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Organizational Change
Inspiring Greater Sustainability at Global Conference Events

The 2016 MPI European Meetings & Events Conference in Copenhagen on Tuesday saw the launch of the #BeeSustain Challenge, an immersive new workshop experience intended to help industry professionals to incorporate sustainability into event planning, share best practice and reduce their financial outlays.

Presented by Ulrika Martensson of Wonderful Copenhagen, the event built the Danish capital’s reputation as a centre of excellence for sustainable business, particularly in the field of meetings and events.

“Copenhagen has played host to a number of sustainability-certified mega events such as COP15 and the 2012 European presidency,” explained Martensson. “We are proud that Copenhagen has earned the nickname ‘the capital of sustainable meetings,’ but we think with that title comes an obligation: the obligation to share our knowledge and inspire our industry, so that they in turn can inspire the communities they work with.”

The #BeeSustain workshop made use of the uniquely Danish concept of ‘Meetovation’ in order to maximise creativity, encourage the sharing of knowledge between participants and seek out solutions within the local community. During the event participants were guided on a physical journey around the room and challenged to consider what role sustainability played in their professional activities and how their intentions changed over the course of the workshop.

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The journey provided plenty of opportunities for delegates to share knowledge, and their individual paths also brought participants into contact with a number of inspirational local and international experts, who provided advice in a number of key areas.

Rasmus Scheelke, co-founder of pioneering local restaurant Rub & Stub, introduced methods to improve the sustainability of event catering:

“What is special about Rub & Stub is that it works to limit food waste,” he said. “All the food that enters the kitchen has to leave via a customer’s plate. We serve smaller portions than traditional restaurants but we allow customers come back for seconds, thereby tailoring the size of our meals to our guests' appetite. Lastly, all the meals we serve are made from surplus food. That might be potatoes that are too ugly for supermarkets, biscuits with misprinted labels or unwanted wine samples. What we do at Rub is show people all the great things that you can do by conserving food.”

Scheelke explained that adopting and upscaling these principles could not only improve the sustainability of events, but also provide event managers with an easy way to save money and improve customer satisfaction.

“Instead of getting guests to sign up for food, ask them to specify which meals they are going to attend so you know exactly how many to cater for,” he said. “A simple step like that at a 1,500-person event can typically save $30,000. That’s money which can then be used to raise the quality of the food.”

Guy Bigwood, sustainability director at MCI, then helped demystify the ISO 20121 sustainability standard, and outlined how certifying their events management teams can provide substantial benefits for businesses.

“The key thing about ISO 20121 is that it focuses on sustainability in the round. It’s not a ‘green’ certification - it’s about people, planet and profit and moving your business to a position that improves all three,” he said. “Traditionally, one of the biggest barriers to accreditation is the perception that it is really complicated and expensive. It’s really isn’t - there’s very little involved in the process that businesses aren’t already doing as part of their existing operations. ISO 20121 simply helps them to structure, record and refine their sustainability efforts.

“Many businesses, especially SMEs, tend not to write business practices down - that means that when employees leave, knowledge is lost, which in turn increases training expenses,” Bigwood pointed out. “Certifications such as ISO 20121 create policies that can be invaluable in retaining that knowledge and avoiding those kinds of costs.”

In the final session, Oliver Maxwell, founder of local honey purveyor Bybi (City Bee), explained how bees have inspired the #BeeSustain movement, and offer key lessons for events and brands alike.

“Bees are the ultimate socially responsible workers,” he said. “They're incredibly productive, yet at the same time they enrich the world around them by pollinating flowers, fruits and vegetables. They've been essential to the evolution of mankind.

“At Bybi, we believe that our own production should also enrich our society and environment,” Maxwell said. “That's why we work with social organisations to create new opportunities in beekeeping and honey production for the homeless and long-term unemployed.

“As bees demonstrate, sustainability isn't just about doing less damage to the environment; it's about enriching it, and being proactive in terms of contributing to the community."