"Like anything, the most important part of sustainability is not defining it, but doing it."
There is a general misconception within the MICE industry and beyond that “sustainability” is synonymous with “eco-friendly.” This is partially true, but sustainability goes beyond just being a good steward of the environment and applies equally to the issues of “people” (societal impacts) and “profit” (your bottom line). A popular framework for remembering this concept of having a holistic approach and balancing economic, social and environment impacts is “the 3 Ps – People. Planet. Profit.” This concept is referred to by many names (e.g., global citizenship, corporate (social) responsibility, triple bottom line, etc.), but generally refers to what we call “sustainable events” or “green meetings” in the meeting and event industry.
Like anything, the most important part of sustainability is not defining it, but doing it. To take the concept of sustainability from words to action, please see the accompanying planner checklist Kick Starting Sustainability: 10 Questions For Your Vendor Partners, as a great, easy way to get started.
So why is sustainability important to planners? First, events are a powerful opportunity to showcase organizational and brand values, which are more important to event participants than ever.
Attendees represent our population and the public is concerned! In fact, 39% of the US population is either “alarmed” or “concerned” about climate change. Beyond climate change, the population is concerned with issues related to food (think GMOs, pesticides and carbon-intensive meat production), chemicals in personal care products, clean water, air pollution and health, child labor and safe working conditions. In the US, a new LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) has been defined and is valued at $290 billion and growing. This means attendees have expectations and planners need to meet them, even at the simplest level to avoid reputational risk and ensure a positive event experience.
From a more proactive perspective, sustainability is not only a potential risk but creates opportunities to tell your brand’s story, demonstrate industry and thought leadership and provide attendees with enhanced experiences. Think about brands you love—TOMs, Patagonia, Method, New Belgium Brewing Co. These brands have products consumers enjoy, but they also make them feel good about their consumption. Statistically there is a “relatively strong correlation between a measure of brand strength and a measure of sustainability.”
Additionally, because sustainability is such a hot topic, more and more event organizers are either hosting events that are specifically focused on sustainability issues or are incorporating sustainability-related sessions into their educational programming. Holding “greener” meetings ensures that those messages are aligned and re-enforced.
While many green meeting practices are driven by event planners; recyclable name badges, locally sourced food for meals served etc., hosting a sustainable meeting is dependent on working with other sustainability-minded partners. Event destinations are the ultimate event partners, setting the stage for your event culturally and creating a foundation that either does or doesn’t lend itself to sustainability. Likewise, venue and hotel partners provide a foundation of operations and event services that either help or hinder a planner’s ability to host a “green” meeting. The good news, is that savvy suppliers are stepping up and offering sustainable event programs and services. For hotels, you have Starwood hotels offering their voluntary “Make A Green Choice” guest rewards program. Starwood, Marriott and Hilton also have green meeting packages that they offer to planners who want to adopt best practices like “clutter free stations,” soap and amenity donation, event impact reports (energy, water, waste).
Convention centers are also stepping up, seeking building certifications like LEED to ensure efficient facilities and offering “zero waste” programs to planners. Catering partners are adopting best practices like Centerplate’s corporate move to only serve cage-free eggs, and Freeman is moving to printing all signage on their “honeycomb” cardboard substrate as a default in 2016.
There are many entities working hard (and creatively) to increase sustainability and add value in destinations across the globe. DMOs and CVBs are in a unique position to tell a unified event sustainability story for the destination as the city expert and planners’ first point of contact. Sustainability information DMOs/CVBs can share with planners in preparation of their meeting would include:
- CVB services
- Convention center services and programs
- Convention center catering best practices and options
- Hotels room block performance (walkability, certifications, programs)
- Green transportation options from airport to city center and getting around town
- Restaurants (certifications, sustainable/local food restaurants)
- Local printers (that offer “green” printing options)
- Florists (that offer cut flower alternatives that can be donated to the local community)
Many DMOs are starting to embrace sustainability as a point of differentiation. There isn’t anyone in the industry that’s going to claim planners will select one destination over another solely for sustainability, but when a destination provides planners the opportunity to host a sustainable event and provide their attendees with an authentic, responsible and progressive experience, they are likely to see that value and promote it within the industry. Some DMOs and CVBs that are embracing sustainability as part of their planner offering include:
Orlando: Green Destination Orlando created the industry’s first comprehensive destination sustainability report, covering the visitor experience from arrival to departure.
Chicago: The Chicago CVB offers resources for planners on their website including information on the city, McCormick Place, hotels, dining, sustainability certifications and transportation.
Denver: Visit Denver has extensive resources for planners including information on the convention center, carbon calculators (and offsetting options), directories of green vendors/venues/printers, reports on hotel sustainability and volunteer opportunities.
As a planner, have you found value in sustainable destination offerings? What was it that you and your attendees enjoyed? As a destination, are you telling your sustainability story so that planners can take advantage of the programs already in place within your convention center package?
We’d like to hear about them! Please email Cara Unterkofler at email@example.com and we’ll send out a post-webinar summary including your contributions!
 Global Warming’s Six America, Yale / George Mason University (March 2012)
 The Conference Board (June 2013) http://www.brandfinance.com/images/upload/the_link_between_brand_value_and_sustainability.pdf