Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Sustainable Events?: Postcards from China

A wise person once said believe half of what you see and none of what you hear. I take this to heart when I’m called on to inspect and verify sustainability claims of various event suppliers. Why? Because I find there can be a lot of misinformation out there about everything from “green” product claims to what sustainable event practices are indeed “best”.

Last month I had the privilege to travel to Shanghai to work with the Oracle OpenWorld Green Team at a site inspection for their July 2013 event. My role was to learn about how local event suppliers were already adapting to sustainability challenges, and how they might be encouraged to develop a coordinated sustainability strategy for the event.

What did I learn? That China does indeed have its fair share of sustainability challenges, from severe air pollution to cancer villages and human rights concerns. Problems that are outside of our ability in the event industry to immediately solve. Should these problems cause us to boycott China as a meeting destination, or embrace our buying power to make situations better where we have the ability to influence change?

One thing is clear based on my recent visit: we in North America have our own share of sustainability issues, and it may not be correct to assume that China is trailing in terms of sustainable hospitality and event potential. But don’t take my word for it, check out the following postcards from our trip, ask your own questions and sound off on your conclusions.

Site inspections of host hotels revealed 100% use key card-activated rooms to minimise energy use. All properties were also participating in some type of proprietary or government-endorsed energy benchmarking program. While the power mix in China remains dominantly non-renewable, green building upgrades like this reflect recent Chinese government mandates to increase energy-efficiency.

The Intercontinental Shanghai Expo displays its IHG “Green Engage” credentials prominently to staff back of house, whose community service activities supporting Mifan Mama are also prominently celebrated in photos along service corridors. Where government programs may be lacking, proprietary environmental management systems like Green Engage can fill a gap by structuring and promoting improvement at the property level.
Intercontinental Values – including “Responsible Business” – are affirmed in staff areas back of house. These are translated into daily practices for employees to build awareness of how they impact all operations areas, such as housekeeping and food and beverage
Intercontinental Shanghai Expo staff is reminded to care for property assets and avoid waste. No polystyrene or disposables are used onsite.
 Linen and towel reuse were offered at 100% of properties visited. 75% of hotels required guests to opt out of standard linen reuse. 25% required opt into the program.
While not necessarily administered by large companies, recycling is practiced by residents and commercial businesses in Shanghai. China has recently claimed increased investment of US$320 billion in recycling programs.
The Sheraton Shanghai Pudong encourages guests to reduce waste by practicing portion control at buffets...
...and minimising use of paper towels in public restrooms.
Restaurant menus at the Sheraton Shanghai Pudong clearly identify certified organic options. While China does have its own organic label, many hospitality companies rely on external organic standards in order to address food safety issues.
The Sheraton Shanghai Pudong practices comprehensive recycling, including providing recycling bins in all guest rooms. The property is taking part in a pilot program supported by the Shanghai municipal government to encourage hotels to be “green”. The program audits hotels in terms of design and architecture, energy management, food and beverage, customer service, and community and economic benefits. In addition, it requires properties set and meet energy and water conservation and waste reduction targets.
Paul Salinger of Oracle discusses how sustainability performance indicators are tied to General Manager evaluations at the Pudong Shangri-La Shanghai Hotel. (Where else but in the recycling and garbage room at the hotel!) Also, it is worth noting General Managers accompanied our team throughout the entire “green” tour of each property and were able to communicate detailed knowledge of sustainability programs. This was first for me, in any city
In spite of asking for and receiving environmental information about venues before our site, it was an unexpected and happy surprise to learn the Shanghai Expo Centre is LEED® Gold certified. Suffice it to say that face-to-face discussion about sustainability is critical to improving trust, communication and collaboration across cultures when it comes to planning sustainable events. Don’t expect you will be told or shown everything in advance. Also anticipate it will take longer to develop good relationships in order to be invited back of house to verify practices.
Green building features of the Shanghai Expo Centre are communicated through onsite signage and include grey water reuse, a solar array and geothermal heating and cooling. During sunny periods the building can draw as much as 32% of its power from solar panels that cover 70% of its roof. Approximately 50% of heating and cooling needs are met by a water pump system that recirculates river water through the building.
Onsite digital signage throughout the Shanghai Expo Centre will eliminate a significant amount of temporary event signage for Oracle OpenWorld, a financial and environmental gain.
Separated kitchen organics await pick up at the Intercontinental Pudong, a practice mirrored by several venues visited. While we’re still trying to determine where organics are taken and how they are used, the separation of wet food waste is promising. All properties are required to use recycling and waste haulers who are permitted by the Shanghai government in order to ensure materials are properly recycled.
Upon arrival and departure, Shanghai travellers are reminded "Water is precious, so start conserving it now". In spite of efforts by government, hospitality businesses and event planners like you, I and Oracle, it is indeed the choices of individual Chinese consumers and the country’s growing environmental movement who will determine if the future of their country and the planet can indeed be sustainable.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

24 Ways for #Eventprofs to celebrate #GenerosityDay

Photo: Daily Positive Quotes
Every day we show up. We have an opportunity to contribute something. To choose to lend an ear, offer an idea, suggest a solution, deliver a note of encouragement and, in some cases, maybe even the gift of money. Our generosity may be little, or big. It may happen at work, home or somewhere in between. We may never know if it matters, or just how much it matters.

This Valentine's Day I'd like to challenge those in the event industry to ditch the dozen roses and box of chocolates for two dozen acts of Generosity. Acts that connect us to each other in simple, daily, real and meaningful ways that make the work we do particularly rewarding.
  1. Hand write a thank you card to suppliers whose service you are grateful for.
  2. Agree to mentor a student or new event professional.
  3. Appreciate your key influencers on social media (Sasha Dichter I'm looking at you for the inspiration for this post!).
  4. Recommend a colleague on Linkedin.
  5. Buy a cup of coffee for the person in line behind you (and if you're at a Tim Horton's, don't gripe too much if they roll up the rim and win).
  6. Share a helpful resource developed by someone else in gratitude for the work they do. Here's one or two that "green" event folks may find interesting.
  7. Leave a tip for your hotel housekeeper. 
  8. Clean out your event supply cupboard and donate any quality items to a local charity.
  9. Give some of your professional advice away for free. Like these great free sustainable event tools!
  10. Donate money to a charity you feel does great work. Greg Ruby has some helpful suggestions for event folks in his recent blog post.
  11. Stop and spend time helping someone on your event team solve a problem.
  12. Make time onsite to personally thank the temp staff.
  13. Host a volunteer appreciation on the last day of your event. 
  14. Instead of a traditional speaker gift, make a donation on behalf of your speakers to a charity that aligns with their work.
  15. Fill in an event evaluation and offer a compliment and constructive idea for improvement.
  16. In turn, review your event evaluations and sincerely consider, incorporate and reward participant feedback! 
  17. Opt for the fair trade coffee option. 
  18. Compliment a worker for outstanding service on the job.
  19. Send long-time exhibitors a personal thank you on important anniversaries of participating in your trade show.
  20. Fill your left over conference bags with toiletries and provide them to a homeless shelter.
  21. Or if you're using backpacks, fill them with school supplies and donate them to a school or boys and girls club.
  22. Tally up your air travel miles and purchase an offset to support renewable energy alternatives.
  23. Offer a bursary program to help those in need attend your event.
  24. Take time to do something you love for yourself. Even if it's not event-related!
May your generosity come back to you, twenty-four-fold!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Involving Indigenous Peoples to create meaningful and authentic events

People can meet anywhere. We have multiple opportunities and endless venues in which to connect with each other, worldwide. Why is it you meet where you do? Thinking with your event professional hat on you might say price. Accessibility. Safety. Flexibility. Availability. Incentives.

Now change your hat to that of a participant, and feel with your heart. What would you say?  Why do you meet where you do?

Because it offers a chance to meaningfully and authentically connect with others.

As experience designers, creating spaces and programs that allow participants to truly connect is a combination of event science and fine art. While a peppered mix of ingredients contribute to this magical potion, I'd like to propose one powerful element that is sometimes missed: sincere involvement of Indigenous People.

The talking stick is an important symbol of the right to speak in public. Aboriginal youth perform a ritual cedar bough cleansing dance prior to presenting  a talking stick during an event. 
Event Management: Cantrav Services.  Photo: Coast Mountain Photo.
In sustainability circles, we tend to file this element under the principle of "inclusivity": the idea that fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all stakeholders is important, and enhances the event experience.

Although many stakeholders are relevant, the value and importance of Indigenous People to events is unique for many reasons. They are the host Nation. They are the people who for the longest time have called your event location "home". Who better to welcome? Who more generous and proud to share? Who more informed of local protocols and culture? Who with more at stake to protect?  Who more entitled to benefit?

Alex Wells performs a traditional hoop dance at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre. Photo: Mike Crane.
The 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver set a new precedent for sincere involvement of Indigenous Peoples in events. The Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations signed a historic protocol six years prior to the Games. They agreed to work together to fully participate in all aspects of the event, while maximising for their communities the opportunities and legacies linked to the Games.

This protocol was the first step in the creation of the Four Host First Nations Society, which Gwen Baudisch, Marketing Manager at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, affirms has left a lasting legacy. "The Four Host First Nations agreement brought authenticity to the Games for Canada. Through their efforts Aboriginal People from across Canada were enabled to participate, and benefit."

In fact, a portion of the royalties from the sale of Aboriginal merchandise supported education, sport, culture and sustainability initiatives for Aboriginal youth across Canada and $59 million in economic opportunities were provided for Aboriginal businesses during the Games.

"It gave us a worldwide audience for the exceptional talent of Canadian First Nations communities. It is because of the potential that was shown then that we are able to excite planners about experiences that we can create today."

The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre itself benefited from the legacy of the Games. Located in Whistler, British Columbia, it creates opportunities for drop-in guests and event participants to engage in First Nations culture.

Holly Joseph and Brooke Martin welcome visitors to the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre.
"We are different in that our Centre brings the local culture into an event experience as a foundation, and that creates a unique canvas for real connections to be made: with the First Nations Ambassadors, our visitors and amongst visitors. What we do is not just about art, or performance or history. It’s about connections," emphasises Baudisch.

Whistler is blessed with a dedicated venue where these kinds of cultural connections can be made. But what of other locations not as fortunate? Event planner Judy Kucharuk lives in the northeastern community of Dawson Creek, British Columbia and understands the importance of consulting with local First Nations early in the event planning process. “The onus is on the event planner to make the effort. And ask questions. Reach out to your local First Nations community. Seek opportunities. Consult and engage."

Baudisch encourages such efforts. "You don't need a facility to invite First Nations involvement. Having a welcome ceremony and including an Elder can help build a connection. It's a good and respectful first step."

·         The Eagle Song Dancers perform a welcome song for participants at an event in Vancouver. 
Event Management: Cantrav Services.  Photo: Coast Mountain Photo
And creating a relationship based on mutual respect is key, for it can be easy to misstep, and unintentionally offend. Involving a destination management company (DMC) that has good local knowledge and connections with Indigenous Peoples can help, especially for planners who aren't familiar with local customs. Tahira Endean, CMP, Director, Team and Creative Production for Cantrav Services, a DMC operating in Western Canada adds, "Respect is the most important principle. We educate our clients to understand the roots of our First Nations here are deeper than any who came later, and it's important to show respect for that."

"It can be very simple to get it right, or wrong. So guidance helps," says Baudisch, whose staff often educates planners about protocol, to improve experiences and prevent embarrassment. Consider the typical format of an event opening. Many groups have the habit of inviting their CEO to speak first. But if you were in someone else's home, would the guest give a welcome toast? No, the head of the household most likely would, with guests responding. Therefore, SLCC client service managers guide event planners to invite the local Chief to speak first, and greet their CEO and guests with sincere and respectful words of welcome that do them honour, after which the CEO can express his or her own sentiments.
The Great Hall, Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Center
Other tips to promote inclusion, fairness and respect of First Nations include:
  • Ask who the local Indigenous People are, and for information on their culture. SLCC ensures this is discussed during initial site visits, so planners are afforded an early opportunity to consider how cultural elements can be woven into their programs.
  • Discuss the value and opportunities for inclusion of First Nations early in the event, especially with any local agencies or committees. Baudisch encourages planners to look at all aspects, such as food and beverage. "You can look at a meal of salmon as something to feed your attendees. And you can also add to the experience by showing people more: the place where it was fished, the person who caught it, the story of its character in legend, song or dance, and its importance as a staple of the local diet."
  • Inform yourself about appropriate language. In Canada Aboriginal People prefer to be identified as First Nations, Indigenous and Aboriginal. Planners using the terms "Indian" or "Native" could cause offence.
  • Expect there will be protocol to follow. Think about this early, as it may be particularly important when siting your event. Do you need or should you seek special permission from Indigenous People to host your event in their territory? Assuming you have permission, seek guidance on who should be invited to participate in the event and what cultural norms are expected. Protocols may affect everything from speaker order, to appropriate types of food and beverage, guest attire and conduct.
  • Probe vendors to confirm their products and services are authentic. Don't be afraid to ask where things were made, or acquired. This is particularly important for decor and gifts, which may look like traditional designs, but could be made outside of the territory and by non-Indigenous People.
  • Pay attention to what happens behind the scenes, including materials left over from events. While a planner may view greenery as mere material for a centrepiece, First Nations might view these plants as sacred, requiring respect in life, display and disposal. Baudisch describes how staff at the SLCC step in to ensure sacred materials such as cut cedar boughs are returned to the earth and water where they were taken from, rather than discarded in a trash bag and taken to a landfill.
Cedar boughs and traditional art grace the banquet tables in the Great Hall
A trusted partner, whether it is a venue, DMC or local planner, is an important asset to have and can help to create powerful experiences for attendees by including perspectives from Indigenous People. In one example an entrepreneurial conference held at the SLCC opted to integrate a talking stick spirit theme into their event. Organisers selected the wolf as their event spirit, and wove this element throughout their program. The wolf, they felt, embodied the skills and spirit of their entrepreneurial participants: both independent and team-oriented, intelligent and instinctual, free and disciplined.

Baudisch emphasises the importance of the relationship between the host Nation and planner in creating powerful experiences like this. "A good planner will want the experience to be authentic. And to do it right. Planners are very respectful and focused on the perception and feelings created amongst participants. When your experience and selected partners embody the values of inclusivity and respect, great things are possible."