Friday, 27 April 2012

Planting Daffodils

  • Buy certified organic food
  • Maintain property landscaping without use of chemical pesticides
  • Use environmentally certified cleaners
If I had a dollar for every time I've added these three items to an event RFP, contract or checklist I'd have, well, a fair bit of money. I don't really think too much about them each time I evoke them, beyond the fact they contribute to reducing toxins in our environment which is a good thing. They've become like my telephone number: I know them by heart and repeat them without much thought.

Recently, however, the world has taken a yellow hue, and it's not just the Daffodils on lapels and at grocery checkouts throughout my neighbourhood that I see. It's the yellowing of the world where life intersects with illness. The realisation that things like cancer do not just happen to someone else.

On December 27 these three lines on my green meeting checklist took on a more personal meaning. That was the day my Mum lost her battle with cancer. She didn't work as a housekeeper. She didn't work as a farm labourer. Or a landscaper. Yet cancer found her and took her far far too early.

So my urging is heartfelt when I ask: if you live in Canada and you have time and resources please support Daffodil Day. If you don't, take time to learn about the impact of toxins: on yourself, your family and your co-workers, as well as our environment. Make an effort to understand why these sustainable event requirements are so important to those who ask for them. You'll have our deepest thanks.

Researching the Problem
Regulation / Standards Governing Toxins
Creating Solutions

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Fly a Kite? Join the Circus?: Montreal-style #CSR at #GMIC

Fly a kite?
Join the circus?
Take part in a special event CSR project?
Why yes, please!

Green Meeting Industry Council Sustainable Meetings Conference participants were treated to a tour of La TOHU in Montreal today. La TOHU is a non-profit organisation founded by En Piste (the national association of circus arts), the National Circus School and Cirque du Soleil. In addition to being a gathering place for circus arts and training, La TOHU hosts ecology tours, community service and art workshops all of which are directed at supporting the surrounding neighbourhood of Saint-Michel. 

GMIC participants get an orientation to the Saint-Michel Environmental Complex
Pretty much the coolest interactive interpretive display EVER
Checking out the 'circus tent'
"Where do you keep the lions?"
La Tohu is LEED Gold certified, including a ground water cooling system
Lantern making gets underway
Roger Simons carefully dissects his Canada Dry
Yes Amanda, you have to chug it first
"It's not CSR until someone gives blood"
Lanterns will be given away at La Tohu's Fire Festival
Fruits of our labour
Nancy Zavada goes organic
Arts and crafts for kites begins
DYI kites from recycled La Tohu programs and newspapers
Pedro Rocha dos Santos breaks the mold
More mold breaking!
Inspired kite making
Amy Koch finishes her kite
Diana Graling's work of art
Flying high! Well, soon anyways
Up-cycled lanterns

Monday, 23 April 2012

Control vs Influence, A #GMIC Love Story: With Video! (G-Rated)

Thanks to all who joined Judy Kucharuk and I for our educational session "Control vs Influence" at the Sustainable Meetings Conference today. The session shared lessons learned in creating the Get Your Green On Game at Event Camp Vancouver, a mobile application-based event sustainability game that engaged attendees in simple, fun "Acts of Green". For those of you who missed it, here's the video on the event experience that was shared at the session and a copy of our case study. Thanks for coming! We hope you might expand and improve the idea by trying it at your own events!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Captain Fun Sponge, Redeemed!

The business case for sustainable events: often we assume if we build it, they will come. Yet in spite of proven cost savings and reputational benefits many event professionals are yet to dig in to measure the impact of investing in environmental and social responsibility programs.

Why? My theory: the main barriers to sustainability aren’t just business-related. They’re psychological. Specifically and simply: we avoid things we think are complicated, not fun and might cause uncertainty or shame.

These are legitimate feelings. Sustainability in events often falls on the shoulders of someone to do as an extra part of their job. It takes more time. That person may have to go back and negotiate green ‘extras’. Sometimes they’re the ones who suggest taking away things, like giveaways, extras, and the nice-to-haves. On-site they can become notorious as the ‘green police’, making sure best practises are followed by vendors, staff and exhibitors. No one wants to sit by them in the lunch room for fear of being reminded what is wrong about the food everyone is eating.

Needless to say: it’s common for the green team leader to come away feeling less like a planetary super hero, and more like Captain Fun Sponge.

Then there’s the anxiety of wanting to do the right thing, but not having enough information to know if you are. And what if someone has more information than you? Oh man, what if they call you out for making a bad decision about your green program, in spite of best intentions? In light of that kind of uncertainty who wants to risk it? The potential emotional impact hits at something we all seek to avoid: shame we are wrong.

What if you could cut through the psychological barriers and make event sustainability fun and a source of certain reward? That combined with the business case would seem to be the holy grail of market transformation to more sustainable events.

Last fall I took a small step forward to experiment in how an event game could be used to influence attendees to have fun and get rewarded for making easy sustainable choices. Lessons learned from the Get Your Green On project were recently included in a report by collaborators Footprint Management Systems, MeetGreen and QuickMobile.

What did I learn? That even Captain Fun Sponge can be redeemed when you relinquish control over the outcome and open yourself to the possibility event attendees can be a force for sustainability! For more information on Get Your Green On and how games at events can help make sustainability easier, more fun, and a source of positive reinforcement check out our case study.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Tourisme Montréal Gets Sustainable

Next week I have the pleasure of joining the Future Leader's Forum at the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference. I've been asked to take participants on a 'sustainable event roadshow', sharing examples from around the world of how cities are making it easier for event planners to be sustainable. I'm excited to be tag-teaming a session with Marion Ancel from Tourisme Montréal, the host city for this year's conference. To prepare for our session, Marion was kind enough to familiarise me with what Montreal is doing to support more sustainable events.

Marion Ancel
Can you please introduce yourself and share a little bit about your role?

Almost seven years ago, I left France to live in Montréal. As soon as I arrived, I immediately felt the joie de vivre that my adoptive city is known for and soon felt at home in this one-of-a-kind metropolis. After receiving a B.Admin. (Tourism) in France, I decided to continue my studies in Quebec with a Master’s in Sustainable Development Management.

After graduating I did consulting work for a number of organisations interested in having more environmentally responsible business practises. Then, in June 2011, I joined the Tourisme Montréal team, to help put Montréal’s tourism industry on the path to sustainable development. Our goal was to change the organisational culture by raising awareness and educating all our members. As with every process of change, we know that it will take time before our green plan bears fruit. We take small steps each and every day – through workshops, newsletters, discussion platforms, social networks, one-on-one coaching, designing and providing tools and developing partnerships – toward a tourism industry that takes a responsible stand on the issues of sustainable development.

Can you highlight a few of the unique attributes of Montréal that you feel make it a good destination for sustainable events, like GMIC's conference?

Montréal has several advantages that make it a prime location for holding environmentally responsible events. These advantages are the result of a process that began in the 2000s, when the Réseau des femmes en environnement partnered with the Quebec government to produce the first guide on how to reduce and recycle the waste from large-scale public events. Just over 10 years later, the City of Montréal is working to implement 37 actions from a sustainable development plan developed by the Montréal community in conjunction with over 180 partners. We’ve come a long way … but we still have a long way to go!

However, there have been some milestones along the road. Today, Montréal can be proud of its comprehensive and efficient public transit network, that includes a direct and continuous link with our international airport; a proven self-service bicycle rental system with over 5,000 bicycles that has been adopted by several other cities (Boston and Washington, to name a few); an underground city, with over 30 km of underground pedestrian walkways, considered the largest such network in the world; and a clean energy source provided by 95% hydroelectric power. More and more meeting rooms and hotels in our city have been certified by programs such as Green Key, RéserVert, LEED and BOMA BEST, which guarantee a certain level of environmental commitment.

Since the Centre for Sustainable Development opened its doors in August 2011, Montréal has yet another advantage in terms of meeting spaces. The CSD is a bold collaborative initiative of hope and leadership in the area of urban sustainable development. It’s a unique and inspiring place that has its own green meeting rooms and event space. A wide range of green options are available to help event planners and attendees minimise their event’s environmental footprint. Event participants are free to take in Montréal’s unique take on city life by visiting cultural attractions that are well-known for giving back to their community: Tohu, Cirque du Soleil, the Quartier des spectacles, to name but a few. Indeed, culture is at the heart of Montréal’s diverse and creative vibe. In 2011, the city recognised culture as the fourth pillar of sustainable development. Since then, several players in the field of cultural tourism have been recognised as leaders for their efforts in that area.

Are there any special event sustainability programs you're particularly proud to be able to offer to planners who book Montréal?

In 2010 the Bureau de Normalisation du Québec (BNQ, an internationally recognised body) adopted a Responsible Event Management standard. Henceforth, event organisers were able to have their event assessed according to five certification levels of environmental sustainability. To date, 10 Quebec companies are authorised to certify events. Those who do not yet meet the certification criteria can obtain a copy of the standard and comply with it to the best of their ability in the five priority areas.

The Palais des Congrès (or Convention Centre) helps planners put on environmentally sustainable events by offering new packages, developed in collaboration with the Conseil québécois des événements écoresponsables. Recognised since 2005 as a green building under the Go Green Program, Montréal’s Convention Centre is particularly proud of its exemplary approach to energy use. In 2009, the Centre reached BOMA BEST level 3 certification. Since 2011, the Culti-Vert Project, a rooftop container garden complete with climbing plants and vegetables, has been helping to reduce the urban heat island effect and produce organic herbs, fruits and vegetables. Part of the harvest is donated to local community organisations.

Several years ago, Tourisme Montréal and the Convention Centre joined forces to create a social responsibility and goodwill program for convention organisers called Community Kindness. The Centre provides containers where planners can deposit unused items and materials from their events. The two organisations distribute these items to partner community groups for reuse.

What are some of the challenges you've experienced in taking a more sustainable approach as an event destination?

Currently, we face two major challenges: collecting information from our members and appropriate positioning of Montréal as a green destination. When I joined Tourisme Montréal eight months ago, one of my first jobs was to answer an urgent request from the Convention Services Department: they wanted to know about other environmentally sustainable initiatives (in addition to LEED and Green Key certifications), so they could respond to event organisers looking for suppliers committed to sustainable development. In response, we created several different questionnaires for different member categories and sent them out by e-mail, but the response rate was less than what we have anticipated. We need to find another way to be on top of green initiatives undertaken by the industry; so that we can communicate them to planners, on the one hand, but also to encourage our members by example. The Internet platform we are currently building should at least partially resolve this issue.

As far as positioning the destination is concerned, we are dealing with the widespread problem of responsible communication. In other words, where is the line between insufficient communication and propaganda? Montréal’s tourism industry is becoming increasingly green but, at this point, is still not 100% environmentally responsible. Is it even possible to achieve such a goal? We have many committed players in our industry who are leaders in the area of environmental sustainability, yet we cannot position Montréal as an environmentally responsible destination at this time. We need to observe developments closely as they unfold in order frame a coherent and accurate message.

Can you comment on how or if standards like ISO 20121 and the APEX/ASTM Destination Standard may affect your work in future?

I can tell you that Montréal industry players, and specifically the members of our Green Convention Committee, are eager to know more about these new standards. Since 2010 the event and convention sector has been dealing with Responsible Event Management standard BNQ 9700-253. It is accessible, looks at both procedures and performance, and allows planners to talk about the environmental sustainability of their event before it takes place. Because of this, the standard won over a number of Montréal industry players. The adoption of two new standards will require training sessions and a great deal of communication to bring our members up to speed. The main disadvantage, in my opinion, is the plethora of tourism standards and certifications, which may discourage some people. That said, these new standards are international in scope, which is a definite advantage since most of Montréal’s convention business comes from the United States.

Is there anything planners could do to make it easier for you to provide more sustainable events?

The two most important choices they make with regard to holding an environmentally responsible event are location and partners. At Tourisme Montréal, we can only advise organisers; the final decision is obviously theirs. If an organiser wants to plan the most environmentally responsible event possible, he or she needs to realise that certain concessions must be made. Some of our members are more committed than others because we are all proceeding at our own pace along the road, and because it is not easy for an organisation to switch to environmentally responsible management practises in just a few months. If organisers want to achieve the highest possible level of sustainability for their event, they should be prepared to choose the companies who are the most committed and have made the greatest strides.

What kind of responsibility do you think convention and visitors bureaus have when it comes to sustainability? How are or could they contribute?

First we have to help our members along the path of environmentally responsible development by listening to their concerns, and supporting them as they promote their sustainability initiatives.

As the tourism gateway to our city, we have a duty to educate tourists about the green initiatives being undertaken here. Hundreds of players are deeply committed to bringing about substantive change. Community organisations are doing important work that benefits our environment and society as a whole. If tourists are not already informed about this topic, they are not necessarily aware of all the options for getting involved in our city’s enthusiasm for environmental responsibility. We need to provide people who come to Montréal—whether event organisers or leisure travellers—with the tools to sort through this abundance of green initiatives.

Monday, 9 April 2012

What I learned on take your Dad to work day

My Dad boarded a plane for his first flight into the USA 45 days shy of his 70th birthday. A work trip for me with a few days of holiday thrown in. For him, his first get-away without my Mum after 45 years of many road trips through Canada together. A happy-sad moment, for sure.

I was excited to spend some time together. Finally a member of my family would experience what I do for a living! My hope? Dad would 'get' my profession after many failed attempts to explain what sustainable event planning is. Something that up until now has existed for my family in a Bermuda Triangle of careers, between hugging trees, arranging travel and planning weddings.

Dad? Well he was excited too, and a bit new to international air travel. I left him in security, having to detour and wait nervously in US Customs for a visa renewal. While my minutes passed like hours, he was happily enjoying a coffee at the gate, watching the planes taxi in and out of the airport, striking up a friendly conversation with a stranger about his trip plans. I get through immigration just in time for departure, slightly frazzled by the border officer's grilling, moaning I'll need to renew my Nexus documentation before I can speed through the border again. Dad says he's glad I've got my permit, something I neglect to appreciate and mention first.

We get settled on the flight, me looking forward to a couple of hours of flight-induced sleep to recuperate from my 5am alarm. My Dad spends the entire two hours looking out the window and tracking our trip by satellite, identifying each volcanic peak and city on our way south to San Francisco.

On arrival I make a beeline to the check-in desk at the Fairmont on Nob Hill. Time to get to our room and get out and see the city! Once at the counter I realise Dad's not with me. He's still stopped beside the front door, eyes taking in the grand heritage scene of the lobby, camera snapping. It takes us nearly 20 minutes to get up to our room as he pauses along the corridors to read about the history of the property. I learn about how it was the site where the UN Charter was drafted and the setting of numerous films; things I've never noticed in my previous 3 visits.

Of course, being a planner, I already have a rough itinerary of our holiday in mind, including sites I think Dad might like. That plan is quickly is scrapped during lunch. My Dad's quiet, touristy charm has attracted the attention of a 4th generation San Franciscan at the table beside us. They pour over notes the man is making on our table cloth of the sites he suggests my Dad visit. Dad, happy to meet a friendly local and having no specific plans himself, is thrilled at his new friend's suggestions. We set out, new table-cloth itinerary in hand, my old plan gone out the window. And of course, we have a great time. The holidays fly by and the time comes for Dad to have a couple of days on his own while I work.

I twist his arm into coming to see me on site, wanting like a 5 year old for him to see what I do. He reluctantly does, not out of disinterest, more out of shyness (every introverted gene I have is from him). He stays a short while and meets the event crew. I give him a quick tour and offer him some coffee and cookies we have on hand. He graciously declines, not wanting to have something that he's not paid for. My co-workers insist he adds something tasty to his belly, and provide him with a small giveaway item the attendees are also receiving. He looks at me a bit worried he's taking something he shouldn't, but with reassurance we've enough for all he grins and heads back to his room like he's gotten away with something awesome. Free swag and maple cookies!

I work late that night. We get room service for dinner. I feel bad. I wanted to take him out for a nice meal. He's thrilled when the gourmet burger arrives on china with full silverware. It's rather fancy: a photo moment. Our hotel room and the experience of it is a real treat for him.

We head home a day later. I learn from Dad there's an aviation museum at the airport. Countless trips through SFO and I've never noticed it. We visit and he points out models of the planes my Grandpa used to fly. On our flight back home, our Captain Tracy (yes, Dad, a lady pilot!) gets permission to fly low over the city. We get a rare fog-free aerial glimpse of San Francisco, something I've never had the luck to experience. And Dad with a front row, wing-free, window seat view of it all. The camera snaps madly. I look up from my iPad and get equally engrossed in the sight.

Dad did learn a little bit about sustainable event planning during take-your-Dad-to-work week. I think though I was the one that gained an appreciation of how I've become numb to the gift of travel. It has become a chore. Something I feel entitled to. Take-your-Dad-to-work week has reminded me to slow down while on the road and look at the experience of it through new eyes. Travel is a privilege, not a right. And one best shared. Thanks, Dad.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Beautiful butterflies

Building on their success with name badges made from reclaimed materials, Canada Media Marketplace added some beautiful butterfly centrepieces made from found objects (books, wire and wood) to their sustainable event efforts.

Check out Studio D Sharp for other unique recycled paper and found object ideas!