.  Here’s the evidence- responsible business matters and if you aren’t taking responsibility seriously with your supply chain it might come back to haunt you, lets ask Findus in a few months time.

Local Sourcing

The good news to come out of this crisis is that the local town butcher across Europe will benefit greatly from the failure of companies to take responsibility seriously. When people ask us “how do we green our event?” . We answer simply, when it comes to F&B- FLOSS! Floss is the abbreviation for Fresh, Local, Organic, Sustainable and Seasonal and there’s a growing movement around the world promoting local suppliers to homes and industry- go check them out!

A Good Day for Sustainable Hotels

We all have good days and bad days, it’s a fact of life- Friday last week, fortunately was a great day, a re-invigorating day that reassured me that Singapore has some superb examples of a solid approach to sustainability in the hotel sector . At the frontline of meeting and events Guy and I work with a lot of venues, suppliers and hotels on their commitment to the environment and society and boy does their sophistication differ a lot- from the very basic to the leaders in our space. Working internationally, we come across hotels in some pockets of the globe that don’t know their armpit from their elbow when it comes to sustainable practice and it can be disheartening when they wheel out their finest sales person to take us round the hotel, highlighting their “green” golf course or talking about corporate HQ’s policies with no practice on the ground.

Integrated Tree

Integrated Tree

An “ECO Hotel” with substance

Fortunately, Friday was not one of those days. I had the pleasure of a site inspection at the Siloso beach resort . This resort, located close to convention facilities on Singapore’s Sentosa island has really demonstrated what can be done if you build and operate with sustainability in mind, but they’ve really gone beyond the everyday and thought about how they can do it radically differently. The most striking example being the integration of trees. Normally at the onset of a hotel development space will be cleared to build a hotel and perhaps if you are lucky, ornamental shrubs re-introduced once construction is over amongst the paving and water features. Not here, the Ng family wanted to integrate nature, build around it and include it within the structure- this means the existing trees stayed and the hotel and villas were built around them. This actually provided a threat to worker safety during  construction due to the common electrical storms in this part of the world- each  tree could be a lightning  conductor so every one was individually earthed with a copper wire to ensure safety first. The villas around the property have the existing trees either encased in glass (if they are fast growing) or included in the structure with rain umbrellas (if slow growers). 1 Villa has an amazing 17 trees within the structure and in most cases, the design and layout of the rooms was totally dictated by the position of trees meaning that no villa is the same. Upon questioning, the Manager of the hotel revealed that construction costs were 30% higher due to responsible sourcing & planning  and although the hotel took 18 months to build, the villas required 30 months.


The hotels impressive Roofgarden

What else left me impressed and excited? The 95 metre swimming pool, who’s shape was also dictated by trees but most interestingly avoids the more common heavily chlorinated type , using salt ionised spring water-I didn’t take a dip to test out the salt levels but there’s always next time. When it comes to food they’ve created a closed loop organic food cycle using 1 million Malaysian blue worms. Equipped with a fabulous roof garden, they grow 100% of their herb requirement for the restaurant and 10% of their vegetable needs but most impressively  everything stays within the system.  Fruit and vegetable wste from the kitchen gets mashed, then molasses and bacteria are added to promote decomposition. The friendly Malaysian blue worms then feast on the decomposed waste and create “worm castings” (which is worm excrement to you and me). These castings go back into the cycle as fertiliser for the plants and hence the nutrients are constantly recycled, again and again.  Likewise, other types of food waste are broken down with a sophisticated mulcher which even has a capacity to break bones.  Apparently a human body could be mulched in 12 hours with no remnants remaining, there’s a crime drama storyline in there somewhere.

Elsewhere the hotel source unwanted wood from property renovations to build furniture using their own on site carpentry workshop and house a sophisticated third generation modular heat exchange system that collects heat dispersed in air conditioning and uses it to heat water.  When you’ve got initiatives like this, towel and sheet re-changing programmes are somewhat less exciting so we’ll leave it there- if you are looking for a visionary eco-hotel with a conscious in Singapore, look no further.

2012 Sustainability Reporting Trends

One of the hot trends we stated for 2012 was the growth of sustainability reporting. So were we right in our prediction and did the tide turn?

Well no – not exactly. It may not have gone mainstream but there was definitely a growth in reporting in the event industry and more importantly an improvement in report quality. Hotels have been doing a good job for a few years, but this year saw the launch of the first venue reports. On the event side, we did not see so many event sustainability reports produced. But there were some good ones produced. Here is a list of some of my favourite reports and what I look for in a good report.

What makes a good event sustainability report:

  • Not too long: keep it short and to the pointreport_writing
  • Well designed and creative so that it makes you want to read it and go beyond the front cover. I love the growing integration of video and interactiveness.
  • Honest. Tells the bad things and not just the shiny stories.
  • Focus on material issues. Its so easy to use the GRI framework and start reporting about things that have absolutely no real relevance to your event. Focus on the key points: carbon emissions, waste, procurement policy, community engagement etc
  • Holistic: Sustainability is about people, planet and profit. Good reports should cover these three areas in an integrated fashion and not just the green initiatives.
  • Good graphs and benchmarking. I like to see data and also to see it benchmarked against other similar events, or ideally against the same event.
  • Real stories: I love seeing people’s faces and hearing the stories from the real people implementing sustainability

My top reports realised in 2012 that were not written by us were:

Reports written by us:

We use the GRI EOSS guidelines a lot in our work. They help to provide structure, and while they may at first seem very complicated – you can use as a reference sheet. More info here: However if you really want to know about Sustainability Reporting – why don’t you come to the Global Conference on Sustainability and Reporting that we are helping to organise in May 2013.

What are your favourite event reports? What are your top tips? Please let us know. It is time more people other than MCI and MeetGreen were producing and publicly sharing event sustainability reports.

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!

Embracing Sustainability: success factors in sustainable events

Last week at IMEX in Frankfurt and at Eventoria in Luxembourg, I was asked to share my views on how best to embrace sustainability. Hence I created a presentation that shares a strategic framework for implementing sustainability strategically  into a single event or meetings department. It uses examples to define 5 key steps:

  • Leadership
  • Strategy
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Operational integration
  • Good governance

It refers to our work on the EU Presidency. That you can read about here:


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?

Will Sustainability Reporting go Mainstream?

First of a series of posts about sustainability reporting, we pose the question – “will sustainability reporting go mainstream in the events and meetings sector?”

Up to now, there has been very few organisations who have conducted a sustainability report about their event or about their events organisation. A few valiant agencies such as MeetGreen, Organise This, and MCI have lead the way, supporting a few visionary corporates such as Oracle, Cisco, Google, and even fewer associations such as MPI, EWEA and the AIDS Society. Thankfully the mega international events have been a beacon of activity with the World Cup, London Olympics and Vancouver Olympics amongst others showing the way. But could this be changing? Could we see event sustainability reporting go beyond the niche to a mainstream activity? We believe it will. But the key questions is perhaps not if but “ when we will see a tipping point” and “how can we accelerate this transition”.

The following are a four trends that we foresee to be driving this shift in event reporting:

1. Corporate sustainability reporting goes mainstream

The 2011 KPMG International Survey of Corporate Responsibility Reporting clearly shows how the disclosure of social and environmental strategies and results is coming of age. 95% of the 250 largest companies in the world (G250 companies) now report on their corporate responsibility (CR) activities, and 64% of the N100 (hundred largest companies in each of the 34 largest economies) conduct CR reporting. Since 2008 KPMG calculate an increase in reporting of 14% in the G250 and 11% in the N100. The Global Reporting Initiative has become the defacto standard for reporting: with 80 percent of G250 and 69 percent of N100 companies now aligning to the GRI G3 reporting standards.

In addition governments and stockmarkets around the world are studying and implementing mandatory reporting. In their last report GRI calculate that there are over 142 reporting initiatives in over 30 countries, with mandatory reporting in over 16 countries including South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Denmark. This is set to increase and we expect to see more announcement around the Rio+20 conference. For more info see this good GRI presentation on reporting Trends.

2. Increase in Scope 3 emissions disclosure:

Many companies are already measuring their Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions and reporting these through the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). These are the emissions from their direct operations and their use of electricity. But over 75% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by most companies’ products and services are not accounted for in Scope 1 and Scope 2. These are included in scope 3 emissions and include the indirect impacts from the value chain including the emissions of business travel and events.

There is a significant trend towards increased scope3 reporting and this is set to continue they offer significant cost reduction and disruptive innovation opportunities. In 2009, 59% of the Global 500 responded who responded to the CDP provided some information on their Scope 3 emissions, while over 87% reported there scope 1 emissions. Last year, an impressive 72% of companies communicated on scope 3 (impressive when it was less than 25% five years ago). One of the reasons for the low reporting levels was the lack of any clear standard or guidelines for disclosure scope 3 emissions. However, this has changed and as of October 2011 a new GHG accounting standards is now available from the GHG Protocol Initiative entitled the Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Accounting and Reporting Standard. This standards take a value chain approach to accounting for GHG emissions and allow companies to report Scope 3 emissions on a clearer and more consistent basis through The Greenhouse Gas Protocol: In the next few years we will see a significant increase in what companies will measure, manage, and report beyond their own operations.

Thankfully new sustainability measurement tools in the meetings industry provide guidance and support to simplify the measurement and reporting process. Check out the high end MeetGreen calculator and the mid-range tool provided by MPI – SEMT. Expect corporate sustainability reporting gurus – EQ2 to enter the travel and meetings market with their tool Evolution in 2012.

3. Greater understanding of the value of sustainability reporting

The process of writing and disclosing a corporate sustainability report has many benefits that now are become widely recognised. From the KPMG report, reputational or brand considerations top the list of business benefits (cited by 67 percent of the G250), while ethical considerations came second at 58%, and innovation and learning at 44%. For the sustainable event reporting through our extensive experience, we have seen that the top 3 benefits are

  • Reduced Reputational Risk: Communicate to stakeholders that the organisation is concerned about environmental issues
  • Engagement: Allows an organisation to engage suppliers and staff (and to a lesser degree clients) with their sustainability strategy, sharing best practices and results. This is been our experience at MCI and we have seen a significant improvement in engagement since the beginning of the year when we switched to quarterly reporting.
  • Understanding: Most corporates or associations have no clue about the environmental or social impact of their events. Too few track their economic impacts and ROI. Measuring enables better management of all elements from delegate satisfaction, to safety to waste and community outreach.

4. Launch of event specific sustainability standards

2012 will see the launch and proliferation of three voluntary meeting and events industry standards/frameworks. The ISO 20121 standard for sustainable event management systems ,the APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Meeting Standards and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Event Organizer Sector Supplement (EOSS). All three easy to say pronounce frameworks, require and recommend measurement, reporting and public disclosure to some degree. In particular the GRI EOSS which we will launch on the 24th January in London, provides tailored guidance on how and what an event organize should report on. This includes economic and governance issues as well as widely applicable issues such as greenhouse gas emissions and waste, attendee travel, legacy of the event, and initiatives taken at the event to promote sustainability and transparency.

Not if but when!

We believe event reporting will become mainstream to some extent. But the key questions are when and to what degree. So far there very few organisations reporting. At MCI we have produced our own annual report for the last 2 years, created over 30 sustainable event reports for our institutional clients, but have never had a corporate client who has asked for this service.

So how do we accelerate this transition to greater industry reporting? What constitutes a good sustainability report? How do we make it simpler and easier? We will leave those points for another post in the near future.

Finally, to quote my boss, Sebastien Tondeur, CEO of MCI and Chairman of Meeting Professionals International (MPI), “transparent reporting is fundamental to organization success and growth”.

As always – any thoughts and comments on this “rather long” post are welcome.


MCI Group Sustainability Director

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.


2012 predictions: Sustainable Meetings and Events, part 2 (of 3)

On what we will see more of in the coming year

Earlier (this post), our list of predictions for 2012 was introduced. The thinking is informed by many conversations, readings, client requests and a dash of common sense.

  • Technology:  As with all sectors, the meetings and events industry will see a rapid evolution resulting from the increased usage of event-specific smart phone applications.  These apps provide individual delegates personalized, customized mapping to optimize their event experience, saving time and increasing productivity.  Social Media, as a platform for two way communication between even owners and event participants (‘what’s with the air conditioning?’ ‘The Audio Visual is awful’) provide real time opportunity to address any event improvements needed to enhance participant experience.  Social media makes it possible for the event to begin at the time of registration giving real value to sponsors and exhibitors to engage event attendees in constructive dialogue before the official event start date.  2012 will see an industry awakening in the practical use of simple-to-use-yet-powerful social media as a meaningful resource for planners and delegates.
  • Virtual presence: Regional events connected internationally: Ok, so this is a technology thing, too, but the easy availability of ever-improving-and-affordable technologies will create a shift to more events creating ‘hub and spoke’ formats. Not only will this reduce costs (time, travel expense) but can also provide meaningful focus on regional issues.  2012 will see increases in the number of event planners who understand that allowing virtual audiences increases stakeholder engagement in their organizations (rather than, as many worry, compromise attendance).  Regional ‘nodes’ which connect at focused times during their respective events can be highly engaging and offer exciting opportunities to share knowledge while reducing costs and carbon emissions from flights and other transport. The Green Meeting Industry Council webinar (Midori Connolly and Jessica Levin) and Event Camp Vancouver provide recent example not only of evidence of how well this can work but also ‘how to’s’ for integrating such technology for positive effect.
  • Community Actions: Social programs are fundamental to any meeting or event.   The change we will see in 2012 will be in what planners offer as activities.  Rather than invest exclusively in more traditional activities such as theme parties or cocktail mingles, planners will offer more examples of socially responsible actions which give back to community.  Participants in these sessions are moved to enthusiastic expression of these sessions being a highlight of their event experience as they offer highly personal connections not only with the charities supported but also other attendees.  These sessions completely change the networking dynamic so that attendees interact as people with a shared interest and not just representative buyers and sellers.   Also, greater effort will be made to measure social responsibility.  Hours worked, funds raised, meals served, media hits, etc.  Measurement of social responsibility is increasing in importance as organizations work to provide stakeholder groups concrete examples of how they are responsible and worthy of trust.


Thoughts on these?  Look for a consolidated list of all 7 predictions later this week!


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