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Sustainability champions: who is held accountable?

Sustainability champions: who is held accountable?

Jack Newey, portfolio director, Conference News and International Confex, explores the topic of sustainability. He raises questions about responsibility, the supply chain and travelling to events.

As sustainability remains a key focal point for the industry, more and more companies are starting to employ ‘sustainability champions’ or dedicated sustainability representatives. But what does this mean?

These individuals are essentially employed to be responsible for ensuring the events they organise, host, or service are as ‘green’ and conscientious as possible.

We all want to be sustainability champions and having dedicated personnel is a great start. However, we must remember it’s not always financially accessible for all companies.

For some businesses, it’s a standard and for others, it may be a luxury – unpopular opinion in some corners, I know.

This raises the question as to who should be accountable – is it completely up to the organisers, or do we all need to take some form of responsibility?

A lack of industry accreditation is often cited as a main reason for things being a bit slap-dash sometimes. Some businesses have opted to pursue B Corp certification, which you can read more about in the latest issue of Conference News. Of course, those meeting B Corp certification means they have achieved the highest standards in sustainability across multiple areas.

But again, and depending on the business, meeting the harsh criteria can be a costly process (although the certification fee itself is nominal, making changes to a business can range from hundreds to tens of thousands).

Yet, is this accessible for all?

Travel and carbon footprints

Continuing to think about responsibility, there’s also the aspect of travel.

Following a conversation I had with Matt Grey this week, director of EventDecision, we discussed the right to travel to events, and the ‘shunning’ some eventprofs now experience when choosing to do so.

Yes, travelling by plane to international events can result in a larger carbon footprint than not travelling at all. However, if for example the event is a medical conference taking place in the US, and doctors from eastern Europe want to attend in person, their only means is by plane. Virtual could be an option, but it can be limiting. Who is to say they shouldn’t go; by which metric do they decide by which means to attend?

When thinking about sustainability, we need to consider all aspects. Firstly, the impact and value events can bring (like the above example) and the costs/benefits each event brings. It’s not as simple as “don’t travel, and instead go virtual”. Virtual events are not 100% sustainable either, or depending on their execution, they do not always offer a comprehensive solution.

Add to that the mis-held belief that ‘sustainability’ is all about environmental matters, it isn’t, it’s just one pillar – albeit a very important one. People, planet, profit. Social and economic pillars are just as important, and business events play a large role in creating growth and jobs in regions around the world, we can’t simply stop travelling to events for risk to decimating these local economies.

We all collectively need to be taking responsibility as a first step. All areas of the supply chain, whether you’re an organiser, agency, delegate, or venue, need to take ownership in order to create a greener future.

The conversations we are having about sustainability are great, but they need to be more realistic. We need to consider what we can tangibly achieve now.

Every positive step is moving our industry in the right direction.