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Is a Sustainability Strategy Right for the Event Industry?

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                     Sure there are challenges, but there are plenty of opportunities, too.  

While a sustainability strategy may present some challenges for event industry – including venues, organizers and corporate planners – they are far outweighed by opportunities in the form of reduced costs and potential revenue growth. 

Why should you care about sustainability? The answer is simple: Because your CEO cares; your investors care; your customers care; and the government/regulators care. 

Perhaps the biggest barrier preventing venues and planners from moving toward sustainability is the lack of understanding on how to get started. Luckily, principals in the events industry can follow standards set by the Green Meetings Industry Council (GMIC), published as an ASTM International standard. Visit the site and search “sustainable events”. ASTM defines nine elements of the supply chain (destination/visitor’s bureau, venue, food & beverage, transportation, accommodation, A/V company, staging and booth construct, communications & marketing and the on-site sales office). The supply chain must demonstrate commitment to sustainability in eight areas such as waste management, energy and water conservation and air quality. The ASTM standard defines the considerations for selection in the event supply chain by environmentally conscious event planners. RFP Guidelines are available on the GMIC site for planners to use as insertions into RFPs for their events. This is perhaps the quickest way for a planner to get started in sustainability. 

A second opportunity lies with the International Standards Organization (ISO) and its standard “20121”, Event Sustainability Management System. This standard, “…has been designed to address the management of improved sustainability throughout the entire event management cycle,” according to ISO. 

Another option is to participate in a “Sustainable Meeting Planner Program”. This program combines ISO 20121 and the ASTM standards for events. 

When all is said and done, and you want to report on your event, consider that UFI has developed a simplified entry-level reporting template using Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) model as its basis. The template identifies the recommended standards for each segment of the industry, and also includes the 10 indicators that appear as a “top priority” for venues, organizers and planners that UFI recommends the exhibition industry report at a minimum.

The benefits of a sustainability strategy based on international standards and guidelines are myriad, including reduced costs in the form of efficiency, waste reduction, productivity gains, risk mitigation and higher employee retention. Venues, organizers and corporate planners can also grow their status in the marketplace through enhanced reputation; ability to differentiate their offers; and better respond to customer requests and requirements.

The first to achieve ASTM standards compliance, the Colorado Convention Center (CCC) in 2012 successfully completed Level One certification to the ASTM Standard for the Evaluation and Selection of Venues for Environmentally Sustainable Meetings, Events, Trade Shows, and Conferences. The CCC recently achieved Level Two certification. Other Level One certifications have been achieved by McCormick Place in Chicago, Orange County Convention Center and the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, among others. 

The events industry must decide its sustainability commitment. I urge you to be a part of the solution.


© 2015  by Glenn Hansen