Sustainability has come a long way for many organizations from philanthropic activities, to environmental stewardship, and now guided by the triple bottom line approach (People, Planet, and Profit). There is also the ISO 26000’s voluntary certification, which allows companies to improve their social, ethical, and environmental performance. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Conference (COP21) marked another development on how countries can contribute in achieving sustainable development, or how companies can map their way towards business continuity in a more sustainable manner.
There are many ways on how we can achieve sustainability and it has been proven that a collective action would create more impact. A good example is if businesses (even from a single industry) work together and take more lead in promoting actions toward sustainability.
Why is sustainability important?
The reality of climate change has made a business case for sustainability. Workers’ rights in the workplace is also a never-ending topic, in which if mishandled, may leave a negative streak for companies. These, among many reasons, are why sustainability must be considered important.
According to the most recognized definition of sustainable development by the Brundtland Commission, it states “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. With sustainability as part of the priorities of businesses, it is possible that the coming generations will experience what the present generation is enjoying now.
Think of the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) industry as an example. Thousands of events are being conducted yearly in Asia alone with Singapore on top among other countries in the region. This is where people get invited from different places who need to travel by land, air, or sea. The organizers who prepare and want to make the event a success might be overworked for months. Water and electricity from the venue are also needed. The venue staff would prepare food for the event where some might potentially end up in the trash. At some point, everyone will use paper. From a single industry alone, there are a lot of resources to be used but the good news is, having sustainability in mind can reduce an event’s footprint.
The impact of events and the importance of green/sustainable venues
Events are perfect to network, learn, or showcase something new. But many people may not realize that it is also a place where many resources are used and wasted. This can be avoided by using smart ways and think of more sustainable solutions.
From an environmental perspective, choosing a sustainable venue is one. At this point, many hotels or huge event venues already practice energy and water efficiency, and good waste management practices, use green building design or procure from local sources. These could be good considerations when organizers choose their venue. In places with none, organizers may choose a place that is close to the target participants. They can choose a caterer that is also local, and to avoid food waste, donate them to charity. Another is by avoiding the use of disposable materials such as paper or plastic. Materials needed for the event, organizers can go electronic through smartphones, tablets, or laptops where participants can freely access them. The organizers must also ensure that participants understand the purpose of organizing the event this way so that they would also do their own share to make the initiative a success.
From a social perspective, events bring together people from different industries making it a platform to communicate good advocacies and reach out to a wider audience. This is where potential collaborations or partnerships take place. Who knows when a civil society organization focusing on human rights can get the support of a huge multinational corporation or development bank to fund their projects and create more impact? Or a 30-minute speech advocating women’s rights could encourage more companies to review their programs that cater to women employees. Moreover, events help create jobs, especially in the service sector.
From an economic perspective, local businesses benefit from organizers that procure products and services such as food and giveaways. Local tourism also gets a boost if events invite participants overseas or from distant areas. All these improve the economic activities in the area which gives local businesses the opportunity to grow as well. If a meeting or event is to be held annually for example in Singapore, this might attract more local businesses to start and participate.
The business case for sustainable meetings
While there are remaining challenges such as limited resources and capacity, and being time-consuming to implement sustainable methods in meetings or events, there should be opportunities that can overcome the constraints.
A well-organized and well-planned event should help in reducing costs from venue selection, local sourcing, and less use of materials. This could help the organizer use their savings for other projects or investments. In 2010, the Oracle Open World Conference generated $858,638 in savings. Danish Government saved almost €600,000 by not giving away gifts and merchandising during COP15.
A company that does more positive could gain attention from other organizations and develop a positive image. This can also help influence other businesses to do more or use their sustainability initiatives to be able to attract more customers. In the recent trade-group conference in San Francisco, it saw 15 articles published within 30 days of the event due to its promotion of green initiatives. The COP15 event was featured in over 40 mainstream press interviews and its website received four million visits.
Healthy workplace and employees
A healthy workplace may reduce the risk of employees experiencing high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or obesity. Events or workshops are good places to help inform delegates on the benefits of a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Sustainable business practices such as skills enhancement for employees, value for health and safety, or good labor practices are ways to attract the workforce to work for your company.
A recent survey from MCI reveals that 81% of employees want to work for a company that cares and is responsible. This motivates staff to provide quality output, present innovative work and may reduce high turn-over rate.
The demand for sustainable events may increase if other companies see the benefits of going sustainable. This may increase clientele for sustainable MICE industry businesses, and also create additional jobs for those who are interested in working in the same sector. LOHAS or lifestyle of health and sustainability has also become a booming marketplace according to the Nielsen and the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI). During COP15, the Danish Government received more than €15 million in sponsorship from organizations who want their brand visibility in terms of promoting sustainability.
‘Green programs can provide a competitive advantage as long as green activities are still optional in the market.’ This is based on the 2009 Ernst & Young Report Global Hospitality Insights: Hospitality Going Green. Green practices are also likely to become a baseline requirement in doing business in the hospitality industry. Hence, companies that are already promoting and doing green business will have more shares in benefitting or gaining more business advantages.
The promotion of sustainability in events makes it easier for attendees with physical disabilities, experiencing financial difficulties, pregnant women, or people from far-flung areas to participate. As part of sustainability, people from all walks of life are welcome to join because organizers will be prepared to assist in making them comfortable during the events.
Good management systems
Not only can events promote a company’s advocacies or improve its reputation. Having an organized plan or a system like the ISO 20121 accreditation, also known as the Event Sustainability Management Systems, will help companies and its organizers have a good and sustainable checklist to keep things running. The COP21 that took place in Paris in 2015 is an event to promote sustainability, and it resulted in a global climate agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The same event, which is held annually also pulled off the initiative of being the first United Nations climate change conference to be an accredited ISO 20121 event. For an organization promoting sustainability, it is also a good example to “walk the talk” and minimize its impacts when holding such huge gatherings. However, companies need not aim for the accreditation but use it as a guide to hold both a fruitful and sustainable event.