Beyond travel avoidance

For many companies, the sustainability movement has been all about reducing their carbon footprint and achieving significant results relatively quickly by cutting down on business travel. Once the easy wins have been achieved, though, what can the same businesses do to continue improving on their sustainability record year-on-year?

And is it really worth it?

Reaping the benefits

It seems it is! According to a global survey of nearly 2,000 business executives (How Companies Manage Sustainability, McKinsey & Company, March 2010) the companies that were most engaged with sustainability – and reaping the benefits of it – were those that had sustainability as a top three priority at CEO level. These companies were making sure sustainability was embedded in their business practices and actively “seeking opportunities to invest” in sustainability.

One of the problems identified by the authors is that there is no standard definition of what sustainability covers. For some it’s about managing environmental issues (reducing greenhouse gases, improving energy efficiency, managing waste, developing green products, conserving water). Some add in governance issues, such as following ethical business practices, while others will also include social issues such as working conditions. But no matter how they defined it, the executives who were most engaged with sustainability were adamant that it created real shareholder value…


These benefits included lowering costs and improving operational efficiency, improving the reputation of the corporation or brand, meeting consumer expectations, creating new business opportunities (new markets or products), strengthening their competitive advantage and attracting and maintaining talented employees who wanted to work for sustainability-minded companies.

Suppliers may be keen to green

Fast forward to 2016 and research commissioned by the Green Meetings Industry Council into the sustainable practices that were being implemented by 1) organisations that hold meetings and events, 2) event management/party planner type companies and 3) suppliers. (The third ‘supplier’ category covered venues, accommodation providers, caterers, trade-show and exhibition organisers and companies providing audio- visual and similar products and services). According to their findings (Sustainable Meeting and Event Practices: The State of the Industry, 2016) the suppliers were the group most likely to engage in sustainable activities and to have recognised ‘green’ credentials and certifications. They were also more likely to track and measure their own sustainability initiatives and to do even more than their own customers were asking for in tender requests, such as tracking the weight of materials they had diverted away from traditional waste streams.

The suppliers’ sustainability initiatives included:

  • Sorting recyclables
  • Using energy efficient lighting
  • Sourcing local food
  • Using tapped water over single-serve bottles
  • Re-using linen and towels in hotels
  • Donating unused food items
  • Using meeting apps to reduce paper communications
  • Specifying energy efficient products (eg with an ecomode, or made from recycled or bio-based materials)

MICE are more timid

While the suppliers appear to be doing as much as they can to promote sustainability, other parties involved in the Meetings Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) industry are definitely dragging their feet. In a recent article for Buying Business Travel’s magazine, BBT (Waiting for the green light by Rose Dykins) the author reports that while many companies SAY that sustainability is important, they don’t follow through for their events and conferences. This may be because they just don’t know where to begin. After all, who exactly decides how many ‘green initiatives’ are required to make an event green? It is also clear that no-one is putting pressure on anyone else to organise green events – if clients are not requesting them, why should event managers deliver them – so there are no ‘green performance indicators’ to live up to on either side. Companies may also be under the impression that it would cost them more to deliver a green event so they would rather not try. However, those that DO turn their positive talk into an action plan for meetings and events have so much to gain. They just need to take the first step in the right direction.

What can we conclude?

All of this suggests three important take-away messages. One, if you move sustainability centre stage in your organisation there are business benefits to be gained – so give it the attention it deserves, and resource it appropriately.

Two, take the time to talk to your suppliers and ask them what they can do to help you deliver a greener event. It could be even more than you realised.

And three, if you are working with event managers, ask them what savings they can achieve for you by making your event more sustainable – you’ll be giving them a reason to rise to the challenge.

We can help clients to tackle their green challenges because our management systems are able to store, sort and present information relating to a client’s available budget, actual spend, travel choices, journey mileage, carbon emissions and much, much more.

Douglas O’Neill
Inntel Managing Director

This article came from our Industry Report 2017. To get your copy which includes all our research articles, click here.