Sustainability has been a buzzword in travel and business event planning for years. With the return of in-person meetings and events, sustainable business events are more urgent than ever.
Destinations around the world are seeing increasingly more planners and attendees prioritizing sustainable events. In order to meet 2050 net zero targets, the entire industry must work collaboratively to implement solutions.
Last year, Destination Canada launched its Canadian Business Events Sustainability Plan, a first-of-its-kind national program aimed at improving the economic, social, and environmental sustainability practices of business events.
“The plan is meant to bring our industry together to provide turnkey sustainable business events solutions to our clients,” said Virginie De Visscher, senior director of business development, economic sectors, Destination Canada Business Events. “Clients want to be more sustainable. So we need to bring solutions to our clients to enable more sustainability.”
De Visscher was one of the speakers at a webinar on sustainability in incentive travel, featuring insights from SITE Canada, SITE Scotland and the SITE Global Sustainability Committee. She shared the organization’s national approach to sustainability, including why collaboration over competition is key, tips, case studies and examples compiled through the national plan.
“When I looked at what the solutions were across our different destinations, what I found was we were all over the map …all at different stages,” she said, explaining that some were well on their way while others were just starting to take early steps.
The national plan aims to bring everyone onto the same page – “to speak the same language” – and to educate all partners on how to address sustainability. Coaching, training and education opportunities will be provided to more than 20 domestic partners to build on their existing sustainability programs and support the implementation of new programs.
In-line with Destination Canada’s corporate strategy, the sustainability program will build on an evidence-based foundation established through a national destination assessment study. The study, using the Global Destination Sustainability Index, will evaluate where Canadian cities are in terms of their existing sustainability initiatives and will be used to measure and track change over time. Indexing will begin in the second quarter of 2023.
Another important step is to look at the business events supply chain – hotels, airports, venues – to see what they are doing in regards to sustainability.
“All our destinations will go through this exercise,” said De Visscher. “When we launched this, I had a target of getting 12 destinations. We have 16 destinations across Canada that have signed up.”
Destination Canada has its own ambitious goal of being carbon neutral. Innovate Canada 2023, which will be held in Waterloo, Ontario, will be the first time the event is carbon neutral, according to De Visscher.
She also gave examples of how to implement sustainability initiatives. She highlighted how reconciliation and cultural sustainability can be incorporated into business and incentive events such as tours led by Indigenous people, a smudging ceremony and being welcomed by an elder.
To drive change in business events, collaboration with different destinations around the world will also be important. “It’s all about collaboration…sharing best practices and by sharing, we can bring solutions to our clients,” she said.
Collaboration was also stressed by Rory Archibald, senior events manager at VisitScotland. “We all need to collaborate regardless of destinations or different organizations. If we don’t all get to exactly the same standards we’re not going to achieve combating the climate crisis and raising the living standards throughout the world.”
He shared details about VisitScotland’s strategy called Journey to Change, launched in 2020. The goal is to ensure that events taking place in Scotland create positive social transformation and take environmental action in Scotland and across the world.
“Sustainability, environmental and social, are huge challenges. But by taking small steps we can make a real difference. We firmly believe that business events have the potential to influence every aspect of sustainability in general,” he said, noting that Scotland has the ambitious goal of being completely net zero by 2045.
SITE Global Sustainability Committee chair Mary Pepe shared that SITE chapters have been embracing the Sustainability Certification program which was launched in 2020. So far, 19 out of the 27 chapters have achieved certification, which requires the completion of qualifying criteria, tasks, and case studies.
“We want to achieve certification of all chapters by end of 2023,” said Pepe, adding they plan to develop and implement a benchmark for the continuation of the certification.
Other action plans for the committee include creating a SITE sustainability page and a social media presence on different platforms; standard best practices; finding a measuring tool for GHGs and ensuring young leaders are on the committee.
SITE Canada received the SITE Sustainability Certification in 2021. Liz Akey, SITE Canada sustainability ambassador and a member of the SITE Global Sustainability committee, shared two initiatives they did to achieve the certification.
Part of the certification requires an Earth Day event and SITE Canada chose to do a cookbook. “So it actually turned out to be a seven month project…compiling great plant-based recipes,” said Akey, “It really showcases how we can have impacts with our food choices. It’s a 37 page recipe book.”
Another initiative was the creation of an extensive RFP checklist – a tool that has been able to assist members to use for their programs with many success stories and case studies.
De Visscher said sustainability is ultimately a step towards the journey of being a “regenerative tourism economy and ecosystem.”
“It really means taking action towards preserving our natural environment at same time promoting a healthy and inclusive society as well as supporting our driving economy,” she said.