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Conference shame: why the industry needs to get its ‘game face’ on

I suppose it was only a matter of time.

Added to the list of A-Thousand-and-One-Things-to-Have-a-Crisis-of-Conscience-About, conference shame – the cerebral spin-off of flight shame! – is now, officially, a thing.

The phrase relates to a Bloomberg article by Thomas Seal, which says the ‘events industry faces an existential threat from the Greta effect’, and this matters for all sort of reasons.

Chief amongst them is the fact that a mainstream business journalist is talking about the events (aka meetings, conference) ‘industry’ as a discrete entity, as something that actually exists.

I am not being facetious.  Until now the meetings industry has flown happily under the radar on matters pertaining to climate change.

Whenever stories have appeared in the press questioning the environmental impact of a high-profile meeting it is as though the meeting in question were created in a vacuum – no mention of the ‘industry’ behind it: the event planners, the destinations touting for business, the venues, the F&B suppliers, etc…

Individual conferences like the World Economic Forum or the UN Conference on Climate Change have been treated as though they just ‘happened’, materialised, fully-formed, out of nowhere.

Seal’s article is different. He has understood there’s more to it than that: in fact a whole supply chain is at risk if people start to think going to conferences is an extravagance the planet can ill afford.

Of course the meetings industry itself has been talking loudly about its environmental responsibilities, and changing the way it does business, even if it’s taken rather a long time to get round to it.

People like Guy Bigwood (GDS-Index), Fiona Pelham (positiveimpactevents) and Nancy Zevada (MeetGreen) have done sterling work pushing sustainability up the meetings industry agenda. Meanwhile one of the industry’s biggest trade exhibition owners IMEX Group has named 2020 the year of Nature.

At the same time the industry has taken huge steps in promoting the social and intellectual value of face-to-face meetings in terms of knowledge transfer, awareness raising, and legacy.

International medical and scientific meetings can have a truly transformative impact on host destinations, raising skill levels and spreading know-how, particularly in the developing world.

And while convening thousands of people in one place may sound bad from an environmental perspective, a good meeting may negate the need for thousands of individual trips throughout the year.

But the industry now needs to get its ‘game face’ on.

Because, like it or not, it won’t be long before hard-nosed journalists start picking up the phone and asking questions. When that happens the response must be loud and clear: meetings matter.