Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The 5% Solution to my Bridget Jones Funk

I'm in a Bridget Jones kind of funk. Not over a Daniel Cleaver. Or a Mr. Darcy. No, it is World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim who last week caused the thought to cross my mind that it might be a relief if the world was to actually end December 21, 2012. At least that would mean I didn't have to think through the depressing reality of the World Bank's recent projection of what a world four degrees warmer would actually look like.

Grab the ice cream. Pull the covers over my head. Give up. Closed for business. Enjoy the sparkle-less twilight of a climate change reality where we all might be hosed anyway!

Then, in a mope that would make Scarlett O'Hara envious, I came across a rather hopeful article by Andrew Winston. One that caused me to peek out from under the comforter and wonder if there's a reason to be more hopeful.

In the article Winston suggests an important and I think feasible target: 5% carbon reduction per year. Not so impossible, surely? But to know for sure, what would it require for your event, or event company?

Understanding your carbon footprint. An event's largest carbon impact is typically associated with transportation. But other things matter too: building energy use for meeting space and guest rooms, audio visual equipment, waste production and purchased materials like catering, registration supplies and collateral. Virtually every item we use at an event has an emissions impact. So be clear what your energy and material inputs are and what the emissions output might be. If you're getting started and don't feel you have the knowledge, a carbon accounting or sustainability consultant can help you. Or you might see if you can take advantage of free carbon calculators online. Maybe you even have a sustainability department within your company that can help you. Taking a complete and thorough inventory at the start will help you realise more reductions in future.

Measuring a baseline carbon footprint. Once you've understood how carbon applies to your event, or event company, start to measure. For an event pick an appropriate scope, considering all the factors in step one that might apply. For an event company consider a specific timeline you'll want to capture and compare. An annual baseline - or 12 month cycle of activity - could be a good starting point. Your business travel footprint is likely important if you're an event company, particularly your air emissions.
MeetGreen has been measuring their carbon footprint from air travel since 2009. Although a slight up-tick in emissions was noted last year, the overall reduction in carbon impact since 2009 has been 16%, evidence the 5% per year solution is possible for one business.

Identifying opportunities to reduce. There's many ways to do this.Your big wins will come by looking at things like reducing air travel and eliminating material use and waste. I know what you're thinking: what's left? Remember....we're looking at 5%. Could you grow new remote audiences and divert 5% of your current attendees to a paid, virtual event package? If you take 20 trips per year could you eliminate one?  Would regionalising a global event help? Could you reduce ground shuttles needed by choosing walkable, cities, venues and hotels? Can you eliminate bottled water and individually packaged items? Can you reduce wet food waste by sharpening order quantities or donating left-overs? Are there local suppliers for the goods you might be shipping longer distances? These are all ideas to put on the 5% solution list.

Committing to follow through on real strategies. It can be helpful to sort your options by short and long-term actions. Make sure to assign responsibility. Stake a claim to what you will do visibly so it's clear you're serious, and expect people to contribute, either through employee reviews or in supplier contracts. Also consider incentives to reward progress. Cultivating a clear commitment that engages your event or company stakeholders will hold you accountable on those days where - like me this week - you want to pull up the covers and forget about it.

Measuring progress to continue improving. Put a feedback mechanism in place. This could be a simple online form for your team to record air travel. Or you might consider a partnership with a carbon offset company that calculates how your event baseline is changing, and provides you with opportunities to offset emissions you can't avoid.
In 2010 Hilton reported a 7.8% reduction in carbon output through their Lightstay program.
So when you feel over-whelmed by the doom and gloom of the climate crisis think: 5% Solution. It may not only be the path to weight loss, but also smarter, innovative business practices that reduce risks and costs.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Invitation to the Chef's Table

"When you pass a homeless person, have you ever wondered what happened to them? What series of events unfolded to push them out on the street? We hear hundreds of reasons why people end up on the street and "I choose to" has never been one of them."

The Calgary Drop-In and Rehabilitation Centre works to provide solutions to homelessness every day. In fact today, "The DI" provided 3000 meals to those in need who are working to rebuild their lives.

Seven kilometres distant, people attending an event at the Westin Calgary enjoy the luxury of a meticulously prepared banquet in the Grand Ballroom. With its polished silver, well-suited servers and decorated tables, it appears to be a world apart from the realities of The DI. Yet people at both locations sit down at the same Chef's Table, united by a unique local partnership that since January 2012 has shared 7300 high quality, nutritious meals with Calgary's most in need.

Didier Luneau, General Manager at the Westin Calgary, is the driving force behind the program which collects and redistributes meals to local shelters. I first learnt of Didier's work through Sandra Wood, Annual Meeting Manager at the Canadian Medical Association. She and Didier are looking for a few good hotels in Western Canada to help grow the effort in both Calgary and Vancouver.

"Every year 150,000 people use a food bank in Calgary, and visits are rising since the recession. This program provides a dependable and safe way to get food to those who need it." ~ Didier Luneau
Prior to joining the team in Calgary, Luneau participated in La Tablée des Chefs in Montreal, which is also contributing to facilitate new partnerships in the West. The program furnishes containers and delivery services to hotels that have left-over food who would like to donate it to charities within their city.

The premise is simple: Hotels and restaurants prepare a profile online and commit to a schedule of food pick-ups throughout the year. Chef's Table agents deliver the containers, food labels, training and promotional materials to the chefs. The local food shelter creates their profile and is linked with the chef, after which quality food is picked up and redistributed according to the agreed to schedule. Each pick-up costs $50, including all materials.

Luneau describes how the program helps address a difficult food waste issue for the property: "To ensure happy guests at an event we typically prepare 3-5% more food than we need. This program ensures when we don't serve that overage that high quality, nutritious food is redistributed. It also provides a measurable benefit to our planner clients, who are often concerned about reducing food waste."

Paul Hastie, Manager, Occupational Health And Safety/Food Services at The DI comments on how the Centre has benefited from the program: “As a non-profit agency we rely a great deal on donations. This is especially true in our kitchen. The Westin provides us with excellent, quality food on a weekly basis that we can use for a variety of meal options."

But what about the push back that donating food is unsafe? "The 'cold chain' food-safe handling technique is always maintained to ensure food remains at a safe temperature," Hastie replies. Luneau also cites provincial law that protects hotels and restaurants from donating food in good faith.

"It takes very little time for our staff to set aside and refrigerate food that hasn't left the kitchen once they're trained in proper procedures. And they're happy to do it; it makes them feel good. Furthermore the convenience of the equipment and scheduled delivery makes it easy. The most common push-back we hear is lack of storage space, but most properties can work to determine a delivery schedule that overcomes this, perhaps opting for twice weekly pick-ups instead of one."

Now that the program has been piloted by the Westin Calgary, the next step is bringing more hotels and restaurants on board to make it self-sufficient. 40 participants would help to shift the program to a financially sustainable model.

This is where planners like Sandra Wood, myself and yourself come in.

"Planners are very receptive when we tell them we're doing this. What we need is more planners to ask their hotels and venues if they are participating in food donation. And if they're not, ask them to consider Chef's Table as a solution," Didier states. "Signing up 40 members within the next year would be fantastic, and we need help to do that."

Luneau's team at the Westin Calgary is available to provide advice and information on participating in the program in Calgary (please leave a comment if you'd like to be put in touch with Didier). Properties in Vancouver are welcome to contact Jean Francois Archambault, Catherine Bagdian and Nathalie Pomerleau at the Montreal program.

So, Vancouver and Calgary: faced with a ready-made opportunity to help those who may not have a choice themselves, what choice will you make?

Photo: Calgary Drop-In and Rehabilitation Centre