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How a focus on sustainability has shaped the face of the meetings industry today

By Vanessa Stafford


We’ve all heard the news, Starbucks is getting rid of all plastic straws by 2020. Many other major retailers are following suit and introducing sustainability practices of their own. Here is how the meetings industry is playing its part.

Years ago, most pharmaceutical companies transformed their philosophy to focus on being green and delivering green meetings. Together with our clients, we are working to deliver upon our mutual objectives of sustainability. With the increased use and adoption of technology within the events industry, we don’t have to print out welcome booklets just because we used to. Waste has become more and more of a focus for our industry and society. With so many easy ways to adopt new approaches to sustainability that don’t cost extra money, why not make the changes?

As a strategic partner to our pharmaceutical clients, we are mutually invested in the same goals and initiatives by ensuring meetings are sustainable, environmentally-friendly and involve some element of corporate sustainability activity.

Recently I became a Certified Sustainability Meeting Planner by MPI to continuously challenge our planning teams and meeting stakeholders to keep these elements in mind when planning programmes. There are various factors to planning a sustainable meeting from the eyes of the stakeholder; limiting long haul travel, minimizing impact from shipping large materials, and minimizing waste at venues.

Attendee air travel is considered the largest negative sustainable impact from meetings and events. To help be a good steward for our air pollution, when sourcing a venue for our programme, we take into consideration where the attendees are traveling from when selecting the meeting location to minimize long haul flights and encourage driving or train travel where appropriate. For example, for a June meeting in Chicago, instead of flying 30 event managers from our Indianapolis office to service the ongoing hundreds of meetings, we are working across accounts to help staff each meeting with local support. We also encourage team members to car pool to save with air pollution and client’s budget. When appropriate, we highlight to our clients the option of holding a hybrid or virtual meeting.

To minimize large vehicle transmissions, we have best practices in place of sourcing local third party vendors, ie audio visual and production companies when applicable. Instead of shipping branded banners, signs, stage equipment and furniture to Mexico in May for our client, we decided to procure the item in the destinations, avoiding 6 hours of ground travel.

We work with meeting venues to offer recycle bins, water pitchers versus water bottles, dry erase boards versus flipcharts and paper take-away cartons versus polystyrene cups. Considering the rate of decomposition, it’s becoming more and more paramount to implement these strategies in every meeting we plan.

  • Paper: 1 Month
  • Plastic: 750 Years
  • Glass: 1 Million Years
  • Polystyrene : Never

In a recent meeting in Orlando, we were able to provide pitchers on 18 tables for general session that were refreshed 3 times per day. By providing pitchers, we saved using 1,350 plastic water bottles for the three-day program which was initially offered by the hotel.

Beyond the focus on minimizing environmental impact, there’s a huge focus on impacting the social environment as well. Incorporating social responsibility elements into a programme enhances attendee engagement, ensuring they feel empowered and are contributing to the positive impact of the community. During a recent event, we had a group build over 300 comfort kits which were donated to the Florida Hospital for Children. The kits consisted of all of the bath time essentials - soaps, toothpaste, even colouring supplies and of course, dinosaur sponges!

So, Starbucks, we will continue to look to you to set an example for other major industries, but for the healthcare industry we will continue to provide effective strategies for our clients to deliver more sustainable programmes.

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