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Meetings and Myth in the Age of Cassandra Parts 1 & 2

June 28, 2011

I am taking the opportunity to re-post a previous personal blog, Meeting and Myth in the Age of Cassandra (parts 1 & 2), with the intention of adding a Part 3 shortly.

Meeting & Myth in the Age of Cassandra Part 1 (Originally posted May 11, 2010)

On April 18, 2010, Adam Cohen authored an opinion column in The New York Times called Cassandra, the Ignored Prophet of Doom, is a Woman for Our Times. For those of you not familiar with classical mythology,Cassandra was a beautiful woman upon whom Apollo bestowed the gift of prophecy. But because she rejected his advances, he also ensured that no-one would believe her prophecies. Many environmental practitioners would agree that this could be called The Age of Cassandra, a time when those people speaking up for the environment (and for sustainability in general) have been generally derided or dismissed as expensive opponents of profits. The meetings industry has not been an exception to this trend.

This is not to say that there have not been Cassandras among us, quietly or not-so-quietly telling the industry about change and then doing something about it. CSR is, after all, a business “mega-trend” , like globalization, according to The Sustainability Imperative, a paper in the Harvard Business Review by David Lubin and Daniel Esty. Daniel Esty is the co-author ofGreen to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage.

So here are some Cassandras in the meetings/events industry that you should watch for best practices (in no particular order):

  1. MeetGreen. This company, headed by Amy Spatrisano and Nancy Wilson, was a pioneer in environmentally sustainable meetings.
  2. The Olympics: The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver (led by Ann Duffy) and the London 2012 Games (led by Phil Cummings) are examples of the world’s most high-profile sporting events with sustainability top of mind.
  3. Sustainable Events Ltd is run by Fiona Pelham, the driving force behind British Standard 8901 soon to become ISO 20121
  4. COP 15. The climate meeting of our times produced the Copenhagen Sustainable Meetings Protocol, in partnership with MCI under GuyBigwood
  5. Global Reporting Initiative. This well-respected global organization is producing an event sector supplement to assist sustainability reporting in the industry.
  6. APEX/ASTM/EPA. This group is collaborating on a set of green meetings standards
  7. Live Earth. This well-known concert event has a how-to guide for sustainable events
  8. Fairmont Hotels. The greening began in 1990, well before “green meetings” became a catch phrase in the industry

Myth & Meetings in The Age of Cassandra: Part 2 (Originally posted May 12, 2010)

So back to the Age of Cassandra, the prophetess whose warnings were true but never heeded. Today I explore more myths about sustainable meetings.

  1. Achieving BS 8901 certification means that the meeting/event is sustainable. FALSEBritish Standard 8901 is a great tool that creates a sustainable management system for events. It makes it POSSIBLE to have a sustainable event that integrates environmental, social and economic sustainability. However, the people behind the implementation must ensure that their scope, values and objectives support sustainability, or the event simply has a management system with no sustainable results.
  2. Sustainable meetings are all about “green”. FALSE. Admittedly, in these days of oil spills and global climate change, environmentally sustainable meetings are top of mind. And should be. But true sustainability means more than that; it integrates the community and the economy with the environment. After last year’s TARP scare in the US coupled with the AIG effect, economic sustainability of meetings should mean that not only are you meeting your budgetary goals, but that the meeting/event you execute helps achieve the strategic objectives of your organization, helping economic sustainability in the long term. Events that identify and engage community stakeholders build goodwill and reinforce economic sustainability for the future.
  3. Sustainable meetings cost more. FALSE. While it is true that some elements of creating a sustainable meeting do cost more, it is also true that other elements reduce costs. It’s all about balance and identifying your priorities. For example, reducing or eliminating bottled water at an event will save money. Holding an event closer to the majority of delegates will save money, as will reducing or eliminating things like trinkets and registration bags. It is also about long-term and short term organizational goals. If you spend money developing community projects in the short term, your investment in the community builds goodwill and more dedicated consumers in the long term.
  4. Sustainable meetings/events start with values, leadership commitment and policy. TRUE. It starts at the top. What are the values of the organization? Does it have any? Do those values include sustainability in any form? The commitment of leadership should be evident in statements and in the creation and application of formal policy in the areas of environmental impact, community involvement, human rights and anti-corruption.
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