Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Red pill? Or Blue pill?

Morpheus: I imagine that right now you're feeling a bit like Alice. Tumbling down the rabbit hole?

Shawna: Actually yes. Feels kind of like that some days. The face of events is changing. More virtualization and hybrid experiences. Social networking is taking over the world. Natural disasters can throw a wrench in the most perfect of plans. Economic realities are still pressing cutbacks in travel, incentives and meetings. Increasing labor unrest. And then there's the environment, the rising cost of fuel making all of us to wonder if the event and travel industry as it is will survive. It's tough slogging for an event professional.

Morpheus: Do you believe in fate, Shawna?

Shawna: No.

Morpheus: Why not?

Shawna: Because I don't like the idea that I am not in control of my life. I believe I have a choice. I have an influence.

Morpheus: *Skeptical* You have the look of a woman who accepts what she sees because she is expecting to wake up.

Shawna: *Thoughtful pause* No. I don't think so. The world is changing and the nature of events is changing. My choice is to jump in and become the transformation. Or I could delude myself that change is not happening. Keep doing things as they've always been done because somehow, through some miracle, things have to swing back to how they used to be. We both know that's unlikely to happen, Morpheus.

Morpheus: Then this is your last chance. You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Shawna: *Pauses. Chooses red. Joins Engage365*

If you're an event or destination professional and you've not yet heard of Engage 365 you might want to lay off the blue pill for a little bit and try out the red pill. Right now there are thousands of professionals who are looking to engage attendees, members and customers beyond the traditional event model, experimenting in new methods of meeting that actively engage technology and social media and contribute to sustainability.

But be careful, in joining the Engage365 matrix you just may find out there is no "meeting". Err...I mean spoon.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Exploring Canada's Green Destinations, in the Big Apple

Next week I'm off to experience New York City! Canada Media Marketplace brings the best of Canada to travel trade media in the United States. Although my role at the event is very much in the background - helping to ensure as small an environmental footprint for the event as possible - Media Marketplace is also a great place for me to learn about different destinations and companies that provide sustainable meeting, event and incentive experiences in Canada.

Starting in the east, my interest is definitely piqued by Newfoundland's Fogo Island Inn / Shorefast Foundation. According to the New York Times, this remote island destination with a shrinking population of 3,000 is blossoming into a sustainability-minded artistic colony. The intriguing story of this destination compelled the Times to list Fogo Island as #22 in their top 41 destinations to visit in 2011.

I'm also intending to express my sincere appreciation to Tourism Prince Edward Island for the hands-down highlight of my summer vacation last year: Flavour Trails. I've never so thoroughly eaten my way through a holiday in my entire life, thrilled that each bite was sustainably island-grown.

Also hope to catch up with Fairmont Hotels and Resorts and Starwood. Competition is heating up in the 'green' hotel movement as various brands launch their own proprietary sustainable meeting and measurement tools or take advantage of emerging footprint programs offered through groups like Green Hotels Global. Keen to see what new plans these chains have in this area. Especially Fairmont, who has been fairly successful at ensuring consistent chain-wide sustainable meeting programs, especially within Canada. As an aside we'll be testing out Hilton's LightStay program at the primary event venue, the Waldorf=Astoria in New York, hoping to improve on the sustainability baselines we established for Media Marketplace in 2009.

Sited in my sister's home-province of Manitoba I also aim to learn a bit more about Churchill Wild. Adventures with this family-operated eco-outfitter are likened to watching your favourite nature channel, without the television. As awesome as that sounds, I'm turning my attention more to the company's statement of environmental principles, hoping to gain some insight into how they provide low-impact luxury experiences is such remote locations and the increasingly fragile arctic tundra ecosystem.

Closer to home I'm sure Tourism Vancouver will be touting the city's Olympic credentials, as well as the newly opened Vancouver Convention Centre West Building, the first convention centre in the world to earn the highly coveted Platinum LEED certified green-building rating. I confess I'm smitten by the beehives kept on the living roof of the new building. Just awesome. I'll also be keen to see how Travel Alberta and the tripartite of of Calgary, Banff-Lake Louise and Edmonton are developing sustainably, having worked with the province to inventory some of its great green credentials in 2009.

So much of the country to see and only one Marketplace to do it! Will try to post more updates from the road, including some insights into sustainable practices at the event itself.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Is Complexity Killing Event Sustainability?

Shibui: simple, subtle, unobtrusive beauty.

To explain it runs counter to the Japanese artistic concept embodied in the word, but alas, I will try. In describing the concept's relevance to raku pottery it is mentioned shibui is that element that is neither the artist, or the object, but the tension that connects the two of them together. It's the fire of the kiln, the pattern a watercolour brush stains the page. It's the process that transfixes us when we become absorbed in an experience; time passes without knowledge of it and we emerge changed.

Change of course is what we need in the event industry. Especially if we are to contribute to a more sustainable society. But the path to transformation needs to be paved with tools that embody the principle of shibui: simplicity, subtlety, unobtrusiveness. In other words: to make sustainability mainstream it must use tools that naturally fit with how events work.

Yes, the devil is in the details and people need guidance through sustainable event standards that are robust. But if the design of event sustainability standards do not provide a point of entry that encourages and allows professionals to use them, they become impermeable, sterile, inert. Like a piece of complex art you set on a shelf and observe from a distance: not able to relate to it, intimidated to attempt it.

There is a very wide gap that exists between event management and sustainability. And I don't just mean in terms of footprint. I mean in terms of skill set and knowledge. Event managers have a deep knowledge of their supply chain, relationship building and experience creation. Sustainability professionals have a deep knowledge of environmental and social responsibility approaches that can ensure business success. Standards  need to build a permanent bridge between these sectors in a way that does not disable action through intimidation. And eventually enables toll-free ownership of event sustainability by those able to take responsibility for it: event planners and suppliers.

While we need event sustainability experts, or artists, what we really need right now are more apprentices. We desperately need people to get started. To find apprentices event sustainability artists need to make what they do accessible, and less intimidating. We need to accept that perfection is not the goal: active and informed participation is. We need to cultivate standards that can be accessed to educate, enable ownership and promote innovation, while not being so foreign that they paralyze initiative from the outset. We need to break down the barriers that exist between sustainability experts and event industry professionals with carefully-designed and simple stepping stones that bridge the divide. To do this we need to embody less of the baggage that has come to (negatively) define bureaucratic standards. We need act like teachers, mentors and educators, and need event sustainability standards to do the same.

At least that is my take, as an apprentice seeking shibui.

The time is now to make your voice heard as pivotal event sustainability standards are being offered for comment. As you review them ask yourself:
  • Can they be understood by an event professional who will be a primary user?
  • Are the requirements reasonable and feasible enough to make them a daily practice?
  • Is a more sustainable event industry really being enabled by what is recommended?
  • Most fundamentally, consider: Could I do this? Can these help me be a better apprentice?
If you're like me, I'm becoming absorbed in the process, but I'm not emerging changed. If anything I'm confused and concerned standards lack the simple and natural fit with event planning necessary to gain traction with the mainstream event industry.

Help make emergent event sustainability standards effective, accessible pathways to a better industry. Have your say:

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Make Ripples - World Water Day

Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.
~ W.H. Auden

National Geographic Water Calculator

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Thirsty for water-saving ideas for events

Living on the "Wet Coast" of Canada drought tends to be one of the farthest things from my mind. After all, my September - May wardrobe is defined by it's ability to keep at bay the varying degrees of soggy that drench the city of Vancouver. Even the dog sighs at me when I drag him out daily to dodge the raindrops (note his love of water below).

Living here it's easy to think drought is a problem for Australia or Africa. But the news of late is giving me signs it's not so far from home, which of course is no excuse to suddenly become more attentive to what is a significant global environmental and human rights issue.

Today's Arizona Republic discusses the challenge of securing a new water supply for one of the largest metropolitan regions in the USA. It includes ideas for reducing consumption - critical in a region where changing the landscape to eliminate lawns could increase projected water supply by 40%.

Last week the Denver Post discussed the conflict between agricultural and residential water use in Colorado, where transfer of water rights from farmers to the suburbs could remove 700,000 hectares of irrigated cropland by 2050.

And then there is Texas, where in spite of wetter than typical weather, farmers fear the return of the Dust Bowl as critical underground water supplies run dry. The southwest region as a whole is particularly susceptible to drought. (More reading 3/23/11).

The reality is many cities - including those in North America - are at risk of drought. Sperling has put together a list of drought-risk cities in the US using data from the National Climatic Data Center. The North American Drought Monitor also keeps track of drought risk areas in Canada, Mexico and the USA.

Where does your city lie? What destinations are you going to that may be water-hungry? Are there steps you can take to contribute to solutions from an events perspective?

Earlier this week I posted some common tips to conserve water at events. But there are always those unplanned things that crop up that you just didn't anticipate like....
  • What to do when your opening reception sponsor wants to put a stage over a garden water feature, requiring an entire pool be drained?
  • Responding to an attendee complaint that an exhibit booth keeps their water faucets on all day, wasting water unnecessarily?
  • Helping an exhibitor who wants to find a better end of life use for the ice sculpture left over from his booth?
  • Assisting a conference organizer who hears organic cotton bags are not good because they require too much water to grow?
  • Advising a rental company who desperately wants to offer reusable green linens, but has to resort to harsher water-polluting chemicals to keep their tablecloths free of unsightly grease stains?
These are all questions I've been asked on one occasion or another and in many cases there are no perfect answers. In these situations creative problem solving has to kick in to find a better, more water-friendly solution often in a less than ideal situation. In the case of the above, solutions have included:
  • Draining water features into surrounding gardens in place of regular watering when moving the stage to an alternate location is just a no-go.
  • Amending exhibitor guidelines to require exhibitors to have holding tanks and pumps to 'close the loop' in any displays that involve running water. 
  • Breaking ice sculptures into pieces and leaving them to melt onto landscaping.
  • Educating about different textile options for bags and their environmental impact using resources such as GMIC and their members.
  • The laundry example we're still working on, and would welcome suggestions!
Would welcome other planners and destinations to share their water-conservation challenges and solutions as we approach World Water Day March 22.

More drought-related reading:

Friday, 18 March 2011

Chicken? Or Beef?

March 22 is World Water Day. So a simple pop-quiz: If you want to plan a water-wise menu which would you choose:
  1. Chicken or beef?
  2. Potato or rice?
You might be surprised how great a water divide exists between these two simple options which are such common menu planning decisions. For the answers check out National Geographic's Hidden Water Use Tool. (Or scroll down below for the quick answers!)

You might also want to run these food-related comparisons:
  1. Apple juice or orange juice?
  2. Wine or beer?
  3. Tea or coffee?
Remember though: sustainable menu choices are not as 'simple' as just what conserves the most water. Although water is a critical issue, energy use from packaging, production and transport, support of small-scale and local growers, and use of chemicals and pesticides are also important. The complicated nature of food choices can make your head spin, but the more you know, the better decisions you can make.

  • Chicken is the more water-wise choice, consuming 1,773 L of water per 0.5 kg, compared to beef at 6,810 L of water per 0.5 kg.
  • Potatoes trump rice at 1,250 L less water per pound. Potatoes take approximately 450 L of water per 0.5 kg while rice consumes 1,700 L per 0.5 kg.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Water, water....everywhere?

We talk a lot about the carbon impact of events. But what about water?

An event attendee can consume approximately 330 L of water per day conservatively, including hotel and venue use. That's enough to overflow two bathtubs. And that doesn't include food production, which is significant if you consider:
  • A cup of coffee takes 200 L (55 gallons) of water to make, with most of the water used to grow the coffee beans.
  • A quarter-pounder is worth more than 30 average American showers.
In contrast a person living in sub-Saharan Africa survives on as little as 10-20 L (3-5 gallons) per day.

Seems a bit unequal.

So what simple, water-saving steps can you take to reduce your water footprint at events?
  • Start at your desk. Get a reusable water bottle and use it. Buy office supplies with recycled content. Use that recycling bin. Bike, take transit or ride share. Recycling a pound of paper, less than the weight of your average newspaper, saves about 3.5 gallons of water.
  • Pay attention to water conservation in food and beverage. Don't pre-fill water glasses and don't use bottled water. Serve buffet-style. Ask for 'from scratch' menus as processed foods tend to have a higher energy and water footprint. Consider one fully vegetarian meal or a higher portion of vegetables instead of heavy protein. One of the easiest ways to slim your water footprint is to eat less meat and dairy. Another way is to choose grass-fed, rather than grain-fed, since it can take a lot of water to grow corn and other feed crops. Also, just say no to printing 100 page BEOs (or at least make sure it's recycled content)!
  • Ask if venues and hotels are water-wise and give those who are your business. Look for low flow fixtures (are two shower heads really necessary?). Inquire if properties use green-certified cleaners and recycled content bathroom papers. Also, don't forget energy conservation impacts water use, so choosing venues and hotels that practice energy efficiency can indirectly reduce your water footprint.
  • Select a city with a small carbon footprint from travel. A gallon of gasoline takes nearly 13 gallons of water to produce, so less air travel equals less fuel use, which helps conserve water. Flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco, about 700 miles round-trip, could cost you more than 9,000 gallons of water, or enough for almost 2,000 average dishwasher loads. A walkable city also reduces shuttle, fuel and water use.
March 22 is World Water Day. How will you honour it? Will you make a splash or a ripple?

Reference: National Geographic, Columbia University.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Local Food: Better, Not Best

In a recent post for the Post Carbon Institute entitled "Beyond Food Miles" Michael Bomford presents a compelling argument to put that 100 mile diet on the back-burner. Or at least on a side-plate until you think through the total energy that goes into food production.

His thesis: That a single-minded locavore can actually make things worse from an energy perspective.

His advice, which is particularly relevant for event professionals interested in catering for more sustainable food and beverage:

Choosing local food is one way to reduce food system energy use; but even more effective ways include:
  1. Choosing whole foods over processed foods;
  2. Getting a small, energy-efficient refrigerator and getting rid of extra refrigerators;
  3. Replacing animal products with grain and vegetable-based proteins;
  4. Drinking tap water instead of processed beverages;
  5. Choosing food that was grown in a region well-suited to the crop, using methods that build soil and rely primarily on sunshine for energy and rainfall for water.
Read more about why.

Friday, 11 March 2011

He Shoots, He Misses? Hockey Controversy Spotlights Lesson in Sponsorship, Sustainability and Risk Management

From a corporate social responsibility standpoint, it is becoming increasingly difficult to associate our brand with events which could lead to serious and irresponsible accidents. Action must be taken by the organizers. Unless the organizers take immediate action we will withdraw our sponsorship.

Sounds serious, eh? I mean if this was your event, you'd take notice, right? The loss of sponsorship dollars, the public relations nightmare, attendee criticism...what a nightmare. If only you'd taken steps to identify the risks beforehand, and act to reduce or eliminate them.

Unless you're the Commissioner of the National Hockey League, it seems.

If you don't follow hockey you likely missed the news of the latest devastating hit that left Montreal forward Max Pacioretty with a broken neck vertebrae (warning: it will make you wince). Air Canada, NHL sponsor, however, did not. In a recent letter to the NHL they state:

“From a corporate social responsibility standpoint, it is becoming increasingly difficult to associate our brand with sports events which could lead to serious and irresponsible accidents; action must be taken by the NHL before we are encountered with a fatality. Unless the NHL takes immediate action with serious suspension to the players in question to curtail these life-threatening injuries, Air Canada will withdraw its sponsorship of hockey."

Inaction on the part of the NHL to address potentially life-threatening risks to players is no longer acceptable to Air Canada, it appears.

Setting aside the valid concerns and debate about violence in sports, what on earth does this have to do with sustainable events and sustainable event destinations?

This is a perfect example of what BS 8901 practitioners call an "event sustainability issue". Or a concern raised by a stakeholder that puts your event or events at risk. In this case the issue relates to health, safety, branding and potential loss of sponsorship revenue. No doubt these are important social responsibility and financial concerns. When a stakeholder flags an issue like this how you respond sends a strong message about your commitment to social responsibility to people impacted by your actions. And this response likely creates a stronger impression about what you value than any green meetings checklist or volunteer project does. It shows them if you care about what they think and feel and how they're affected.

While some may not always see the financial, environmental or social benefits of sustainable events most of us can appreciate the need to minimize risk as much as we can. Taking inventory of your event or event destination to consider what kind of environmental and social responsibility issues might pose threats is a sound business strategy. Being proactive about minimizing significant risks can prevent unnecessary stress and financial damage, and help preserve or even improve image.

In the example above it appears the NHL can afford to disregard this particular stakeholder interest given the Commissioner's indifferent response. But not all of us can afford to treat sponsor, client or attendee concerns as such a low priority. Although it's possible those clubs reliant on Air Canada - such as the victim's Montreal Canadiens - may feel the pinch more than the NHL itself if the airline actually follows through. It seems even the big leagues could learn a bit from the hits and punches sustainability issues throw at event planners and how we decide to roll with them.

UPDATE: VIA Rail also latest sponsor to also criticize NHL

Monday, 7 March 2011

BS-check, Aisle 12

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has identified chronic issues that contribute to greenwashing and recently released Guides for Making Environmental Claims. The implications? Anyone communicating their sustainable event practices should avoid making unsupportable or inaccurate environmental claims, lest they wind up in a similar situation as Fiji Water did recently.

I've just found myself in the awkward position of having someone make an environmental claim about their property that I question to be true based on first hand experience.

To give some basic facts:
The claim relates to waste management. Specifically, disclosure of an event diversion-from-landfill rate by a venue that is significantly higher than expected. Post-event data received does not align with practice observed on site or what one would expect based on the type of waste program at the venue and the history of the event in question. Recycled amounts from the venue do match documentation directly from the recycling facility, but appear to exclude trash hauled from the venue by another waste company. The property in question has been asked about these points and they maintain they stand behind their reporting in spite of specific concerns raised. The event host has been advised of the situation and is wisely not reporting the data provided as actual diversion, given concerns about accuracy.

Since going through this experience, I've observed others touting similar diversion rates from this property as truthful, without question. I can't say I blame them as they likely a) don't have the direct hauler documentation b) haven't completed back of house inspections of the venue and recycling facility and c) probably don't have their event waste history to refer to as a reality-check. So, although I can't blame them, I have to confess: I'm having a hard time not calling the venue on misrepresenting their data, especially when I've raised concerns with them in a reasonable way!

So please, do me a favour if you can: When presented with a diversion rate from landfill for your event, do a BS check.
  • Ask for direct-reported data from the hauler. Data filtered by a venue can be manipulated. Also be aware the venue may deal with different haulers for different materials and they may only be disclosing partial data in their report.
  • Ask if reported data includes all material hauled, including recyclables, trash, donations and any other streams. Sometimes venues will not factor in all streams, which can have significant impact on reported diversion trends.
  • Ask if you can isolate your data specifically, or if the data might be impacted by multiple events on-property at the same time as yours. Most facilities would have to make special accommodations to do this for you. If they haven't it's probable that you're getting more than your own event's weight, although percent diversion could still be accurate, overall.
  • Ask if you can come back of house to visit where waste is marshaled. Observing staff and how they handle waste in the back of house is a good way to gauge what kind of diversion you might expect. If 2 of every 3 trash bags are being put in the landfill, it's a good sign you're likely lower than 40% diversion. Don't be afraid to peer into a dumpster or ask how full it is either. It's important to see these things with your own eyes in order to know if reported waste metrics are accurate.
  • Ask if you can contact or visit their recycling and/or compost facility to see for yourself how waste is sorted. Any facility that is transparent will be glad to connect you with their hauler to verify practices.
  • If possible refer back to any previous records you might have about landfill or recycling at your event. Often if you can estimate per participant amounts in previous years you can gauge roughly how much waste you could expect, assuming a similar event format and attendee composition. So if last year you produced 10 lbs of left over material per person and you're expecting 1000 people onsite, you can expect your total waste and recycling to measure about 10,000 lbs.
  • Clarify if the venue includes incineration in their diversion from landfill calculations. I choose to not include incinerated waste in diversion from landfill as it often does not provide the highest use option for organic waste which could be used as compost. It can also create significant local air quality issues. Sometimes venues will treat this as recycling of waste-to-energy, so clarify if this is the case.
  • Lastly, if your venue doesn't have composting and they're claiming a diversion from landfill rate of greater than 70%, be suspicious. Compostable waste tends to account for at least 25% of event waste streams. If your venue doesn't have composting your event likely shouldn't be achieving over 70% diversion.
I should temper my post here by stating in over 10 years this is the first time I've ever been faced with this kind of situation, which itself is pretty good news. Most venues are doing a good job of reporting waste and when there are questions are more than willing to work to address them. Still, it's important to be clear there are no rules on how to report waste diversion for events. So it pays to be diligent in minimizing your risk of greenwashing your good efforts. Don't be afraid to ask!

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Green Index Ranks Global Destinations

Last year I was involved in a program led by Oracle that created 36 small-size sustainable event pilot projects outside of North America. It was an exceptional opportunity to learn about the capacity of different cities to cater to sustainable events given their prevailing infrastructure, regulations and culture. Through my limited experience it appeared that:
  • Asian properties used had high awareness of energy and water conservation, with low flow fixtures and occupancy sensors as standard. They were also more conscious about reducing waste at source.
  • Latin American venues used benefited from the lower carbon footprint of hydroelectric power and had unique community donation programs to re-purpose event supplies.
  • European destinations used featured convenient and efficient transit as well as more sophisticated recycling and waste management programs.
  • Australian venues used practiced environmentally preferable purchasing for food and beverage and things like cleaners and also had above average recycling programs.
I'm over-generalizing quite a bit here, but I found it interesting to reflect on this first-hand experience and read through Siemens Green Cities Indexes, which analyze the sustainability performance of the largest cities in Europe, Asia and Latin America. The Index provides a good barometer of what to expect if you're a planner hosting events in these regions.

Europe: Siemens AG European Green City Index

Copenhagen is the greenest city in Europe. The host city of the 15th UN Climate  Change Conference held in December 2009 performs very well in all eight  categories, as evidenced by the COP15 Sustainability Report. Second place in the overall rankings is Stockholm, and Oslo finishes third, followed by Vienna and Amsterdam.

Churchill Park, Copenhagen (Wonderful Copenhagen)

Latin America: Siemens Latin America Green Cities Index

Five of the six cities that finish above average or well above average overall in the Index are from Brazil — Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Curitiba, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. The cities have a very high share of hydropower, which gives them an advantage in their energy and CO2 performance.

Curitiba Botanical Garden

Asia: Siemens Asian Green City Index

Singapore is Asia’s greenest metropolis. Well above average in terms of all categories assessed, Singapore is followed by Hong Kong, Osaka, Seoul, Taipei, Tokyo, and Yokohama.

Kusu Island, Singapore (Singapore Tourism Board)

Some comparisons between these regions based on the Siemens studies:
  • The share of renewables in electricity production for Asia is 11%, much lower than the figure for Latin America, at 64%, where hydropower is much more common. In addition, only about 3% of the energy Asian cities use on average is from renewable sources, which is less than half of Europe’s average share of 7%.
  • Asian cities produce less waste per capita than Europe and Latin America, but waste collection is less effective. The 22 Asian cities produce an average of 375 kilograms of waste per capita per year, less than in Latin America (465 kilograms) and Europe  (511 kilograms).  
  • Average annual CO2 emissions per capita are 4.6 tons in the Asian cities assessed, and below the corresponding figure for Europe (5.2 tons  per capita and year).
  • Water consumption rates in the Asian Green City Index are similar to Latin America and Europe.
  • Air pollution is a serious problem across Asia, with average levels of the three pollutants evaluated in the Index exceeding the safe levels set down by the World Health Organisation.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Do I Matter to You?

We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors,
We borrow it from our Children.

And on May 8th they're asserting their inheritance.

Who Is Ready? from iMatter March on Vimeo.

iMatter March

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

..and a New Pair of Shoes

A few years ago the meetings industry picked up "CSR" as the calling card for sustainability. It was a positive step - moving the concept of sustainability into the industry vernacular. Helping people create a safe space to act in a way that helped others, reduced footprints and enabled business success through positive PR and financial benefits.

But I have to confess: I wonder if our industry is sorely neglecting the social cornerstone of sustainability?

My last post talked a bit about Shift Report. Conscientious Innovation's report lists several key sustainability issues that are most important to us, the top five being:
  • Feeling connected to friends, family and community
  • Sense of well being
  • Balanced life
  • Being paid a living wage
  • Employer treatment of employees
Are we responding to the shift in attitudes that sees these personal values emerging as most important among so many others? Could we do better?

Let's take the last two on this list: being paid a living wage and treatment of employees. I'm not going to kid myself - these are not questions that many of us are going to see asked in an event RFP any time soon. But it's not a secret our sector is challenged to meet the wage and benefit packages of other sectors. Many hospitality support staff within our sector find it tough to even meet basic needs. You might hear about the statistics that substantiate this, but have you put a face to the human impact?

A time ago, I was inspecting the back dock of a large convention centre to make sure our event waste was getting to where it needed to be. To comply with our contract the venue had stationed one of their janitorial staff at their loading bay to make sure that every bag of waste from our event was filed under compost, recycling or trash. To prepare for the event this man had gone through training to become familiar with how event materials needed to be disposed of and knew more about waste management in his community than the typical recycling warrior. A pretty specialized skill given how complicated our waste stream is. He prepared signs for his co-workers, set up marshaling areas to control the flow of materials; he even trained other staff in a colour-coded bag system we had set up to help sort streams. He was brilliant, and had a smile a mile wide every time we came to see him. It was a pretty dirty job, in a cold, dark area of the building, but there he was, pulling a huge weight for our team; climbing in and out of dumpsters, reaching into trash bags and operating compactors. He was proud, excited and 200% customer service-oriented.

Chatting with him back there one day we were both shuffling our feet to stay warm and I looked down to notice he had threadbare sneakers on, his dirty socks showing through in multiple places. On my way back from the dock I paused at his managers desk to talk to her and their mutual supervisor came by. She him asked if she could get approval to expense a pair of shoes. Asked why, she explained our champion didn't have a pair of work boots and she was worried he'd injure himself moving around the dock. The next day our recycling champion had a new pair of shoes.

Today, I vaguely remember our event at that center. I do know we had an exceptional diversion rate, thanks to the efforts of our champion and his team. In spite of that success I have a nagging feeling of sadness that is my strongest memory of the experience, along with a deep appreciation of the work of those two angels at the back dock. They are who I remember most, and I hope we can move to a place where such committed people are fairly rewarded.