I truly wish that I would have had a day free of other obligations (work) to stay engaged for the full 24 hours of this great event (or, maybe at least 16 hours). There were just that many great conversations, sharing of stories and knowledge and links to pertinent material to keep up with.
We need to recognize that sustainability is both undeniable and inevitable if the event industry (not to mention the human race and the planet) is to exist long term in a state that maintains, or progresses, the quality of life we now have and that (all) people deserve.
Sadly, the event industry has been slow to recognize this and to take the idea of sustainability as seriously as it should and to acknowledge and work on the (negative) impacts created in meetings and events as much as the advocacy for meetings based solely on the pure economics of positive impact.
But, the global conversation and event on Twitter yesterday created the opportunity for a tipping point – a moment in time when we can re-ignite and re-invigorate this conversation and this cause that all of us care so passionately about.
But, in the very accurate words of my friend, Guy Bigwood, we need less talk and a lot more action.
So, some actions I think we could take:
- Educate the industry and clarify that terms like sustainability, green meetings, CSR are all of the same cloth – that a truly sustainable approach to event planning and execution is an embedded triple bottom line approach (people/social; planet/green; profit/responsible growth). I believe we confuse the community when we only talk green meetings or CSR as if they are separate things.
- Get all of the different associations (GMIC, MPI, Sustainable Events Alliance, etc.) to come together and collaborate more, create common definitions, help explain the various standards (ISO20121, APEX/ASTM, GRI, etc) and help people understand how they actually work together. In reality we/they all have the same goal – a sustainable events industry. It shouldn’t be about members or politics, it should be about igniting action.
- Help get the corporate world aligned around sustainable events. I don’t have stats but my gut tells me that far more events happen in the corporate world (and special events, festivals, sports, etc). We need to find ways to better engage that segment.
- Find someone, or some entity, to truly do research and get us the data we need (economic, social and environmental) so that we have fact based arguments to make to clients, management and the industry in general on both the risks and consequences of taking no, or very little action and the positive impacts we can make in terms of bottom line and brand reputation when we embed a sustainable approach into our events.
- Seek out and aggregate on a common repository all of the event reports, case studies, books, papers, blog sites, etc., that currently exist – either through one association like GMIC or independent of any of the current associations as a knowledge library of best practices and best thinking on sustainable events. Right now it is hard to find this information in one place and the various associations have a tendency to limit access to members. This kind of information should be free and readily accessible if we want to drive faster change. Make this something that is easy to upload new information to on a constant basis.
- Share any reports you have as widely as possible. One of the reasons I believe in transparency (and share my Oracle OpenWorld report as widely as possible) is that as practicioners we should be creating best practices, building local communities and networks and leaving a legacy for those that come behind us.
- Promote, among ourselves, and to the broader communities of planners and suppliers the leaders in sustainable events. Share your insights and take a mentorship approach to helping others get on and continuously improve their sustainability paths.
- Work in your local communities, either through association chapters, or within your own networks of friends and colleagues to broaden the local networks, get more people educated and taking action and build the whole sphere of influence for sustainability awareness and action. Don’t worry about the bureaucracy of Boards, legal stuff, etc. Promote collaboration and actual work over hierarchies. Take advantage of digital technologies and channels to work quickly, more agile and facilitate communication across the network.
- Seek outside voices so that we don’t just become an echo chamber. Look for scientists, artists, business people, government leaders, etc., to broaden our base of knowledge and enhance our abilities to tell the story of what a sustainable world and industry can look like as well as getting more facts to rebut any claims that sustainability costs too much or is a waste of time.
- Start to just think bigger. There is plenty of basic information out there on how to do a green meeting. We don’t really need to keep re-creating that wheel, just get that info into the hands of as many people as possible. As leaders, we need to now start thinking about how we take this moment in time and this opportunity to create longer-term solutions and actions to some of the bigger risks and issues facing us – climate change and carbon, waste, elimination or reduction of dirty energy, better management of natural resources, poverty, social justice and human rights. We should be collaborating more on all or some of these issues across all the industry sectors and not fragmenting our efforts on smaller, less consequential activities (though I’m not criticizing or advocating for not doing small, one day community outreach programs – they have their place).
Much of the above is why we have spent a lot of time thinking about, not only all of the activities we do and measure, but how to break it down into very relatable pillars that are easy to remember. These are:
- Waste Not – be conscious of what we produce and consume and work towards a zero waste mentality that is more than just recycle, reduce and reuse, but also compost, rethink, repair. Eliminating waste and landfill across the supply chain get us closer to next piece.
- Be “Cooler” – work towards carbon neutrality across our activities and across the supply chain. Manage our actions to reduce carbon whenever and wherever can and work with a reputable offsetter to offset the carbon we can’t control (primarily attendees travel).
- Give Back – Give equal time, effort and expectation to the social or human side of what we are doing to be sustainable. Create long term legacy projects that have a positive impact on the biggest issues and biggest opportunities to solve our first two pillars. Make sure that giving back is meaningful to our attendees, to our internal stakeholders and that it is something that creates long term positive impact and can be measured and reported.
- Have Fun – Be mindful that, at heart, we are event designers and designers of audience experiences. We want to embed sustainability into our event experience in ways that educate the audience, get them to think, get them to become brand advocates (because of the good things we’re doing) and help them have a great, and fun, experience at our events.
We (and I include the awesome Shawna McKinley as part of the we) see all of this as inter-related and we work to bring this thinking to everything we do across our supply chain and our key performance indicators. It affords us the luxury to lead the effort in a way that we constantly challenge our team with big thinking and provocative challenges to bigger actions while still making sure that all of the key operational functions still happen and we get all of the data we need to make our report and do continuous improvement.
So, #CSRShareDay – great, and kudos to Andrew Walker for the initial idea and for he and Katherine Manfredi facilitating making it happen. It was fantastic participation.
Let’s keep it going and take it to the next level! Welcome your comments and feedback.