This post was written by Miguel Neves of the IMEX Group. Check out the sustainability initiatives happening at IMEX America Oct 13-15 in Las Vegas!
Sustainability is increasingly an important part of not only meetings but also entire businesses with many organizations embracing sustainability as part of how they do business. Meetings are by default wasteful but meetings are also outstanding ways to achieve knowledge transfer or team spirit amongst other potential benefits.
So what are the best practices around sustainability for meetings? In this post meetings are referred to in the context of all different types and sizes of business gatherings including incentive travel, conferences, congresses, and other types of business events.
Sustainability starts at the planning stage. Here it is important to seek guidance or follow a blueprint, but keep in mind that some standards may be too complex for smaller events. I would recommend three main resources:
- ISO20121 Event Sustainability Management System
- APEX/ASTM Sustainable Event Standards
- GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards – Event Organizers Sector Supplement
For an overview the Three Ps of Sustainability (People, Planet, Profit) are a good way to look at best practices for events.
Working with the local community is crucial. It is easy to see how an unsustainable meeting may be planned in a developing destination with participants flying in and using international branded hotels. With minimal financial benefit to the local community, this is the type of meeting that contributes very little to the local community.
A sustainable meeting is one that recognizes, respects, and involves the local community by hiring local staff, using local suppliers and ensuring that vendors are good employers who work with local unions and comply with local laws and regulations.
In meetings where knowledge transfer to the local community through local institutions is feasible, it should be a core meeting objective and highlighted to all participants. A managed process of knowledge transfer is not always possible, but working with the local community can take the shape of working with local charities. This can be a great opportunity to involve meeting participants through actives that can benefit the charity and the community as well as the meeting participants.
IMEX America partners with two local charities; The Shade Tree Las Vegas, a shelter for women, children and pets that are victims of domestic abuse and Opportunity Village, a charity that provides men and women with all levels of disabilities the chance to lead a life that had previously been unattainable. We raise money for both charities through corporate sponsorship of our badge back recycling initiative.
We also worked with the The Shade Tree Las Vegas on the IMEX Challenge in 2014 when $14,300 dollars were raised and 46 volunteers created a new healing garden. This year we are helping this same charity install onsite recycling facilities through our Evergreen Shade Tree initiative as well as collecting winter and baby clothes on behalf of the charity.
Meetings should also focus on the wellbeing of the participants and this can be as simple as including adequate breaks in meetings, meeting in spaces with natural light and comfortable furniture. Serving healthy food will help participants maintain their energy and incorporating physical activity in meetings can give everyone a welcome energy boost. For IMEX America we will be holding the first ever IMEXrun Las Vegas, a five-kilometer long fun run open everyone organized by our partners sports by tlc.
Meetings are wasteful by nature, but sustainable meetings minimize their environmental impact. A simple place to start is with food and drink. Selecting an organic and locally sourced menu lowers a meeting’s carbon footprint considerably. At IMEX America we are doing this through the Water Wise Wednesday initiative. For example, serving filtered tap water in glass jars is a simple way to limit waste. There are also gains to be made in the way we serve food with family style service or well-managed buffets reducing food waste.
Air travel has a negative impact on the environment and while cutting down air travel may not be possible land travel can be minimized by using public transportation, planning efficient bus or car transfers and having a no idling policy.
The Three R’s of sustainability (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) can be used in dealing with meeting materials from name badges to full exhibit booths and collateral. At IMEX America we’ve created a Sustainable Exhibiting Guide that encourages exhibitors to work with the venue to reduce their environmental impact and recycle materials at the end of the trade show. Even better, in some cases exhibit booths and collateral can be reused for different events. Using mobile apps, digital signage and online document sharing are great ways to also minimize single use signage and collateral.
Communicating sustainability initiatives is crucial to involve everyone. One of the ways we do this at IMEX is via our Green Team. We encourage participants to join the Green Team and contribute towards our green goals by carrying out simple sustainable tasks such as attending sustainability focused education sessions or building Clean the World Hygiene Kits which will in turn be donated to The Shade Tree Las Vegas.
With so much focus on the people and planet sides of sustainability, it is easy to forget about profit. Smart businesses make a healthy profit, but they do so in an ethical way and make sure that partners and suppliers also make a sustainable profit based on good business practices.
Meetings should make sure that they have a positive effect on the local economy, no matter where the meeting may be held. This should not be a publicity stunt; a meeting that is embraced by the local community will gather important local support.
Meetings are an investment and money should be spent wisely. Rethink expensive giveaways or lavish dinners and invest in the most important part of the meetings. A limited budget can allow planners to spend wisely and change stagnated meeting design. Making donations to local charities may be a good option, particularly if this can be tied to the overall theme or sector of the meeting.
Sustainability should not be seen as an enforced regulatory measure or unnecessary extra work for meeting participants. The best form of sustainability is simply, smart business. When sustainability is embeded into an organization’s strategy then sustainable meetings are a natural consequence.
For organizations that embrace sustainable meetings, reporting is an important step and part of the cycle to learn from their previous meeting and improve the next. In IMEX America’s case, our Sustainability Report of IMEX America 2014 by MeetGreen is publicly available and allows us to see where we can continue to improve.
Communication around sustainability is perhaps the single most important success factor. Vendors and partners need to be involved at every step. Participants should be made aware and encourage to get involved in initiatives and it is the organizer’s job to make things simple and actions as easy and effective as possible.
Implementing sustainability programs is not simple and there are some great organizations specialized in this. At IMEX we work with the above mentioned MeetGreen, but I would also like to mention Sustainable Events Ltd led by MPI chairperson elect Fiona Pelham and one of our longtime association partners Green Meeting Industry Council. One last organization worth mentioning is Showslice, a collaborative economy startup that aims to get large meetings to share infrastructure and enable collaborative procurement.
I could not end this post without mentioning our Director of Knowledge and Events, Dale Hudson, who is really the internal driving force behind IMEX’s sustainability efforts. Her tireless efforts have not only changed the way that IMEX runs its trade shows, but also the way our venues and contractors deal with sustainability themselves. Dale’s work has had a significant impact across the industry.
Miguel has been involved in the global meetings industry since 2005 and following three years working at SYNAXIS Meetings & Events, Miguel joined the IMEX Group in August 2011. As Senior Online Community Manager Miguel’s focus is on managing the IMEX’s social media strategy as well as coordinating its technology education offering at the trade shows.
Miguel is a passionate social media advocate and frequently lectures and speaks on event technology and social media. As an active member of Meeting Professionals International (MPI), Miguel currently leads the UK & Ireland Chapter of the association as its President and in July 2013 was the recipient of the MPI RISE Award for global member of the year. Miguel holds a master’s degree in Conference and Events Management from the University of Westminster. Connect with him on Twitter @IMEXMiguel
Written by: Guest Author