Business Case for Sustainable Meetings

Sustainability is a significant trend that has been having an impact on all parts of the events and meetings industry. More and more, event planners and their suppliers are working to increase the social, economic and environmental sustainability of their organisations. In the 2010 MPI (Meetings Professionals International) FutureWatch study 76% of European and 63% of US meeting planners report that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a focus for their organisations. Over 19% claim that they have a group or committee who guide them in their sustainability journey.

There are a number of strong business reasons to implement a strategic sustainable event management program:

Cost Savings: A well-orchestrated sustainable event can save money. Oracle Open World experienced savings of $858,638 in their 2010 conference. The Danish Government saved almost €600,000 by not providing gifts and merchandising at COP15.

License to Operate: Events are a primary communication platform for an organisation. They are a window to the soul of a brand. For organisations with stated sustainability or corporate responsibility commitments, it is important that events actively and visibly reflect such statements. At COP15 91% of delegates interviewed, said the active green agenda of COP15 was very important to them. Increasingly, delegates will expect organisations to take action to organise sustainable events.

Competitive Advantage: According to the 2009 Ernst & Young Report Global Hospitality Insights: Hospitality Going Green: ‘Green programs can provide a competitive advantage as long as green activities are still optional in the market. However, over time, green practices will become a baseline requirement to doing business in the hospitality industry, particularly as the cost of non-renewable energy continues to increase. Thus, those companies with business models that revolve around green practices will have the strongest opportunity of achieving a “sustainable” competitive advantage.’

Staff Motivation: In a recent survey from MCI 81% of employees said that they want to work for a company that cares and is responsible. Successfully engaging employee groups in sustainability projects can result in motivated, inspired individuals who create change and drive innovation.

Healthy Workforce: According to the World Health Organisation cardiovascular diseases (CVD), diabetes, obesity, cancer and respiratory diseases, now account for over 59% of all deaths. More people die from overeating than die from malnutrition. Relatively few risk factors – high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, smoking and alcohol being among the most significant – cause the majority of the chronic disease burden. A change in dietary habits, physical activity and tobacco control has a major impact in reducing the rates of these chronic diseases, often in a relatively short time. Events can help to inform delegates on the benefits of healthy lifestyles and diets. Healthy people make healthy companies.

Reputation: Media exposure and word of mouth storytelling can be an additional benefit of good sustainable event management. A recent trade-group conference in San Francisco promoted its green initiatives and saw 15 articles published within 30 days of the event. The COP15 sustainability initiative was featured in over 40 mainstream press interviews, with the website receiving four million visits.

Business Opportunity: Once a small niche, the developing green and social market segment, referred to by marketing professionals as LOHAS (lifestyles of health and sustainability), is booming. Nielsen and the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) estimate the size of the LOHAS marketplace to reach $400 million in 2010 in the US alone. At COP15, the Danish Government received over €15 million in sponsored services and products from organisations who wanted their brand to be seen as endorsing sustainability and climate change. Opportunity awaits for organisers who can capitalise on the new opportunities for sponsorship and for designing the event experience to attract and delight the LOHAS profile of attendees. To motivate LOHAS attendees, planners need to develop an event experience equal or superior to the environment in which these participants live at home.

Inclusivity: Sustainable practices make events more open and more inclusive. Approximately ten percent of event participant attendance is hindered due to various inhibiting circumstances or challenges such as physical disability, colour blindness, pregnancy, financial or geographic reasons.