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Putting down roots 

How Madrid is planning for better, greener meetings. 

Whatever shape international association meetings take when the coronavirus pandemic finally abates, Madrid looks set to be in a better position than most to host them. James Lancaster reports...

The Spanish capital is already greener than its nearest rivals.  

It has more trees per capita than any other European city - around 800,000 - and those arriving by plane will see great stretches of woodland on the city’s outskirts. The metropolis is planting an Urban Forest – a 75km green ring circling the city to help absorb C02 and restore ecosystems.   

Meanwhile Madrid’s forward-thinking convention bureau has been plotting a course for better, more impactful conferences that do as little damage to the environment as possible.  

The bureau has developed tools and recruited new team members to help associations plan sustainable meetings in the city and partner with appropriate charitable organisations. 

Much of this was highlighted when Madrid hosted The BestCities Global Forum – a meeting of convention bureaux and association executives, which was held in December last year. 

The meeting’s focus was legacy. 

It’s a word you hear a lot in the meetings industry and describes how meetings and events can have an enduring, transformational impact on host cities and wider society. 

It’s something Madrid Convention Bureau (MCB) takes seriously.  

In 2019 the bureau hired a ‘congress legacy manager’, Jorge Treceño Pachón, tasked with ensuring flagship meetings held in Madrid benefit the citizenry and wider community in some way. 

His first major project – the ESTRO Congress, which took place in August last year - was the subject of an inspirational case study, which showed Forum delegates just how far legacy can stretch. 

Through a joint legacy project with MCB, the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology helped persuade the Spanish government to invest €700m in a rollout of life-saving radiotherapy machines, which were in short supply not only in Madrid, but across the whole of Spain. 

Part of the legacy project involved building a website, in association with the Spanish Society for Radiation Oncology, aimed at removing the fear of the unknown from this type of treatment.  

MCB funded the project, which included inspirational 'success' stories from celebrities, who had recovered from cancer after having radiation treatment. 

David Noack Pérez, director MCB, explained: "The aim was to raise awareness, let people who have had treatment and are now without cancer share their stories, so people are more willing to have the treatment themselves."  

"There is one rule we can all use when it comes to legacy, and that is to articulate your vision, not your mission. That is where everyone should start. And realising that it's about pushing beyond your membership to wider society." 

Alessandro Cortese, ESTRO

Significantly, ESTRO included legacy in its RFP (request for proposals) when asking destinations to bid for the event - weighting it at 60 per cent, with the balance (40 per cent) based on logistical requirements. 

Alessandro Cortese, ESTRO executive director, admitted not all associations would have such a clearcut legacy objective, but added: "There is one rule we can all use when it comes to legacy, and that is to articulate your vision, not your mission. That is where everyone should start. And realising that it's about pushing beyond your membership to wider society." 

Delegates to the forum were also introduced to Madrid Plus – a tool for organisers developed by MCB, which helps them calculate – and then minimise – the carbon footprint of the events they hope to organise in the city. Several years in the making, the platform helps associations organising events in the city to incorporate sustainability into the design process from concept to fruition. 

The new PLUS platform is available to all event planners and allows the generation of specific sustainability reports for each meeting. The reports contain recommendations to minimise the environmental and social impact of each event and it can calculate the CO2 emissions produced. 

Furthermore, it offers organisers an impressive database of potential legacy partners – charities etc, – aligned to their organisation’s mission. It is an impressive platform, which neatly joins the dots between social and environmental sustainability and the broader concept of legacy. 

The Forum gave Madrid a chance to lead by example.  Single-use plastics were banned, surplus food and drink was managed to avoid waste, information was offered in digital rather than paper format and items given to delegates were all reusable - for example, the accreditation was made of seed paper that can be planted.  

The programme also paid heed to diversity and inclusion – with delegates taking part in a blind breakfast at Ilunion Suite, a hotel that specialises in accessibility for people with disabilities. There was also a visit to the Red Cross, to learn about the role it can play as a local partner and the projects it is carrying out in Madrid.  

While Spain didn’t escape the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Madrid is committed to building back a safer, more resilient meetings and events industry, including Safe Tourism Certification for venues, which indicate the covid-safe protocols they have in place.  

Madrid hosts around 200 international association congresses every year. Major sectors drawn to the city include Aerospace, biotechnology, pharma, and information technology.  

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