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?


  1. Hi Michael,
    Great post as always! In response to your question I think one thing that helps is to be clear about what you expect suppliers to bring to the table and measure or report on. A general “tell me what you’re doing and get me some data” is pretty vague. Being specific either from the outset with a list of requests or by having a conversation to agree on what sustainable practices will be implemented seems kind of simple but it’s an important part of the process. It gets everyone on the same page and working better together for a common clear outcome, rather than a fuzzy target. Also being willing to tell stories about your partnership can help. Acknowledging the supplier in your case study or communications about the event helps. Or maybe providing a positive testimonial for them.
    ~ sm

    • Michael Luehrs says:

      Thank you, Shawna, yes! In the webinar slides, we’re asking planners to pin down their definition of sustainability and, importantly, to clarify the measurable goals they’ll target. Armed with this information, we think it’s easier to start the dialogue with suppliers. As you point out, a vague inquiry into supplier practices will likely elicit a vague response from the supplier. Planners do need to spend some time to get educated if they are to coordinate a collaboration for sustainable event practices.
      Great point about the need to tell the story and shine a light on those suppliers or people who helped to make a positive result happen. Or, conversely, it’s of perhaps even greater importance to share findings on how things might have worked better.. to share what went wrong as much as what went right. Collaboration means, to me and in part, shared risk and shared reward. That’s part of what we had hoped to communicate with the ‘Follow Up’ section of the presentation.
      It means a lot that you take time to share your valued findings and insights, Shawna.
      (Anybody not following Shawna on Twitter should take a moment to do so now: @s_mckinley .. she is a
      Leading, important voice and resource for sustainability & the meetings industry!)

      Many thanks,

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