When Avila Government Services, Inc. (Avila) decided they wanted to improve the sustainability of their meeting/event planning efforts, they turned to the latest event sustainability guidance. However, as many planners have discovered, the roughly 400 pages of long-awaited guidance can be overwhelming and confusing. The three sets of guidelines fall short of providing the necessary metrics for conducting and evaluating the event planning process. They lack specific policies, goals, measurable objectives and scoring systems for sustainable meeting planning. Instead, they require the organization and its planners to develop their own procedures and metrics for the process. In the absence of an industry solution to this requirement, Avila developed a metrics-based program to implement and improve sustainable event planning practices easily and consistently across the organization. It can be used for all organizational events including conferences, meetings, fundraisers, celebrations, ceremonies, training, retreats and other gatherings/outings.
Like other planners, Avila tried to determine which set of guidelines to follow, from among the ISO 20121 Standard, ASTM/APEX Specifications and GRI EOSS Guidelines. Different factions in the industry tend to favor one over the other, so Avila decided to create a system to comply with all of them:
- ISO 20121: International Standard for Event Sustainability Management Systems — Requirements with guidance for use. This standard, which was debuted for the 2012 Olympics in London, focuses on the way events are planned and delivered. The standard requires organizations to establish, implement, maintain and continually improve an event sustainability management system. ISO 20121 requires the organization to put a system in place addressing sustainable development issues it can control directly and influence. ISO 20121 compliance may only be claimed for the organization’s management system, not an actual event.
- ASTM/APEX Standard Specifications for Environmentally Sustainable Meetings, Events, Trade Shows and Conferences. There are nine separate specifications, published between Feb 2012 and May 2013, addressing destinations, transportation; venues, exhibits, accommodations, food and beverage, communications and marketing materials, audio visual and production, and on-site offices. They all require the planner to have a written environmental sustainability policy for its organization documenting goals and objectives related to event staff management policy, communications, waste management, energy, air quality, water, procurement and community partners.
- GRI EOSS: Global Reporting Initiative — Sustainability Reporting Guidelines & Event Organizer’s Sector Supplement. This supplement, published in 2012, establishes guidelines for reporting qualitative and quantitative information related to an organization’s event sustainability. The supplement enhances the original reporting criteria with specific guidelines related to event sustainability and specifies the minimum criteria required to qualify for reporting levels.
These three guidance documents present a number of challenges for meeting/event planning professionals. In general, planners do not possess the education and expertise to develop a comprehensive program of appropriate sustainability goals and objectives for their planning efforts. In addition, the guidance does not include a system of metrics to measure the planning efforts. Currently, sustainability-minded planners prepare event reports detailing the outcomes of the events they have planned as opposed to a scorecard of their own efforts. They do this by gathering information from venues to report on metrics such as the event’s carbon footprint, while listing their own sustainable planning initiatives and accomplishments.
The practical applications for management stem from the SMPP™ reports, which highlight deficiencies as well as improvements over time. Meeting planners can be rewarded or counseled based on the outcome of the reports and managers can rely on the metrics as a common baseline of comparison. If nothing else, using the program will result in more sustainable meetings because its implementation engages all the participants to influence a positive outcome. That is reason enough for Avila to stay the course implementing their new metrics for sustainable event planning.