Sustainable Events: Best Practices, Challenges and How to Really Make a Difference - Part 1

Sustainable Events Best Practices, Challenges and How to Really Make a Difference - Part 1 | MCI Group | EN

Calendar icon August, 21 2019

Reports coming from the scientific world on the conditions of our planet are increasingly alarming. Grassroots movements and the public at large are raising their voices and demanding change. There is a lot that the MICE industry can do to promote sustainable practices and lead by example towards a more sustainable global economy. 

sustainable events

But as with any transformation, it is not without obstacles. Professionals might not know the best ways to integrate sustainable elements to their work strategies. They might not understand their value, or face resistance when trying to change things.  

In this series of two interviews, we talked to Global Destination Sustainability Index experts Guy Bigwood and Noah Joubert about best practices, overcoming challenges and activating stakeholders on the topic of sustainable events.  

The GDS-Index is a programme co-created by Bigwood, MCI and other industry partners that is helping Convention and Visitors Bureaus to be greater catalysts and change agents. Today, 58 cities participate in the Index and it's growing monthly.  

Guy is the Managing Director of the GDS-Index. For the last 15 years, he has been delivering award-winning consulting services focused on helping cities, governments, corporations and associations step up, scale up and speed up their sustainability programmes and smart practices.

Noah serves as Sustainability Associate for the GDS-Index, supporting the development and media relations of the programme.

Sustainability and sustainable events are one of the fastest-growing trends in the MICE industry. From your experience, what do you think companies can gain from adopting sustainable processes and running their events more sustainably? 

Put simply - sustainable events are better events. Why? 

  • Engagement: Organising an event sustainably requires that organisers better engage, listen to and communicate with their event delegates, employees and suppliers. Better engagement and listening at all levels improve event results. 
  • Profit: Reducing waste, resource usage and unnecessary purchases optimises an event. This can lead to significant opportunities for reducing costs and improving quality. 
  • Innovation: From holograms, digital signage, to vegan options and event apps - sustainability requires innovation. Event attendees love new things. Bring the two together and you can do the old things in a new way. It has a more positive impact on event objectives and one’s social and environmental footprint. 
  • Reputation: Society is demanding more responsibility and positive action from corporates, associations and governments. Sustainable events allow organisations to walk the talk and bring their commitment to life, with practical actions and tangible outcomes. 

What are the main challenges that companies may face when trying to implement sustainable practices? 

One of the key challenges is always the internal resistance to change itself. With transformation comes uncertainty, and few people like that.  A second one is very related, as it refers to the lack of detailed knowledge people have of sustainability. The elusiveness of the concept is what many struggle with.  

For this reason, we at the Global Destination Sustainability Index collect successful case studies for sustainability initiatives and use these to educate and engage. To overcome the internal resistance to sustainability that is present in many companies and people, they need to be shown success stories: “It has worked for them, why are we not doing it?”  

Lastly, there is often a feeling that the small actions that a person can do don’t make a difference. People say things like - “There is no point in me not using plastic bags, there are over 1 trillion used every year. What difference will I make?” Consequently, it’s important to use facts to remind people how simple actions, like not using plastic bags, make a difference. For example, since the plastic bag charge was introduced in Ireland, over a billion bags (90%) have been prevented from going to the landfill, the sea or our countryside. 

Would you say that companies that do not follow this trend are exposing themselves to risk, especially in the digital age (e.g. brand image)? 

Absolutely, the public is demanding more action and if companies do not respond to this appropriately, they will be putting their brand at risk. Extinction Rebellion and the recent school strikes are two recent examples of this public outcry for action. According to data from an August 2018 Nielsen report, 81% of respondents of their massive global survey felt strongly that companies should help to improve the environment, with millennials (85%) coming out ahead as the generation demanding change. 

As we already began to highlight, the integration of sustainability at all levels of a company’s strategy will help them ensure their long-term survival. This will go beyond mere brand image – especially as government sanctions for environmental malpractice grow tighter. It will become a necessity. If organisations start now, they will still be ahead of the curve. If not, they risk scrambling for sustainability solutions when it is already too late.  

This is particularly relevant to organisations who require sponsorship for their events. Sponsors are very aware of risks when choosing to invest their money. An event without a sustainability commitment poses a tangible risk. Many sponsors already look for events with a strong sustainability commitment. 

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Many stakeholders do not see the benefits of integrating sustainable practices and there is a common belief that they are expensive. How can we change this mindset? 

First of all: if they think there is no benefit to integrating sustainable practices into their company, they do not understand the concept itself. In many ways, it is about reducing waste and optimising processes, which leads to cost reduction. That is a clear benefit that most people should be able to grasp. In Thailand, for example, they have begun to roll out a program to tackle food waste in 10 hotels, and in only 2 years this created €530,000 in cost-savings and prevented 383 tons of carbon emissions.  

In many MCI events, a sustainability focus has reduced costs. For example, at the ICCB Congress for 1500 people, MCI Buenos Aires produced a very low environmental impact event (56% waste diverted from landfill, 100% offsetting) that also saved the client $12,000. At the SAP Development Kick-Off Meeting event, MCI saved the client € 86,000 across 5 events. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. By sharing this kind of information with more people, we can debunk the myth of sustainable practices being more expensive. It does require a paradigm shift, and this is what people struggle with. 

How can we activate stakeholders around issues of sustainable development? 

Make it relevant. Stakeholders have to learn how they will be affected by sustainability issues. Ultimately, it will have an impact on all their lives, no matter what sector they are working in, no matter where they are based. As I already mentioned, we often encounter this feeling of: “Ah, I am just one person. How can I possibly shift global trends?” The solution is bringing stakeholders together and fostering collaboration. Then it can be quite incredible what people come up with. The challenge is to get the ball rolling, but once that happens, stakeholders feel empowered to take meaningful action.  

For events, we like to build a “sustainability team”. It comprises of the client, the event organiser, the catering team, the venue team, hotels, transport, production suppliers, and any other key suppliers. Together, we co-create a vision of success for the event that includes environmental, economic, and social KPIs. We then develop a common action plan that delivers value for the event, but also for every member of the team. This type of approach engages stakeholders in a better and more effective way. 

This post is the first of a two-part series on sustainability in the MICE industry. Click here to read part 2 of this article.


Guy Bigwood

Guy Bigwood
Guy Bigwood

Managing Director - Global Destination Sustainability Index

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Noah Joubert

Noah Joubert
Noah Joubert

Sustainability Associate - Global Destination Sustainability Index

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