How Meetings Help Create a Sustainable World

Green MeetingsMeeting Planning

The travel and meetings industries are playing a key role

Significant progress has been made in ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns in the travel industry, but many challenges remain, says the research director of a leading international tourism organization.

“There is a growing trend of people wanting to give back when they are traveling, which is driven by a combination of increased consumer awareness, demand for traveling greener and tourism companies being incentivized to operate greener,” said Rochelle Turner, research director of World Travel & Tourism Council.

She says that other key elements driving awareness of sustainable tourism include the adaptation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015 and the designation by the United Nations of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

Transformative Potential of Tourism

The Sustainable Development Goals, officially called Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, is a set of 17 global goals (see sidebar) on a wide range of sustainable issues. The agenda also sets a cumulative total of 169 targets within the goals to be attained by the year 2030.

“The world can and must harness the power of tourism as we strive to carry out the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “Three of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals include targets that relate to tourism: Goal 8, promoting growth and decent work; Goal 12, ensuring sustainable consumption and production; and Goal 14, conserving marine resources.

“But tourism also cuts across so many different areas of life, and involves so many different economic sectors and sociocultural events that it is connected to the entire agenda. Beyond the measurable advances that tourism can make possible, it is also a bridge to better mutual understanding among people from all walks of life.”

Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization, notes that every year 1.2 billion people travel abroad, and along with the billions more who travel domestically, contribute 10 percent of global GDP to the world’s economy.

“Tourism has become a passport to prosperity, a driver of peace and a transformative force for improving millions of lives,” he said.

The International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development will focus on five key areas intended to help reach the SDGs:

Inclusive and sustainable economic growth
Social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction
Resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change
Cultural values, diversity and heritage
Mutual understanding, peace and security

How the Meetings Industry Can Help

Turner says that significant progress will be needed to attain some of the SDGs.

“The biggest challenges will be around reducing the sector’s contribution to climate change in line with international agreements, and preparing for climate change impacts; measuring, monitoring and managing negative and positive impacts at the destination and company level; and protecting people and places through committing to a growth model that is inclusive of all stakeholders, environmentally sustainable and economically viable,” she said.

Turner emphasizes the increasingly important role that travel and tourism, and the meetings industry in particular, can play in helping to achieve the SDGs.

“As travel and tourism continues to grow—it is currently forecast to grow by nearly 4 percent per year over the next decade—it is of extreme importance that we balance it by safeguarding the environment, local communities and cultural heritage,” she said. “It is very important for the meetings industry to take into account the footprint they leave behind, as they often bring together a large amount of people at one time and use an enormous amount of resources.

“There are a lot of simple ways for companies operating in the meetings industry to implement more sustainable operations, such as no usage of plastic bottles, offsetting the carbon footprint and ensuring food is not being wasted.”

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

1. End poverty in all forms everywhere.
2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.
9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation.
10. Reduce inequality within/among countries.
11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
14. Conserve and use oceans/seas/marine resources for sustainable development.
15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss.
16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions.
17. Strengthen sustainability implementation and revitalize global partnership.