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.

1 comment:

Tahira Endean CMP said...

This is a great look at and reminder it is every person and every corporation in every country one at a time to care what happens. Thanks