Saturday, 16 June 2012

Sustainability: Spanx it? Or Solve it?

Got my third summer wedding invitation today. Yep. You know what that means: three times in the next two months I've got to get a dress, get myself together and...


....pull out my Spanx.
Can I use a brand name in a blog post? I guess it's a bit like Kleenex. But unlike Kleenex which is generically "facial tissue" (and coincidentally also ends in an x), I don't quite know an alternative to Spanx. Let's just call them a "feminine shaper" for now, although I'm sure "female torture apparatus", "vanity choke collar" or "sausage casing" would do.

I have a love-hate relationship with my Spanx. I love the way they make a dress look on the surface. Smooth. Well put together. No odd lines showing. Everything in its place. To the outside world I have a silhouette like Jennifer Hudson. A chorus of "Believe" belts out in my head as I walk into a room.

Behind the scenes and before the grand entrance? *Slightly* different story. 

My summer-of-Spanx-weddings adventure is shaping up to be a metaphor for the battle of the event sustainability bulge many of us face. After all, let's be candid: there are Spanx approaches to sustainability and there are diet and exercise approaches to sustainability. (There are also surgical approaches to event sustainability, but that's another post about virtual and hybrid events).

Spanx solutions are quick-fix, looks-good-in-a mirror-while-we're-onsite approaches to event sustainability. They typically involve arranging your assets and your not-quite-yet assets into something that looks fashionable, leaner and greener. This usually takes the form of a panicked call to vendors to ask what they're doing to be 'green' a few weeks before the event. You charm, cajole and outright beg your team to do a few additional last minute 'green' extras. Why? Maybe at the event briefing meeting the CEO said it would be good to let attendees know what 'green stuff' is happening. So a quickie 'green' checklist is pulled together at the last minute and put up on a website. It itemises many of the easy things you were doing anyway. But hey - coincidentally you're doing some okay stuff so let's talk about it! Bottled water? None! Option to reuse your linens? Sure! Recycling? The venue does this already and says they diverted 20 tons from landfill last year. Cool! This is good, right?

Sure. But how much is 20 tons recycled really? I mean, how much landfill did they produce? And how does that relate to your event? What kind of waste do you produce? How much? Are you charged for it? And bottled water is cool - but what about all those other food and beverage issues? What about all the shuttles and travel? And what about everything that happens before and after the onsite event? These are harder questions. Diving into them may require some pain in order to gain. So we typically do what I'll do this summer: Spanx it up this time and say the diet and exercise start tomorrow.

Who can blame us? We're a culture of quick fix solutions to make us look better. I'll be the first to confess my Spanx hide those lumps and bumps I'm too lazy to exercise away. I could take the time and effort but, meh. Somehow paying $120 on a slip that will hold me in place for a few hours onsite  seems easier. And in some cases it does make a positive difference, if even a small, temporary and superficial one.

But underneath? My body (and the event) is still very much what it was at the beginning - a less-than-perfect collection of more material issues. I mean Spanx are kind of miraculous but let's be serious: the fatty, unnecessary and excess bits don't just 'disappear' in a magical whoosh of spandex. 

Do I like putting on my Spanx? Heck no. Nor do I like running around at the last minute trying to 'green up' and 'clean up' before company comes over. I feel like I'm ramming the reality of my event into someone else's idea of what it should be. It's like a double life - and it's exhausting! I mean there is no way to stuff an elephant into a tube sock and come out looking like Victoria Beckham. I'm lucky if I don't arrive onsite drenched in sweat with a dislocated shoulder and pass out from lack of blood flow before the first dance.

So my goal? Lose the Spanx by the time wedding #3 is here. Enough of this trying to be temporarily stunning. It's time to invest in some exercise and eating habits that make a real difference. And on the event side? Same thing. Time to seriously look at what's going on beneath the surface of the 'green' checklist to really analyse the sustainability issues that matter and craft real, long-term solutions to address them in ways that meaningfully make the event better.

Good news is a new, international weight loss plan exists: ISO 20121, a management system for event sustainability. Having recently survived the process of upgrading to an ISO 20121 operating system for a small company I can tell you: it works. Stay tuned for the grand reveal!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

13 signs your event organization may need a sustainability policy

Walking the tradeshow floor at IMEX last month I was visually struck by how many destinations and event companies use 'green' branding in their booths. It gave me pause to wonder: how many have a sustainability strategy and how many are merely capitalising on 'green' trends? Do they actively participate in ensuring the sustainability of environmental and social aspects of their brand? Some definitely do (including some of those below), but I expect many don't. So in honour of that: a new list!

Your destination or event organisation may need a 
sustainability policy if you:

1. Include photos of beautiful natural spaces 
in your branded materials.

Brandenburg: "A convention state by nature. A perfect environment for perfect conferences."
Argentina: "Beats to your rhythm. Natural."

2. Mention the environment or culture in your tag line. 

Norway: "Powered by Nature."

3. Sell a 'green' product line.

PC/Nametag Eco-badge options on display

4. Tout an eco-label, certification or affiliation 
with a sustainability credential.

Darmstadtium: "An Atmosfair Climate-Friendly Event Location."

Congress Allianz: "Green Globe Certified."

5. Talk about sustainable practices, products or 
attractions on your web site.

DB Bahn: ""

6. Talk about sustainable practices, products or 
attractions at your booth.

Accor Hotels: "Planet 21" Booth statement

7. Encourage customers to connect with local communities.

Iceland: Local Knowledge Guide

8. Feature cultural icons in your branding.

Malaysia: Traditional peacock dancer (photo: IMEX Social Media Team)

9. Use trees or images of them in your exhibit booth.

Costa Rica

10. Have photos of the earth in your ads.

Houston: "We Have a Solution."
Congress Allianz

11. Include any 'green' clip art symbols in your ads.

Tourism Montreal: "You are so close: Sustainable Development."

12. Use the words 'green', 'csr', 'eco' or 'enviro' in your collateral.

"Green" Stand Contractor
NH Hotels: "Ecomeeting"
Meetings Made in Germany: "Green Travel", "Thinking of Tomorrow", "Less Carbon Footprint", "Corporate Social Responsibility"

13. Produce a publication that runs a story about sustainability.

CIM: "#revolt"

Are you seeing any of these signs at your meeting or event organisation? If you are and haven't developed one, check out this blog post on how to create your own sustainability policy. You just might need one before someone asks about it!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Blacking out & speaking out

Why would a blog about sustainable destinations & events Black Out and Speak Out? Three reasons:

1. The travel and tourism industry in Canada (and that includes meetings and events) is dependent on the perception this country is home to unparallelled natural beauty.
  • Canada's tourism industry ranks fourth in an overall comparison with 11 other economic sectors, ahead of mining, oil and gas extraction, which ranks 10th.
  • Travel customers to Canada rate the country highly as: "a place with beautiful scenery, a great place to go for fishing, a great place to relax and get away from it all, a place that is very clean and well-cared for, (and) a place that respects the natural environment."
  • Between "Super Natural, British Columbia" and "Discover our true nature", our international travel, meetings and incentives brand relies on our industry's ability to deliver on the customer expectations noted above.
  • 966,000 tourists spent $908.9 million while at nature-based tourism businesses in BC in 2001, excluding front-country activities such as skiing and golfing.
  • 20,770 individuals earned $556.2 million in wages from nature-based tourism businesses in the province on 2001, excluding front-country activities.
  • $206.7 million went to government from taxes on nature-based tourism activities in BC in 2001.
  • Sport-fishing contributed $248 million to provincial GDP in 2005 and provided 7,700 jobs.
  • Canada's share of the outdoor adventure travel market is expected to grow 7.8% for US and 5% for Canadian travelers by 2025.
  • Whale watching is one of the top 5 activities requested by tour buyers.
  • $6.2 billion was spent by wildlife viewers in BC in 1996.
2. The natural beauty on which Canada's travel and tourism product is based is at risk.
3. I benefit personally and professionally from the work of dozens of environmental charities whose ability to access funding and actively participate in public consultations is essential, including their efforts to:
The designation of new funding to hamstring the participation of these groups in processes of national and global interest is short-sighted. Further, the changes enclosed in Bill C-38 are significant and should permit time for Canadians from all sectors - including travel and tourism - to understand and publicly debate their merits on a case by case basis.

Unsure? Read the bill for yourself. Have an opinion? Contact your Member of Parliament.

Canadian Tourism Commission & Conference Board of Canada. Canadian Tourism Industry Benchmark Study. 
Canadian Tourism Commission. US Hard Outdoor Adventure Enthusiasts: A Special Analysis of the Travel Activities and Motivations Survey.
Canadian Tourism Commission. US Soft Outdoor Adventure Enthusiasts: A Special Analysis of the Travel Activities and Motivations Survey. 
Tourism British Columbia. Fishing Product Overview. April 2009.
Tourism British Columbia. Wildlife Viewing Product Overview. April 2009.
Tourism British Columbia Research Services. Economic Value of the Commercial Nature-Based Tourism Industry in British Columbia. September 2004.
Tourism British Columbia Research Services. Characteristics of the Commercial Nature-Based Tourism Industry in British Columbia. January 2005.