By Eloisa Urrutia, Meetings & Events Sustainability Head, American Express Meetings & Events
There are increased expectations in how organizations and people engage and act in the community, particularly when it comes to their impact on climate change. More and more, companies are being called to reduce their emissions and build sustainable business models.
Many global corporations have set ambitious corporate sustainability goals in line with the Paris Agreement that they need to achieve, like being carbon neutral by 2030 and net-zero by 2050. Now they need to cascade these goals to their meetings and events program with specific elements and actions.
Sustainability goals are climbing up the corporate agenda for many reasons. Strong corporate sustainability/environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategies not only help our people and planet thrive – but businesses as well. Companies with strong ESG scores outperform those with lower ones, and investors increasingly look to invest in businesses that disclose ESG reports. A strong sustainability program is also an advantage in the talent war, with typically younger candidates wanting to align themselves with companies doing the right thing for the earth and society.
As companies elevate their sustainability programs, meetings and events directors are being asked to do the same and need to cascade their corporate sustainability goals to their meetings and events program. Yet, they may feel stuck about where or how to get started – so many different elements need to be addressed. But it need not be so daunting when you have a clear roadmap to follow.
Here are four steps we recommend to clients when they are getting started on this journey.
Aim and reduce
As with any business area, you need a plan with specific targets. This can and should be aligned to the corporate sustainability objectives. For instance, if your company aims to be carbon neutral by 2030, the objective of the meetings and events program could be to have 100% carbon-neutral events by 2030.
Once an objective has been determined, define the actions needed to reach that goal. More isn’t always more. Since you have limited time and resources, begin with only one or two actions that will have the most significant impact. Those actions should be specific, tangible, and measurable – for instance, eliminating single-use plastic from events by January 2023 or reducing food waste by 10% year over year.
Choose actions that are applicable across all your events in scope. If you choose actions that you cannot apply again, you’re back to square one.
You should also tie the action to a meaningful KPI. For instance, in the plastic example, you could track how many kilograms of plastic you prevented going into the landfills or oceans by eliminating its use at an event.
Plan and procure
For those tackling the tactical aspects of an event, a planning checklist or best practice guide can help. We provide both to our clients that focus on the six areas where they can have maximum impact on reducing an event’s carbon footprint: destination, transportation, accommodation and venues, food and beverage, material, and waste management.
Early on in planning an event, consider the destination where it will be held. Some cities do sustainability better than others. For instance, they may have more green-certified hotels, an environmentally friendly airport, and electric cabs. All these components will reduce the carbon footprint of your event.
A sustainable supply chain is also crucial for planning sustainable events – we depend so much on our suppliers. But the process of identifying sustainable suppliers can be confusing. The most reliable and straightforward way to identify sustainable suppliers is to look for suppliers that are certified by independent third parties. You can rely on certifications recognized or accredited by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, a leading nonprofit entity that has also established a set of leading criteria around sustainable tourism suppliers and destinations.
Communication with both internal and external stakeholders is also integral. People want to be a part of something amazing, so be sure to communicate the impact being made. For instance, continuing with the plastic example, you could convey to attendees something like: Did you know that 50% of all plastic produced are single-use plastics – used for just minutes and then thrown away? That’s why we don’t have plastic water bottles or utensils for this event.
Also, be sure to share externally on the website or social media what’s being done so the whole ecosystem can understand the good things you’re doing for the planet and people.
Measure and track
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Fortunately, event carbon footprint calculators can determine the emissions from an event and help you track your sustainability progress.
Our proprietary calculator captures emissions using best-in-class standards and methodology. It calculates emissions throughout an entire event, including those from flights, business meeting venues/hotels, ground transportation, food and beverage, production, waste, etc.
With these numbers, you can then monitor and benchmark your CO2 targets, measure the impact and progress of your strategy, and determine how much offsetting you’ll need to do to achieve carbon neutrality.
Reducing as many emissions as possible from your meetings program is the goal. However, an event will always have unavoidable emissions. That’s why we like to say, “Reduce all the emissions you can and offset the emissions you can’t reduce.”
Through a carbon offsetting program, you can compensate for all the event emissions you can’t reduce by investing in projects that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere or increase carbon storage.
When looking for which projects to invest in, it’s important to find a program that is verifiable and reputable. We’ve recently launched a platform for our clients that facilitates the purchase of high-quality offsets from our trusted partners. Every project we offer follows a rigorous quality assurance protocol.
Carbon offsetting is effective if it is additional and permanent, so invest in offsetting projects that meet these attributes. And remember: Offsetting on its own is not the solution. You need to first reduce!
At American Express Global Business Travel (Amex GBT), we understand the value of travel and face-to-face meetings but also recognize their impact on the environment. As leaders in the business travel and meetings and events sector, we take an active role in shaping the way towards a low-carbon future, and we’re committed to operating our business in the most environmentally responsible manner possible.
To help our clients create meetings and events in a sustainable way, we offer solutions and consultative expertise that can help you incorporate sustainability into a single event or your entire meetings program. To learn more, connect with your Amex GBT client relationship manager or, if you do not have one appointed, you may contact me.