By Scott Mckye
I’m exactly what Las Vegas loves: A lousy gambler. Whenever there’s money involved, more often than not, I might as well save myself some time and hand my wallet to the dealer. But if I ever were to “bet the house,” I’d say proponents of greener meetings will look back at 2012 as a landmark year for sustainable events and event management standards.
London’s Olympic and Paralympic games simultaneously represent the conclusion of years of work by international volunteers, as well as the official starting line for the use of ISO 20121 Sustainability in Event Management practices. So many organizers, vendors and venues yearned for so long to prove to the world that sustainability propels ingenuity, and ingenuity gives birth to successful live events.
The year 2012 also ushered in the long-awaited American Society of Testing and Measurements (ASTM) E2700 “Standard Specification for Evaluation and Selection of A/V, Communications and Marketing, Destinations, Exhibits, Food and Beverage, Onsite Office, Meeting Venue and Transportation for Environmentally Sustainable Meetings, Events, Trade Shows and Conferences.”
Don’t let the “American” in ASTM fool you. ISO and ASTM are the largest and most internationally recognized peer-reviewed industry standards on the planet, with ASTM the older of the two. Work on ASTM standards started two years before ISO through collaboration between the Convention Industry Council (CIC), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Green Meetings Industry Council (GMIC).
While Europe seems keen to use ISO 20121 standards, and North America is more apt to strive for compliance with ASTM, each has its own undeniable strengths. And when combined, they have immense potential to transform events and organizations into hitherto inconceivable money-making machines, divinely inspired by the spirit of philanthropy. As the “gods of green” might ask, could the road to social responsibility have been scripted any better? Both international bodies arrived at their prescribed management paths to event sustainability in the same year the Olympics took “pole position.” As each played out its role at center stage in the world theater, it became quite clear: For event management, this was the tipping point. Sustainability was here to stay.
As the memories of 2012 begin to fade, the danger is that our resolve to do better in the coming years will wane as well. Sure, if you have Olympic-size committees and resources helping to pull it off, your event should have a terrific chance. But you probably don’t. Nor are you likely to have years of experience and an endless supply of volunteers helping to write your customized sustainability policies, which are absolutely the first and most crucial step toward getting your act together in time. If you’re like most, you will be thinking about 2014 before your 2013 event numbers have been completed. How can a for-profit event organizer find time to create socially and environmentally conscientious procurement policies; establish reasonable benchmarks for air, water and energy consumption; create a sensible waste reduction target properly balanced among reuse, recycle and repurpose streams; then train staff to accurately measure the data? How do we effectively communicate the results, ensuring all community and stakeholder commitments are honored? Where do we draw the line between validity and sensibility when defining a legitimate member of an event “community”? What does all this cost? When should we see a reasonable return? All these questions are inherent concerns when you are running a business that must be financially sustainable now, not every fourth year.
As we run down just a few of the major areas to manage, are we beginning to worry if we’ll ever get moving toward any of these laudable goals? In managing all of your sustainability planning, worry is never mentioned as one of the necessary behaviors in either ISO or ASTM. Work, yes. What’s new? Anything worth having is worth working for. It’s also worth time and planning and, if we’re really honest with each other, caring and then sharing. Shouldn’t we be responsible inhabitants of the globe, sharing what we’ve found and what we’ve done regarding sustainable event management practices, then honestly communicating to fellow organizers whether we would do it again?
Let’s get started right now, sharing the first installment in a public parade of free, environmentally conscientious content gathered from around the world. We now have at least two approved paths, ISO and ASTM; major events whose organizers actually took them for a test drive; and a report by those who helped establish measurable goals in 2005 (BioRegional and WWF), then evaluated their results in 2012.
We may not have the time and staff that Olympic organizers do. But chances are, our events aren’t going to be televised for weeks at multiple venues, with myriad attendees and exhibitors to satisfy. Would we trade our much smaller paths toward sustainability for theirs? We have the benefit of established standards and written roadmaps of those organizers’ journeys, all at the right price. If I were a betting man, I would wager we’d take our own.
Scott Mckye is President of KLEERTECH in Fenton, MO and can be reached at [email protected] Toll-free: 877.552.2343