Sustainable Event Reporting: Like eating your vegetables?

Parents differ on their approach to getting kids to eat vegetables, often falling into 2 camps: ‘eat it or else’ and ‘only take what you want”.  Which method produces the healthier eater?  

There’s a parallel, here, to recent thinking on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Reporting.  In her just published article, Elaine Cohen recaps the recent Redefining Value: Integrated Reporting and Measuring Sustainability Conference which shares, among many great facts and figures, some insights for making sustainability reporting common practice.

Some argue that only government imposed regulation (‘eat it or else’) can inspire organizations to consistently share performance data publicly.  Others want markets to lead this initiative, leaving individual business to define what and how they’ll report (‘only take what you want’).  Which method produces a healthier business?

Like a kid who squirms and resists eating broccoli the first time, only to later discover that they like it, corporations who produce CSR reports for the first time experience a feeling of discovery, saying the process was beneficial to their business.    Like eating your vegetables, the benefits of integrated sustainability reporting are real…and important.. and worth pursuing.

Is it unreasonable, then, that meeting planners might also experience a similar sense of enlightened discovery in pursuing sustainable event reporting? And experience the improved stakeholder trust and improvement in business practice which inevitably follows thoughtful reporting?

Can this practice fuel a movement to integrate sustainability into the very design of the event itself (rather than having sustainability be seen as a complicated afterthought)? And bring needed improvements to an industry which struggles with uniform application of sustainable business practice?

Will the meetings industry eat its vegetables?





  1. elaine cohen says:

    Hi Michael, Great post, and thanks for the mention. Perhaps you will be able to persuade the GRI to produce a Sustainable Event report at the GRI conference in 2012? 🙂 Vegetable-based inks, of course.

    • Guy Bigwood says:

      Hi Elaine. MCI is the event management partner for GRI, and yes we will be doing a GRI compliant report. We are just working on the event design and would like to ask you your opinion on somethings later.. take care

  2. Paul Salinger says:

    Interesting analogy and question Michael.

    This is kind of like the USDA promoting particular food guidelines without really imposing any particular measures or telling people they should cut down on sodas without imposing any specific tax or consequence on the soda industry. We kind of rebel against being told what to do ,eat, whatever, regardless of whether it is good for us or not.

    I’m not sure it is really feasible (or even remotely possible in the current political and economic climate) to impose sustainability reporting on anyone.

    Here’s my take though as someone who does produce an annual event sustainability report. It’s unconscionable in my thinking that the event industry wants to talk about CSR without the people doing that talking actually backing it up by doing the kind of reporting that would transparently show the real impact of the industry on people, planet and profits.

    It’s one thing to produce economic reports that purport to show how much the industry contributes to economic activity as kind of self-serving while not pushing the industry to also produce sustainability research that shows the other side of that equation, the negative consequences and impacts that we produce and what we are doing to mitigate them, while also providing positive economic impact.

    This can’t be something we wait for a regulatory body or government to mandate on us. That will end up costing more and just creating more bureaucracy than necessary. The industry needs to take the lead on this and educate its stakeholders and create simple, meaningful means of reporting that make the vegetable eating side of this more palatable.

    • Michael Luehrs says:

      Wow, Paul, you’re so good. I’m a fan of good analogies and you came up with some good ones.
      It wasn’t so much my intention to foist mandatory reporting on any entity, per se, but trying to point out that the benefits are real in spite of the difficulty.
      Not unlike the organizations who have experienced benefit from pursuing BS8901, or Green Seal certification: it’s complicated and, at the outset, it’s unclear if the investment has value.
      The journey almost always reveals unexpected, often important, discoveries and improvements to business processes.
      While it’s clear that people live in both camps (‘Regulate Reporting’, as Denmark has done, and ‘Voluntary Reporting’, as a growing number of businesses are choosing to do), the benefits of sustainability reporting will be unique to the participating organizations. I was hoping to underscore these benefits as real and challenge meetings industry leaders to jump in.
      Why wait for somebody to make you to do something that’s good for you?
      Thanks for being a leader!

  3. Paul Salinger says:


    Totally agree, and never thought you were proposing mandatory reporting. It just continues to irk me that the industry as a whole is more interested in touting economic benefits of the industry (which are totally under duress as the price of oil increases and other resources diminish) and not look at the kind of reporting that could tell us in hard facts what kind of impact we actually have and what we could then do about it.

    Thanks for starting this discussion though and keeping it alive. I also am not really interested in mandatory reporting, but I am interested in our industry taking this seriously and thinking and acting in a manner that is responsive to addressing both business challenges and business impacts as it moves into the future.

  4. Two very different examples from other industries:

    The chemical industry went through this process, kicking and screaming and very much under the “or else” model, and wound up much more efficient and profitable.

    Organic food grew from grassroots farmers and consumers, with the government generally opposed to the greeners — I think most of the early organic folks would see the USDA as a corrupt revolving door with industry. For events, this would be the equivalent of small planning firms and individuals creating the path (which is happening), and event attendees becoming more educated and assertive consumers (which isn’t really happening, yet.)

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