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Positive Impact Sponsored Series

Sustainable Events

Four New Sustainability Musts for the Event Industry



By Fiona Pelham

On Saturday 12th December 2015, an historic international climate agreement was reached in an old air hanger on the outskirts of Paris. World leaders, NGOs, and business leaders created a global plan to limit the average global temperature of the earth from rising above 2°C.

What does this mean for the global event industry -- an industry intensive in carbon use? Global events inevitably rack up air miles with delegates traveling internationally to global events, and on a smaller scale, the sheer demand of AV facilities and other power sources at events have a significant impact on the environment in terms of carbon emissions. Yet, events are vital in creating a world that works! Meeting Planners International (MPI), the world’s largest association for the event industry, which I'll be chairing in 2016, confirms that when when we meet, we change the world. There is no doubt that the COP21 agreement could not have been created without people physically coming together in Paris.

Having been part of this year's Conference of the Parties (COP) and reviewed the Paris agreement myself, I have identified four new sustainability priorities for every event industry professional:


1) Be ready to address regulation and carbon pricing within event bidding and procurement process

If you are a corporate planner your company will be expanding its carbon reporting. If you are a supplier to a corporate your client will be expanding its carbon reporting.

Currently there is barely any event industry reporting on energy use, attended travel miles and food wastage. Due to regulation, shareholder pressure, and reputation risk management, this is going to change and people will want to know the carbon footprint of your event.

The data is already being collected; for example, over 24,000 hotels provide carbon measurements to the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative. New tools are entering the marketplace to facilitate data gathering and reporting; Sustainable Events has re-launched EventSustainability as an online reporting system and it is continually adapted and innovated to meet customer needs.


2) Budget time and money to educate yourself and your team. Your sponsors or clients and their investors will expect it

The event industry has had an internationally recognized ISO standard (ISO 20121) and a reporting framework (The Global Reporting Initiative Event Organizer Sector Supplement) for over 3 years, and there is no reason why every single event industry business is not using both frameworks.

Every business in the event industry should be budgeting time and money for education as part of a strategy to future-proof the business.



3) Put structures in place to measure the positive and negative impact of your event and get ready to make event decisions based on this

There is a real possibility that companies looking to decrease their carbon footprint will identify their travel and event department as carbon intensive. Those unaware of the value of face-to-face events see it as a quick win to replace business and event travel with virtual attendance.

Having measurements is the only way that as an industry we will be able to quantify the social, economic, and environmental value of a face-to-face event. With measurement data we will be able to demonstrate the positive impact that our carbon spend results in. The Joint Meetings Industry Council are currently working on an initiative where they are gathering event case studies to demonstrate the value of events which may be overlooked such as knowledge transfer and local community engagement.


4) Tell the story of the power of events so the world thinks about more than the carbon footprint

The agreement is full of terminology that references that we should think broader than carbon: sustainability, indigenous rights, local communities and inter generational equity.

To consider the impact of an event purely based on its carbon footprint is not a good story for our industry. At least until the time comes that electricity-generating walkways replace carpets, and temporary event construction includes renewables that generate more electricity than the event uses.

It is essential that we tell the story of the positive impact our industry has; from local economic impact, to inspiring positive behavior change, to the fact that face-to-face collaboration is essential for creating a world that works for everyone. The event industry is the only industry vital to achieving each of the UN's global sustainable development goals.

For those of us within the industry it seems obvious but now is the time for us to all become experts in telling the story of what we do.

Now is the time for the event industry to be in serious action. Sustainability has been a conversational trend for over ten years now. The onset of regulation, carbon pricing and corporate leadership which will come from the Paris Agreement means we have no choice but to take more action over the next 10 years. As Helene Rey of UNEP explained during the COP21 tourism event- we have what we need, our focus now is on “scaling up and speeding up.”

Image credit: Mark Dixon, Flickr

Fiona Pelham founded not for profit Positive Impact in 2005 to provide education for a sustainable event industry. She recently became international chair for Meeting Professionals International, a global association of over 18,500 members.

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