In an increasingly connected world, meeting planners should consider environmental impact on top of their economic bottom line.
Whenever I travel to Florence, Italy, I stay at a small hotel near the Ponte Vecchio, that famous old bridge inhabited by goldsmiths and an international assortment of tourists; the hotel proudly displays the sign, “Life Beyond Tourism.” The brochure illuminates the concept: “For intellectual dialogue, life beyond tourism…tourism based on values, not just consumer services.”
The eight-point Life Beyond Tourism Manifesto asserts that tourism is a crucial source of prosperity, but also that it is an opportunity for cultural dialogue and the celebration of diversity, a “workshop of knowledge,” and that environmental management helps to preserve this knowledge and dialogue for the future. In other words, the focus of the manifesto is on the triple bottom line, or people, planet and profit.
There is also life beyond meetings. Meeting and event professionals can become very focused on the product itself and forget that it is intrinsically attached to the larger world through its supply chains, stakeholders and situational context, creating economic, environmental and social impacts. The linkages are both direct and indirect, but the industry has a tendency to consider only economic impacts, especially direct spend.
Convention and visitor’s bureaus use this number to help demonstrate the value of meetings to their communities. There isn’t anything wrong with this. It is an important measure, but it does not fully describe the impact of meetings and events on the community.
And this raises several questions.
How can meetings and events become a workshop of knowledge, promoting culture and the preservation of the environment as well as the purpose of the organization? How can the industry begin to recognize, optimize, measure and report their full impact? And how can meeting and event professionals implement the practices that will help to achieve this?
The answer to the first question lies in corporate social responsibility, or what researchers Francisco J. García Rodríguez and Yaiza del Mar Armas Cruz writing in the International Journal of Hospitality Management (2007), call “social-environmental responsibility,” or SER. This is in recognition that enterprises—or, in our case, meetings and events—have more than legal and economic responsibilities. They also have responsibility to the environment, to ethical business and to stakeholder relations, and this should impact both decisions and operations. These actions impact the risk profile, reputation and image of the organization.
Meetings and events motivate community pride and development, provide a cultural experience for attendees and tighten the weave of the economic, social and cultural fabric, argue Rayka Presbury and Deborah Edwards in the International Journal of Event Management Research (2005).
They believe that the first step is to educate event professionals to incorporate sustainability, using the language of business; a simultaneous step is to ensure that sustainability becomes part of the educational content available to event professionals. This education can be part of formal post-secondary institutions curricula, or part of industry associations’ educational offerings and certifications, such as the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP).
The second question above is one of awareness. How can the industry begin to recognize, optimize, measure and report their full impact?
Recognition comes in part with education, but also with the advent of tools for measurement and reporting; these tools provide a framework for measurement and reporting. Several tools have been created recently, including the green meeting standards developed by the Convention Industry Council’s (CIC) APEX initiative in conjunction with ASTM, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) event organizer’s sector supplement and the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 20121 for sustainable event management.
Although these are the most visible tools, others do exist, including BNQ (Bureau de normalisation du Québec) 9700-253 Sustainable Development - Responsible Event Management, released in 2010 by the Québec government. The Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) conference that took place in Montreal in April 2012 sought certification not only to APEX but also to BNQ 9700-253. A legacy of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games was the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Z2010-10 requirements and guidance for organizers of sustainable events.
The third question is one of action and implementation. How can meeting and event professionals implement the practices that will help to achieve the creation of knowledge, the preservation of culture and the environment and the attainment of organizational goals?
Presbury and Edwards recommend that event practitioners apply the principles of sustainable development to meetings and events. To do this, event practitioners should actively decrease the use of scarce resources; identify and evaluate both positive and negative environmental, economic and social impacts; identify and understand stakeholders; and try to connect attendees to the place where the meeting or event takes place, both environmentally and culturally.
The answer lies not only at the level of the individual meeting and event practitioner, but also on an industry-wide scale. The industry strives for recognition as an economic driver, and has received unwanted scrutiny in the media for occurrences such as the AIG debacle and, more recently, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) event in Las Vegas (2010). Implementing principles of sustainability can arguably increase image, reputation and what is known as the social license to operate for the industry as a whole.
It turns out that life isn’t beyond meetings and events, but intrinsically part of them. One+
corporate social responsibility,
One+ September 2012,