The U.N.’s historic climate conference (COP21), held in Paris last December, saw 195 countries adopt the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. The agreement set out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change. In a recent interview with Convene magazine, Roger Simons, the Regional Sustainability Director at MCI, shared his views on the role of the meetings industry in response to climate change.
Q.1 The climate conference was the first time that nearly every nation on earth agreed to cut emissions. Will this agreement likely have any impact on the events industry’s goals?
We’re elated that the 2015 climate conference managed to progress where previous ones had failed, reaching a truly global agreement. As with any agreement, actions are what matter, and we hope to see governments rally around their targets and drive real change across industries and nations.
Our industry doesn’t have to scramble to find ways to reduce its environmental impact — for more than a decade many companies and congresses, such as the GMIC, have led the development of the resources and tools to do this.
Q.2 Is there a collective role for the meetings industry to play in responding to climate change? If so, what would that role be?
The collective role of the industry is to face the gamut of sustainability issues, with carbon impact being just one of them. We ignore other major environmental impacts of the events industry at our peril. Waste is a huge issue. Think of all the plastic bottles of water a trade show of three days with 20,000 participants might produce. A veritable mountain of plastic! Not to mention the staggering amount of food waste the industry produces, which likely would feed the worlds malnourished many times over. We must address the issue of environmental impact in its entirety if we are going to be taken seriously as addressing the sustainability of our industry.
Q.3 Air travel emissions account for 70 percent or more of the event emissions of a typical national conference or trade show. How could our industry advocate carbon offsets for transportation-related emissions?
Offsets are an interesting subject and they have a role to play but they should never be the first point of embarkation for an event organizer. We aren’t going to fix the world’s biggest climate challenges through offsetting alone — it doesn’t address the root cause of emissions.
Organizers need to first measure and evaluate the total impact of their events and then try and reduce that impact. So less food waste, less packaging, less one-time use only signage and booths, shared transport rather than one person per vehicle, and so on across the whole supply chain. Once organizers have done all they can to create smarter, more efficient events that reduced energy footprint can then be offset, it’s the last action rather than the first.
Q.4 A relatively small number of companies measure their overall carbon emissions, including any emissions associated with business travel or company events. Do you think this will change?
Many corporations are not yet at the stage of measuring their business travel or event emissions. I see this as a matter of maturity. Businesses first address the environmental impact of the manufacturing and retailing of their products, then those of their corporate operations. It’s after that we start to see brands looking at a broader supply chain carbon footprint. So it’s a process that might take a company a decade or more before they’re in position to start analysing and reducing what’s called Scope 3 emissions. These are types of indirect emissions including business travel, which events would fall into.
What’s interesting for our industry is the changing winds from investors, it’s becoming a mandatory requirement for many stock exchange-listed companies to issue a sustainability report, detailing their environmental and social impact alongside the more common financial metrics. This is happening not only in Europe, but also in places like Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. It’s a matter of when, not if, corporations will be required to communicate their environmental impact, including that of their events.
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Roger Simons is the Regional Sustainability Director at MCI and President of the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC). With over 14 years’ experience in designing and delivering winning sustainability strategies and organising sustainable events, Roger is recognised internationally as a thought leader on sustainability issues.