July 23, 2021 | By Joyce DiMascio

The massive interruption to business caused by the pandemic begs the question – is sustainability still a priority?

Some companies have taken the lockdown as an opportunity to review their practices and accelerate implementation.

For some organisations, like Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC), it is core to their DNA and the pandemic has not dulled its commitment. Quite the opposite.

As reported in micenet, MCEC Chief Executive Peter King says sustainability would remain a priority despite the retirement of sustainability champion Leighton Wood this month, who was the centre’s Chief Operating Officer.

King told micenet that sustainability was embedded in MCEC and Wood’s legacy would be carried on through the work of their dedicated Sustainability Manager, Samantha Ferrier.

Ferrier, appointed in 2020, is passionate about her brief. Her expertise comes from a foundation in waste management and resource recovery and a particular passion for eliminating plastic wherever possible.

This month, MCEC released its 2021-2026 Sustainability Strategy which Ferrier will drive.

“There is an understanding and culture at MCEC that recognises sustainability is important – and our leaders also recognise that you need to have resources and a budget,” she says.

Ferrier says one of the projects she’s focussed on relates to solar energy. “We’re exploring the merits of going solar and generating energy onsite,” she says.

This major infrastructure investment will support a clean-energy focus and complements MCEC’s partnership in the Ararat wind farm project. The wind farm collaboration was designed to help MCEC purchase renewable energy certificates equivalent to the electricity consumption in the 20,000 square metre expansion which opened in 2018.

Ferrier says some of MCEC’s work is in collaboration with other organisations outside the events industry.

One of these community projects is Melbourne Skyfarm, which involves converting the MCEC’s Siddeley Street carpark. The carpark rooftop is being transformed into a 2,000m2 urban farm, education centre and café. Partners include the City of Melbourne, Biofilta and The Sustainable Landscape Company. The new rooftop space will also be available for event use.

While much of Ferrier’s work has longer lead times, there is also “low hanging” fruit. And this can be tackled with clients who want to embrace their eco responsibilities.

Ferrier is conducting trials to fully eliminate disposable coffee and drink cups at MCEC events. The trials are to be run with MCEC clients who want to make a difference by adopting new ways of doing things.

Most of the sustainability initiatives at the venue need stakeholder buy-in and education. For this reason, the word “partnership” comes up often when Ferrier describes the opportunities on the horizon.

“This is not something we can do alone. This is something we need the whole industry to support,” she says.

“A lot of our work is around waste and resource recovery as we want to ensure materials used onsite at MCEC don’t end up in landfill.”

She says the engagement with stakeholders – clients, visitors and delegates – relies on various communication platforms to help educate them about how to help run more sustainable and responsible events. This includes both incentives and disincentives, she says.

“As a venue, there is a lot we can do with our customers each time there is an event – being efficient with resources saves money and reduces the environmental footprint.”

Ferrier is working on the five-year sustainability strategy and action plan which includes KPIs for departments and individual leaders. It’s all about accountability and clear goals, strategies, and targets.

Ferrier is well credentialled in sustainability and has worked in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

She’s one of the new generation leaders making their mark in our industry and she knows well that to effect change, you must bring people with you.

“Our business is about bringing people together. We have a responsibility to reduce the negative impact on the environment and increase the positive impact from the work that we do,” Ferrier says.