“Sustainability” – a driver that powers the MICE industry
Sustainability is “in”. In light of climate change, the economic crisis and criticism of globalisation, consumers pay more and more attention to values such as eco-friendliness and social justice. They eat organic food, wear clothing that has been manufactured under fair conditions and take advantage of car sharing options or green electricity. That growing awareness of sustainability is reflected in stricter statutory environmental regulations and social standards as well as in critical media reports, for example about questionable production methods. So there are a lot of facts supporting the view that the principle of “sustainable development” will have established itself as mainstream by the year 2030.
The business sector has also reacted to this change in values. More and more companies are taking on social responsibility in conjunction with sustainable economic activity. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), i.e. voluntary commitment to ecological, economic and social sustainability within the scope of core business activities that goes beyond the statutory regulations, is becoming increasingly more important for large corporations as well as small and medium sized enterprises in all industries. In the meantime, many companies employ CSR managers in order to control their measures in that area in a targeted manner.
Values create competitive advantages
Economic, ecological and social aspects constitute the dimensions of sustainability. Companies that conduct themselves fairly vis-à-vis their suppliers and customers operate in an economically sustainable manner. Measures aimed at environmental protection stand for ecological sustainability. In turn, the social component encompasses social commitment at company locations as well as fair, supportive dealings with employees.
CSR has become a tangible competitive advantage overall. “Potential employees inquire about how a company handles CSR aspects; consumers prefer to purchase products from a CSR and sustainability oriented company. Even 15 percent of stock market investors invest exclusively in companies with a credible CSR commitment,” says Wolfgang Scheunemann, Managing Director of dokeo, a consulting firm domiciled in Stuttgart which specialises in CSR and sustainability and organises the “German CSR Forum“.
All lights are green
Sustainability is a central theme that will become more and more important in future in the event industry as well. Communication measures, conventions, trade fairs and conferences are planned and implemented in line with the “green meetings” catchword ever more frequently. Regional or seasonal catering, returnable tableware, energy-conserving technologies or climate-friendly travel with public transit to meeting locations are standard in many places. However, social aspects such as employee health as well as sustainable economic activity are also becoming a focus area.
Because - companies that operate in accordance with CSR principles attach importance to expertise and references in that area when selecting event locations as well as trade fair and event service providers. They expect events with a sustainability orientation throughout the entire range of services.
Support from management is indispensable
The event facility “Kongress Palais Kassel” demonstrates how investing in sustainability pays off. In the year 2009, the convention centre was the first event facility in Germany to be certified according to the “Green Globe” sustainability standard, thus playing the role of a trailblazer in the industry. That immediately convinced the internationally renowned Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy: In the summer of 2013, the research institute held its first Germany-wide conference “Energy Transition. But fair!” at the “Kongress Palais Kassel” – a top-grade reference for the centre.
“Nowadays sustainability is an important concern for the convention and meetings industry, because sustainable meetings are registering strong growth in the market,” emphasises Slawa Dallalah, Co-ordinator of the Conference Affairs Services at the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. So measures that are strategically planned do pay off. Wolfgang Scheunemann is convinced that companies benefit across the board if they tailor their business processes according to the relevant principles: “The companies that implement CSR properly become more efficient and robust - and also save money. It is important for the executive management to really want CSR and to tackle it in earnest,” he says.
Positive image attracts specialists
Most companies in the MICE industry are aware of that fact, as the Meeting und Event Barometer 2014 reveals. 82 percent of the companies polled for the study and 66 percent of event organisers are certain that taking sustainable components into account at conventions, conferences and events is becoming increasingly more important.
Furthermore, the positive image that companies with authentic CSR initiatives build up makes them attractive employers. For in light of the scarcity of skilled personnel, finding qualified employees is getting more and more difficult in the MICE industry as well. “We have to implement counter-measures in this regard, for example with family-friendly work models. In addition, regular supplementary training for staff helps maintain the high standard of our services,” emphasises Joachim König, President of European Association of Event Centres (EVVC).
In parts of the industry, there is definitely room for improvement in the area of social sustainability, for example with regard to temporary employment contracts or remuneration for employees. “Particularly in the event area with working hours at all times of the day or night, it is important to take work-life balance aspects and protection from burn-out into consideration,” says CSR expert Wolfgang Scheunemann, underscoring the need for action.
Fit thanks to supplementary training
Among others, the industry associations provide assistance for coping with those challenges. For example, the “rightandfair” (“fairpflichtet” ) code, which the EVVC and the German Convention Bureau e. V. (GCB) initiated together in May 2012, serves as a common guideline for sustainable entrepreneurial activity in the event sector. Since then, over 400 associations and their member companies from all areas of the industry have subscribed to it.
In addition, the GCB has developed a code of ethics as well as compliance guidelines in order to help companies make transparency and integrity the foundation for their actions. Furthermore, the association offers supplementary training leading to a qualification as a “sustainability consultant in the event industry”. In the past three years, a good 300 event planners from associations, hotels, conference centres and agencies got themselves prepared for CSR and sustainability.
Exchange of experience with experts
At the same time, there are increasingly more events relating to the topic. One practically oriented forum especially for the event industry is offered by the “green meetings and events” conference, which will take place for the third time in February 2015 at “Kap Europa” in Frankfurt – incidentally, the latter is the first convention centre in the world to be awarded the Preliminary Certificate in Gold by the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB). At the event, the GCB and the EVVC will confer the “Meeting Experts Green Award” to sustainable projects in the MICE area.
“Werte 2.0”, i.e. “Values 2.0”, in Montabaur, which has become an established get-together for senior managers in the event industry, has also been providing orientation and promoting exchanges of experience for five years. Traditional ethical values are the primary aspect in that case. The focus of the workshops and lectures by experts is how those values can be implemented in the fast-paced business world of today.
Across all business sectors, sustainability and CSR have been exerting an attraction on broad sections of the public – from experts to consumers. For example, the “German CSR Forum” in Ludwigsburg, an event with a rich tradition initiated by Wolfgang Scheunemann. When the conference was held for the tenth time in May 2014, more than 730 representatives from the business, political and scientific sectors as well as non-governmental organisations and the media discussed issues relating to sustainability. The culmination of the event was the presentation of the “German CSR Award” for outstanding achievements in the area of social responsibility.
“Heldenmarkt”, i.e. “Heroes’ Market”, which opened its gates in Berlin for the first time in 2010 and which is held in various German cities in the meantime, is aimed primarily at consumers. Moreover, since 2007 the “KarmaKonsum” conference in Frankfurt/Main has served as a forum for doing business responsibly as well as for sustainable and healthy living. In addition to a convention as the flagship event and the “open space” format called “GreenCamp”, the programme also includes the presentation of the “KarmaKonsum Founder Award”, which honours exemplary ecological / social start-ups.
Opportunities for new business models
CSR offers opportunities for new business models, as demonstrated by the Hamburg start-up “veveko”. The company which was founded in 2012 organises CSR events for companies and is registering a growing demand. “We combine corporate events with social or ecological commitment,” says company founder and managing director Mathias Fischer, describing the concept. To that end, he and his business partner Julia Ulrichs continuously establish contracts with environmental and social associations or social facilities. “We always look for projects that suit our clients,” emphasises Fischer.
For example, “veveko” organised an internal event for a mobile telephony company at which roughly 120 employees actively participated for a good cause. Instead of driving in circles on a go-kart track, they helped restore a segment of the Este, a tributary of the Elbe, to its natural state. “Activities like that create bonds. At the same time, they make it possible to experience the employer’s CSR commitment in a real-life context, thus making it more credible,” says Fischer. In this way, social commitment achieves a more sustainable impact within the company as well.
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