Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A Love Letter to the Sustainable Event Pro

Looking for information about greener event destinations and tips to make your conference more sustainable? Well, you might want to skip over today's blog post then. It's about to get decidedly...lovey.

I don't mean the mushy and cute kind of love you might bestow in a puppy-cuddling CSR session. Or the congratulatory kind of love I might offer a peer I admire for achieving something great. Nor is it a hippy kind of love that just digs those reusable, hand-crafted name tags, man.

What I want to talk about is the uncomfortable kind of love that puts all the cards on the table in a way that risks a lot, with uncertain reward. The kind of love that I think may be in the heart of many people who struggle to address sustainability challenges in the event industry.

In a recent Love Note to the Workaholic, Brene Brown discusses the need for today's leaders to be more vulnerable, more authentic and yes, more loving. She talks about the fear and uncertainty we experience at being ourselves and admitting things - life, projects, events - might not be working. She calls out the anxiety that consumes us as we prevent any hole in our armour-of-performing-to-perfection to show. She points out the certain, stoic 'boss face' we put out to the world which enables us to stay busy, appear strong and seem like we've got it all together. The show must go on, after all. Never was the saying truer than in the event industry!

But must the show really go on?

Or will it without challenging some of the certainties we hold dear? Could admitting our problems be an opening to innovation? Could transparency about our imperfections be the path to leadership and a competitive advantage? Could it be a great act of love to ask if things could be better and present ideas that enable us to evolve?

On Valentine's Day, when the pressure is on to share the love, I can't help thinking about moments when I've felt the most loved. And they didn't usually include those times fresh flowers came to the door. Typically it was when I'd done something really stupid. Gotten angry. Felt insecure. Been terribly sad. And in a moment of vulnerability, after all that had gone wrong between myself and whomever I'd wronged, the time I felt the most loved was when one of us gave in and said:  "I understand. It's okay. We'll get through it". And with a few words, and a sincere, understanding look, a door of empathy was opened and things were right with the world again. I felt accepted. And I felt loved. Even in a very less-than-perfect state.

I have a hunch many sustainability professionals are hamstrung by similar feelings of uncertainty. A desire to not expose themselves to vulnerability. A propensity to dilute a radical idea to change the status quo for fear it will be met with ridicule. A leeriness to measure and share information because it might expose a weakness that a competitor could capitalise on or criticise.

So to all of you sustainable event risk-takers who make yourselves vulnerable in spite of these pressures, I'd like to offer a love letter of thanks to you for:
  • Having courage to state a problem and ask for a solution, especially when it goes against the norm, including eliminating bottled water for VIPs! 
  • Transparently sharing your successes, failures and sustainable event case studies so we can all learn to tackle problems in more effective ways.
  • Being willing to forgo a short-term benefit for a long-term gain, especially when you see it leaves a window of opportunity to your competitor.
  • Leading sponsors and exhibitors down a more sustainable path by requiring less wasteful practices, even when it risks critical sources of revenue.
  • Admitting when someone may not be treated fairly, whether it be a housekeeper, co-worker or attendee and contributing to making the situation right.
  • Playing in the sandbox of hybrid and virtual events. You are the futurists who see the potential to grow events in carbon-sensitive ways.

People passionate about event sustainability do courageous work. Loving work. On Valentine's Day and everyday let's take a step to empathise and engage with one another.

Love ya!



Tahira Endean CMP said...

Shawna, as always a thought provoking post and one that leaves you as the author a little vulnerable - and brave and open to whatever might come and prepared to accept it. You have so much depth, and such a great understanding of making our world a better place one person, one event at a time. I really appreciate that.

Shawna McKinley said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to comment Tahira. It's funny, after I posted that vulnerable feeling came over me, all the uncertainties about everything from 'this is a flakey post' to 'I hope I don't inadvertently offend anyone'. Or worse, maybe no one will read or comment! And there you are making me feel it was an okay choice to publish :) Thanks for all you do to fuel the community of event innovators!