With more companies stressing the need to go green in Asia, practical ways are surfacing for venues and suppliers to give back to the environment and local communities.

Story by KRISTIE THONG

In a 2010 FutureWatch report on a comparative outlook of the global business of meetings and events, 76 per cent of meeting planners reported that corporate social responsibility will be a focus for their organisations. Made up of 1832 members from Meeting Professionals International from 39 countries comprising 967 planners and 813 suppliers, 80 per cent of buyers took environmental results into account when planning an event, while 73 per cent would avoid a destination known to have a poor record of environmental issues.

While the survey largely echoed the opinions of meeting and event planners in North America (72 per cent of respondents were from the United States), it displayed an uptake of buyers worldwide slowly inclining towards running events that are environmentally-friendly. Evidently, 80 per cent of respondents felt the environment will become a bigger issue in years to come, while half felt that delegates will become more concerned if environment and social issues are not taken into consideration when organisers plan an event.

Suppliers have started providing greener options to event buyers. Convention centres have geared up with third-party accreditation to ensure operations are sustainable, from colour-coded set of bins to encourage waste reduction and recycling, energy-saving light-emitting diode bulbs, to solar panelling. Hotels have also ensured green options are offered to event bookers through efficient measures to save water and electricity, sustainable food sourcing, and paperless meetings.
An increasing number of businesses are realising that sustainability is not only the right thing to do – it also makes good economic sense, according to Climate Friendly Pty Ltd marketing director Sally Castle.

“It is an area of tremendous focus in all sectors of the business events industry as companies – from venues, hotels and transport operators through to staging and creative service agencies embrace their commitment to sustainability,” she says.
Earthcheck is a familiar global benchmarking and certification programme adopted by convention centres and hotels in Asia. Owned by international tourism and environmental management and advisory group EC3 Global and currently operating in over 70 countries, it has been researching all aspects of sustainable tourism in the last 25 years while developing indicators for destinations and businesses to measure sustainability in economic, social and environmental terms.

EarthCheck vice-president of sales Andre Russ says green accreditation and sustainability efforts are about “managing risks and opportunities, aligning with core business and strategy and providing transparent accountability to stakeholders, employers, consumers, suppliers and local communities”.

Is accreditation a must?

Four Seasons Singapore director of sales and marketing Austin Watkins says eco-tourism and corporate social responsibility are hot in the MICE industry, especially with North American clientele.
“They are trying to find a way to not only give back but to create a lasting memory that is unique and destination centric.”
But while he has seen an increasing number of sustainable enquiries from event RFPs, they do not necessarily mandate green accreditation.

The hotel offers meeting planners sustainable options through its “Greening Meetings” initiative at no additional cost. The programme has an extensive recycling policy where decorations and display materials can be donated to local organisations, dry erase boards used as an alternative to flip charts, and local printing services and suppliers provided to meeting planners for recycled paper printing. Four Seasons Singapore also donates its leftover or gently-used amenities to charitable organisations, while all the hotel’s guestroom and public area lighting have been changed to energy-saving light bulbs and energy-saving air-conditioning units installed as part of an ongoing yearly upgrade.
Being a company focused on digital marketing and digital media solutions, Adobe is a strong supporter of green initiatives and usually adheres to environmentally-friendly best practices.

But while green accreditation “is a factor to consider when deciding on a venue, it is not a deal breaker”, Adobe group marketing manager for Southeast Asia Janie Lim says.
“Generally, there is also a lack of awareness around how event venues are implementing sustainability practices in Asia. Hotels or event venues do not proactively offer such information to clients,” she adds.

Giving back through carbon offsets

Carbon offsetting programmes are starting to see the light of day among venues and suppliers in business events. Known as a great way to get started on the environmental journey, Ms Castle believes that companies can soon see where the best opportunities exist for reducing emissions once such a programme has been established.
“These reductions can be through energy efficiency, waste minimisation and sourcing eco-friendly products and caterings, and will most likely lead to cost savings.”
Used by businesses of all sizes, carbon offsets offer a simple, immediate and cost-effective way to reduce emissions, often in projects such as wind farms and fuel-switching projects that not only have huge environmental benefits but also a range of social benefits to the communities where they operate.
“When a company supports a high-quality carbon offset project they also support education, job creation and other great benefits for people in developing countries,” she says.

According to Ms Castle, carbon offsetting programmes are growing slowly in Southeast Asia, although already widespread in Australia and New Zealand.
“As carbon offsetting programmes are established in new markets it is most often lead by companies who have large multinational clients. Most of the world’s big companies have sustainable supplier policies so having an active carbon management and broader environmental strategy is vital for companies wanting to work with them.”
Some hotels and other venues have taken on carbon offsetting programmes in the form of tree-planting initiatives, hydropower plants and wind power projects. Hilton Worldwide, for example, measures the carbon emissions of a client event or meeting through its LightStay Meeting Impact Calculator, and purchases carbon credits from its partner, Climate Friendly. Climate Friendly then uses this to fund carbon-friendly projects in the region to offset the carbon emissions generated by the event or meeting.

These projects include the Borneo Rainforest Rehabilitation Project, which aims to protect and restore rainforests currently under threat from logging and plantation development in Sabah, Malaysia, and the Cambodia Cookstove Project which promotes the use of an energy-efficient cook stove which uses 20 to 30 per cent less wood and charcoal for fuel. They are expected to jointly prevent over 300,000 tonnes of carbon emissions each year, while the former has also helped restore 11,000 hectares of rainforest to date.

“If you choose a project that aligns with your business and select a reputable supplier, you can have an immediate and meaningful environmental impact while inspiring your customers, staff and suppliers. Many businesses are taking steps to becoming carbon neutral with the help of offsets and supporting a speedier transition to a low carbon future for us all.”
Ms Castle feels businesses that anticipate, prepare for change and act early will reap the most benefits in a dynamic economy.
“This certainly applies to sustainability initiatives. Pressure is mounting from customers and staff who expect businesses they work with to move with the times and actively work on their sustainability credentials. Even more importantly, carbon pricing and business demands are making it a financial imperative,” she says.

7 Steps to Successful CSR Programmes

  1. Management commitment, including a written environment and social sustainability policy.
  2. Dedicated and trained staff responsible for taking the idea forward and getting others onboard.
  3. Be able to quantify the benefits. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
  4. Drop the jargon and talk in business terms and have a formal reporting process.
  5. Collaborate, don’t dictate. Encourage innovation but don’t get caught in spin.
  6. Share the success stories and use your interpersonal skills, not technical data.
  7. Authenticity and sense of place.