International Meetings Measure Their Green Footprint

By: Kristin Clarke, CAE

Five tips to help you meet global expectations for conference sustainability.

Association meeting planners are facing new sustainability-related expectations from their members. As a result, attention to "green meetings"—gatherings that incorporate practices and goals that lighten their environmental impact—has risen in the past three years, especially as the number of international meetings grows.

"Concern for the environment and social issues has been very prominent in Europe, and awareness is increasing all over the world, although in some developing countries it is a challenge to lift people out of poverty by stimulating economic growth in the most sustainable way," says Robin Lokerman, chief executive officer, Institutional Division, MCI Group, in Singapore. (Lokerman also chairs The Center for Association Leadership.)

"Associations that organize meetings outside the U.S. need to take environmental and social issues into account," he continues. "We see more and more of our clients reporting the 'triple bottom line'—business results (financial, content, and so forth), environmental results (impact reduction), and social results (leaving a legacy)."

This takes forethought, but the payback is worth it, notes Lokerman. Benefits include potential cost savings, lower risk, higher attendee-satisfaction rates, warmer relations with local vendors, demonstrated respect for the local culture and multicultural values, and a lighter environmental footprint.

He shares five tips to make your international event more sustainable:

  1. Use extensive electronic marketing. It's faster, cheaper, and greener than paper and postage.
  2. Try to run a paperless (or "paper-lite") event onsite. This also saves significantly on shipping costs.
  3. Use public transportation where possible. "Many international destinations have excellent bus and subway systems that can be used by delegates. International delegates also are used to walking more than many of their U.S. counterparts," Lokerman explains.
  4. Choose local food options to enhance the cultural flavor of your event while simultaneously saving money and reducing pollution by limiting food shipments. Donate leftover materials and meals to the needy.
  5. Leave a legacy by contributing to social causes in the destination.

Key to success is communication with members about why and how the organization has embraced sustainability at the event. Communication should continue even after the event, so attendees know how much waste was composted or recycled, the impact of a volunteer community service event, and other metrics.

"We advise our clients to ensure they implement sustainability principles for their events and clearly communicate these in their marketing materials, as well as measure and communicate the impact of their event," Lokerman notes.

Kristin Clarke, CAE, is a writer and researcher for ASAE & The Center. Email: [email protected]

Kristin Clarke, CAE

Kristin Clarke, CAE, is a contributor and books editor for Associations Now.