We were delighted to see so many representatives of our Member venues join us on our Zoom update call in the middle of November. It was also a great opportunity to welcome Heather Lishman, from the Association of British Professional Conference Organisers (ABPCO) who gave us an inspiring presentation on the importance of adopting sustainable practices for conferences and events.
As well as providing a welcome break from the considerable challenges of COVID-19 which have absorbed event professionals since the start of the year, the presentation encouraged us to focus on the future when face-to-face events will resume and when sustainability, which has always been incredibly important here in Cambridge, will be once again at the top of the agenda.
Essentially Heather underlined the approach of ‘one step at a time’ to achieve our sustainability goals, starting with setting a roadmap of realistic targets and working towards them.
Heather said: “We recommend you begin with three main criteria – environmental, economic and social – and assess their impacts when delivering meetings. This will involve a coordinated approach by everyone delivering meetings including professional conference organisers, venues and suppliers, all coming together to make a difference.”
As a starting point, Heather suggested selecting an objective from each of the three criteria. For environmental this could include phasing out single use plastics and looking for alternatives. For economic, it could be making food procurement more sustainable with local sourcing, seasonal ingredients and minimising food waste. And for social it could mean developing a circular supply chain which reduces, reuses, repairs, remanufactures and recycles.
“Perhaps one of the key elements to the whole initiative is sharing ideas, collaborating and disseminating knowledge to improve and make a difference”, continued Heather. “This also includes working towards environmental accreditations and awards – such as Green Tourism, Trip Adviser’s Green Leaders and the Environmental Management System ISO 14001. These not only provide a framework for action but also enable communication and celebration on achievements.”
All event professionals recognise that COVID-19 has had an impact on sustainability, with the need to focus on safety first. Where face-to-face meetings have been allowed to take place, there’s been a requirement to adopt catering models which include pre-packaged foods, make the wearing of masks mandatory and use PPE. However as a positive, many more meetings are currently virtual or hybrid which reduces the impact of travel.
Without minimising the huge sustainability challenge that faces everyone, Heather concluded by quoting Olympic sportsman Sir Dave Brailsford who reiterated the step by step approach by advocating that we all “find a 1% margin for improvement in everything we do” rather than being overwhelmed by the task ahead.