Sustainability: meeting planners more focused on DEI than ‘environmental impact’

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Meeting planners are more likely to focus on ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ (DEI) than tackling their environmental impact as part of their sustainability policies, a new report has found.

More than three quarters of planners (76%) address DEI in their sustainability policies, according to a survey of 352 North America-based meeting planners, by Northstar Meetings Group.

Some 70 per cent said they were trying to ‘reduce their environmental impact’ as part of their sustainability policies, while 75 per cent were focusing on ‘community initiatives’.

Perhaps of more concern was the fact that only four out of ten planners had a sustainability policy.

The report – The Slow Progress of Sustainability in Meetings – suggests the client side of the meetings industry is lagging in its efforts to improve environmental performance.

Associations were among the least likely to have a sustainability policy (29%), with corporates (36%). PCOs (professional congress organisers) were most likely to have a policy at 68%.

The UN SDGs– a holistic patchwork of 17 sustainable development goals - have become the standard framework against which many companies and organisations now measure their sustainability. 

However some academics have argued that the word sustainability is too vague to be meaningful and that how the SDGs are measured distorts the achievements of countries and organisations.

NMG’s report is an indication of how direct environmental impact - reducing emissions, enhancing biodiversity etc - is not necessarily the focus when organisations talk about sustainability.

Alison Heppenstall, founder of Climate Action for Associations, said tackling emissions was the priority for membership organisations on a sectoral basis, no matter the size of their executive.

“A lot of our members ask us why we focus on climate change rather than sustainability in general. The answer to that is that all of the other things that come under the umbrella of sustainability will be directly impacted by climate change. We need to bring carbon emissions down quickly,” she said.

Others said the UN SDGs had become a recognisable framework for action.

Responding to the report in a LinkedIn post, Fiona Pelham, CEO of Positive Impact Events, said: “There is some useful data in this report. For example: ‘The older the planner, the lower the sense of urgency’. Will the event sector transform so it is fit for future purpose, or will the speed of change be too slow? One thing is clear, speaking the language of the SDGs is what our clients will understand and their demands for action are not going anywhere.”

And in the same thread, Jorge Treceno Pachon, congress manager Legacy at Madrid Convention Bureau, said a lack of education was still hampering progress in the meetings industry.

“The industry can’t build the house from the roof. It needs to continue training and informing the value chain of events (destinations, hotels, restaurants, caterers etc) about the SDGs, how they can be introduced, evaluated, and developed in the short term. As long as we continue to talk without training, the interested parties will continue with a process of slow and delayed change.”

*The report, which has a wealth of insight on the role of hybrid meetings, requests for proposals (RFPs), demographics, supply chain management and more can be downloaded here

James Lancaster
Written By
James Lancaster

AMI editor James Lancaster is a familiar face in the meetings industry and international association community. Since joining AMI in 2010, he has gained a reputation for asking difficult questions and getting lost in convention centres. Proofer, podcaster, and panellist - in his spare time, James likes to walk, read, listen to music, and drink beer.

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