Guy Bigwood is the organizer of the European Sustainable Event Conference (ESEC) – on behalf of Green Meetings International Council. ESEC offers event professionals a solution to enhance their skills and make contacts in sustainable event planning.
Is sustainability last year’s fad, or are there still issues that can be improved?
“There is a creeping lethargy around sustainability these days. Many if not most hotels and venues around Europe have implemented some basic sustainability measures and they feel that this is enough because of lack of client demand.
Meanwhile, most event planners have also implemented a few basic measures such as cutting down on printing, but are not committed to, or interested in, making further improvements.
In general, event organisers either feel that they have implemented, or are implementing, sufficient measures, or complain that it is too expensive to arrange a properly ‘green’ conference. This raises a few points:
- There is so much more both planners and suppliers can do to improve business performance(innovation, efficiency, profit, savings etc.)
- We are using more than three times the Earth’s natural resources each year (five times in the US), and, as the developing world continues its dramatic increases in consumption, we are continuing to over-consume and accelerate climate change. All industries need to scale-up and speed-up their sustainability initiatives. Let us take food waste as an example: the hospitality industry is a top four producer of food waste. On average over 50% of the food we produce is thrown away between farm and fork. That is morally wrong and financially stupid.
- Serious social injustices exist around the world; the hospitality and events industry is frequently complicit in human trafficking, prostitution, unequal working conditions among other dubious activities.
- From my experience, both planners and organisers forget that sustainability is about balancing the design and delivery of an event to push social, economic and environmental performance.”
Do we specifically have to ask for sustainable solutions to receive them, or are they already taken care of as result of restrictions, laws and regulations, for example from the European Union?
“Unfortunately, legislation and regulation is very loose and does not yet drive sustainable event performance around the world. There are only a few places – such as Gothenburg – which have passed legislation requiring event organisers to follow sustainability practices when organising events. It is critical that planners demand more sustainable services from their suppliers. In addition, I do not think we should pay more for the majority of services. For example, in many countries it is now possible to print signage on eco substrates for the same price, or lower, than foam core or PVC.
However, we do not push our suppliers enough to be proactive, to research and come up with better options. During the Danish Presidency of the European Union, we integrated sustainability as a core part of the procurement process, with a clear goal that we would not pay more. Our potential suppliers reacted and used it to compete and differentiate themselves.”
What kind of difference can we make as an industry by taking sustainability issues seriously?
“Through collaboration and competition, we can push innovation and drive sustainable development. We are part of a huge industry that touches millions of people. In the US, for example, the meetings industry directly supports 1.7 million jobs; $263 billion in spending; a $106 billion contribution to GDP; $60 billion in labour revenue; and $25.6 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue (Source CIC).
The UK meetings industry delivers £58.4bn of the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP) – making it the 17th largest industry in the UK, three times larger than the agricultural industry. It generates more than one million full-time equivalent jobs, and makes a direct contribution of £20.6bn to the tax system.
By integrating sustainability into our events, we have the opportunity to engage with millions, communicating the need to change, demonstrating the benefits and showcasing innovations. Plus, let us not forget our role in promoting economic development.”
What are the most common reasons not to took or ask for sustainable solutions for meetings and events?
“Lack of knowledge of the solutions that are possible and the perceived/real costs of some sustainable options.”
Do you believe that planners etc. might be interested in booking sustainable meetings, but are not aware of how to?
“Totally. In a recent survey of MCI’s largest 50 clients, we learnt that 100% wanted to implement more sustainable options, but were stopped by lack of knowledge, a failure of the suppliers to communicate their sustainability offering, or the perception/reality of the sustainable option being more expensive. We need to show that it is easy and economically viable to implement more sustainable conferences.”
What can convention bureaus do to improve their communication about sustainable solutions and offers?
“Engage, communicate, inspire, simplify! Making people feel bad will not help. We need to listen and create a dialogue, educate and storytell; inspire them with stories of success and then simplify the steps to find/buy/implement more sustainable options.
Wonderful Copenhagen Convention Bureau has done a good job at leading the change within their community and internationally.
They have funded and supported initiatives such as the GMIC, the Danish Sustainable Events Initiative and two European Sustainable Events Conferences. Locally, they have communicated local initiatives, recognised efforts and celebrated innovations. We need more CVBs to step up and get into action around sustainability. The ICCA project to create a sustainable meetings region has demonstrated how easy it is for CVBs to change and become leaders around sustainability.”
Guy Bigwood is the Group Sustainability Director at MCI – the world’s largest integrated event and association management company. Guy Bigwood was the sustainable event management expert employed during the staging the eco-certified UN Climate Change Conference COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, and the Danish European Union presidency in 2012.