Sustainability has played a key role to help companies achieve their corporate social responsibility (CSR) objectives over the past two decades. However, the practice of pursuing integrity, responsibility and transparency through sustainability has also started to take off in the meetings industry in recent years since the creation of three important Sustainable Event Standards in 2012.
The initiatives – namely APEX/ASTM Green Meeting and Events Voluntary Standards, ISO 20121: Sustainability in Event Management, and GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) Sector Supplement for Events – were designed for industry professionals seeking clear, consistent definitions and guidelines when it comes to planning a sustainable event. These standards, together with the fundamental British Standards’ BS 8901 for Sustainable Events (updated in 2009), have served as an internationally recognised approach to integrating sustainability into events.
Industry organisations such as GMIC (Green Meeting Industry Council) and UFI (The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry) have become leading resources to help associations promote sustainability through education, community support and advocacy for international sustainable event standards. Green Globe especially provides training, education and certification for sustainable operations and management and related supplier businesses through third-party inspection and validation. Besides, a growing number of companies such as MPI (Meetings Professionals Internationals) and MeetGreen, are dedicated to helping clients of different needs and budgets seek strategies and innovation in green initiatives, from on-site logistics to accommodation to post-event activities.
More and more destinations have responded to the sustainability trend, most notably Singapore and Copenhagen. Singapore Tourism Board (STB) launched its Sustainability Guidelines in 2013, covering areas including waste management, efficient use of water and energy as well as other initiatives in different categories such as hotels, venues, food and beverage and audio-visual setup. A comprehensive list of sustainability criteria are clearly stated in their checklist based on the ISO 20121 and the APEX-ASTM Standards, which makes it easy for hosts to check the progress or status for each aspect of the event.
The practice of the “3R” approach – Recycle, Reduce and Reuse – is dominant in the STB guidelines. On the “basic” level, audio/visual suppliers can make a difference by reducing waste, which can be achieved through cost-effective initiatives such as turning on equipment only when required, using sustainable materials for stage or exhibition design, and reusing/recycling materials like batteries and paper. On the intermediate level, materials made of PVC and toxic dyes and chemicals are avoided, and staff are instructed to track their energy consumption for specific events.
Event and activity organisers deal with a similar set of criteria as audio/visual suppliers, but with more instructions in areas like management of suppliers and community involvement. In any event such as opening ceremony, or a business tour, event organisers can document the suppliers’ sustainability credentials , 40 per cent of which have to be compliant to basic levels of STB sustainability guidelines. They can also incorporate social enterprises or local community organisations such as NGOs and charities into the events, and source staff from socially disadvantaged groups.
Exhibition, conference and convention organisers, with direct control over every aspect of the event, follow the longest list of the STB Sustainability Guidelines. This group’s main responsibility is to execute an event and achieve the objectives. First, the choice of venue and hotel should favour those with eco-friendly policy and using ethically and locally produced products and services, and they should be located within close proximity, e.g. within a 15-minute walk. Wastage is to be minimised by eliminating gift bags, using digital signage, reducing the use of stationery and badge holders, and recycling different kinds of waste. Efforts should also be made to offset on-site event carbon emissions and use energy efficient solutions whenever possible such as LED lighting. Employees should also be trained regularly on event sustainability and able to communicate sustainability commitment to the delegates.
Known as one of the most eco-friendly cities in the world and the official European Green Capital in 2014, Copenhagen also boasts an integrated approach to planning sustainable events. The Copenhagen Sustainable Meetings Protocol (CSMP), released in 2010, defines a sustainable event strategy through a series of processes to be integrated into the existing management system that requires the certification of BS8901 standards in key sustainability issues such as venue selection, operating procedures, communications and transport.
With many Green Key certified convention venues such as Bella Center and Tivoli Congress Center and over 70 percent of hotel rooms holding eco-certification, Copenhagen also made conscious efforts to upgrade their “software” such as meeting designs that address delegates’ educational, networking and motivational needs and techniques.
Meetovation, an inspiring meeting design concept that offers a flexible and creative usage of meeting and conference facilities, features an important component called “responsible thinking”, including a guide to green and socially responsible meetings with three different levels: green, greener, and greenest.
Apart from using eco-friendly products and service providers, Event organisers can promote healthier lifestyles that create more sustainable people which in turn can contribute to more sustainable businesses. Brain Food, developed by Radisson Blu's hotel chefs in collaboration with nutritionists, provides thoughtfully designed and tasty organic food to keep up delegates' energy and improve their performance.
Meetovation also introduces creative team-building activities and games with social/environmental commitment, such as an instructor from the conference venue facilitating a teambuilding session with quizzes and physical challenges with a focus on social responsibility and sustainability at the client company.
As innovative technologies also plays a vital part in energy conservation, excursions to wind farms, solar energy plants or other such facilities followed by a technical demonstration or lecture can give insights into how technology can reduce carbon footprint.
It’s high time that meeting planners and suppliers use sustainability to build stronger relationships with their members and communities, while saving cost and reducing their impact on the environment. True sustainability is a win-win solution for everyone involved.
Supported by the Union of International Associations (UIA), the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO) and the Interel Group, the global public affairs and association management consultancy, Headquarters Magazines serve the needs of international associations organising worldwide congresses.