Sustainability Efforts Lauded But More Collaboration Urged

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Lindsay Arell of Honeycomb Strategies discusses Cobo Center’s recycling during Events Industry Council’s sustainability certificate program in Detroit.

Speakers at EIC program provide insights and tools for meeting professionals

Progress was praised, but the need for more collaboration and immediate action was emphasized throughout a sustainability certificate program at Detroit’s Cobo Center last month.

Some 35 planners and other meeting professionals participated in 2019 Sustainable Event Professional Certificate Programme, presented by Events Industry Council (EIC). The program, offered June 2–5, piggy-backed on the larger Sustainable Brands ’19 Detroit event, also held at Cobo Center.

“We’re seeing a lot of bright, shining lights and expansion of efforts, but there are a lot of opportunities for us to fill gaps by really delivering in enhancing meetings by leveraging sustainability,” said Mariela McIlwraith, director of industry advancement for EIC, who oversees sustainability, one of its signature programs. “Cooperation is a key part of it: It’s important to find partners who are committed.”

The certificate program was reintroduced in November 2017 with the support of Thailand Convention & Visitors Bureau. It now has been offered twice in Detroit, as well as in Birmingham, Alabama; National Harbor, Maryland; Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; Monte Carlo, Monaco; and Bangkok.

It is designed to enable participants to implement their own sustainable events. The program is open to all event professionals (CMPs and non-CMPs). Those who complete it are eligible for eight hours of continuing education credits toward a CMP application or recertification.

“Many people in the events industry want to have sustainable events, but don’t know where to get started,” McIlwraith says. “This course is really designed to include those elements, but a lot of information that is provided is designed to help everyone make better choices.”

Key Participant Takeaways

The programs provided the following for participants:

  • An understanding of the business value of sustainability for the events industry
  • Practical solutions for improving environmental performance in food and beverage, transportation and supply chain management
  • Effective methods for achieving corporate social responsibility goals

McIlwraith and Aurora Benton, founder of environmental organization Astropto—participated in many of the 10 sessions. Some 20 other speakers participated in the sessions, which ranged from “Sustainable Food and Beverage” to “How Brands are Leveraging Sustainability and Social Impact for Success.” The program was able to draw some of the speakers from the Sustainable Brands ‘19 Detroit event.

McIlwraith is excited about the successes of the certificate program. “Every time we do it, we bring new, innovative elements of sustainability,” she says. “We are seeing a paradigm shift in the way that people look at events: They are looking for quality, rather than excess. They are looking to create meaningful experiences,” McIlwraith says.

Detroit Rebounding with Sustainability Focus

It is only fitting that the certificate program and the larger event took place in Detroit, which has been reinventing itself as it continues to climb out of Chapter 9 bankruptcy, which it was granted in 2013. It was the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in U.S. history by debt, estimated at $18–20 billion. Once a city of nearly 2 million people, it now houses around 700,000. The decline is often attributed to the city’s over-reliance on manufacturing in general and the auto industry in particular.

Detroit has taken a forward-thinking approach during the past few years, successfully attracting innovative new businesses and implementing sustainability initiatives. Cobo Center, for example, received APEX/ASTM certification in 2015—becoming just the ninth convention center to obtain it—and is about to receive LEED certification once the appropriate level is determined.

The resurgence is mainly seen downtown, but efforts are being made to eventually extend it throughout the vast city. “I’m excited about what’s happening in Detroit: I see a city being revitalized,” McIlwraith says. “Cobo Center is doing great things. It’s a beautiful, naturally lit facility dedicated to sustainability, including a space for donations.”

Learning Outcome

In summary, the 2019 Sustainable Event Professional Certificate Programme provided participants with the following knowledge and skills.

  1. An understanding of how to communicate the business value of sustainable events, including improving brand reputation and cost savings.
  2. Knowledge of how to design elements of events to be more environmentally and socially responsible. This includes reducing energy and water usage, improving accessibility and selecting suppliers in areas such as food and beverage, venues and accommodation, audio visual, transportation, materials resource management, marketing and exhibitions.
  3. Comprehension of how to develop effective community service projects that support organizational objectives.
  4. Familiarity with international sustainable event standards, as well as measurement and reporting methodologies that can provide guidance in implementing sustainable events.
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