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


  1. Hugo Kimber says:

    Hi Guy
    Agree with your synopsis but would add one area of value of measurement that Michael referred to in an earlier post – ROI/value of sustainability programmes. There are many intangible values or values that are tough to measure in terms of financial benefit that are derived from sustainability programmes. Only 16% of quoted companies are currently measuring the financial value of sustainability programme savings, for example from reduced waste and greater resource efficiency. I think we can expect to see this change this year alongside the increase in general measurement and reporting. As I have previously suggested the “money shot” is key to grabbing the attention and support of company boards, senior leadership teams and senior management to actively embrace sustainability. The availability of tools like Evolution will make this easier for companies.

  2. Thanks for this post, Guy. What would happen if an outside organization were to get enough information on your event to report the sustainability (or lack thereof) of your meeting? We see this happening in the consumer products industry. I heard Alex Bogusky @bogusky say this week that either you can make your business transparent – or someone else will do it for you.

    • Guy Bigwood says:

      Great comment! – This is what is happening with some of the large mega events. For that reason the Olympics, Climate change meetings etc are performing reports – before someone else does.

  3. Hi Guy

    As someone who has written and assured sustainability reports in a number of sectors over the last ten years, my experience from other sectors using GRI is that it takes a critical mass of leading companies (not just the usual suspects) to step up and begin producing reports to encourage others to engage. The danger in my mind for the GRI supplement is that it becomes seen as relevant only to the Olympics and other major one-off events, and not a standard for ongoing company reporting by event organising companies.

    Your point about the benefits of reporting is critical. Reporting – particularly independently assured reporting – requires time, skills and financial resources. Companies will need to see the clear commercial benefit to justify this, to themselves and to their clients. You and I may know the business case is there, but I think many MDs will need some convincing! High profile companies leading the way shows their belief in its benefits, and shows how to do it.

    Who are the big players in the event industry who will step up and lead the way for the rest of the industry to follow? Now the tools are ready, does the event sector need a ‘Reporting Initiative’ to work together to encourage and support event and company based reporting?

    Louise Hawson
    Partner, Sustainable Balance

  1. […] 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 […]

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