Meeting Room of the Future Trends Report offers roadmap for more climate-friendly practices

We’ve heard it before: Climate sustainability is a pressing issue. It permeates so many parts of our lives; inevitably, that includes meetings.

The International Association of Conference Centers (IACC) recently released their June 2023 Meeting Room of the Future Trends Report, which showed that meeting planners in the Americas tend to view a venue’s climate sustainability as less important than other categories of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Despite this, some sustainable venues are making huge strides in implementing more climate-friendly business practices—and it’s simpler than we think. Smart Meetings spoke with Mark Cooper, CEO of IACC, to learn more about the survey results and what planners and venues can do to make climate sustainability a higher priority.

The Survey Shows…

The survey had respondents rank four CSR categories in order of importance when considering a venue. Accessibility came in first, followed closely by human sustainability. The third-ranking category was a venue’s vitality credentials. Climate sustainability ranked last. 

chart showing the ranked importance of a venue's social responsibility credentials for respondents to IACC Meeting Room of the Future Trends Report

The report points out that the data was skewed by a large proportion of respondents from the Americas. Excluding the American responses, 40% of planners representing Europe, Africa and the Australia-Asia-Pacific region ranked it as the most important social responsibility credential a venue can have.

chart showing the ranked importance of a venue's social responsibility credentials for respondents to IACC Meeting Room of the Future Trends Report, excluding respondents from the Americas

Only 14% of American meeting planners, as opposed to 50% of European meeting planners, request a venue’s carbon footprint report in their RFPs. Of those who do request a carbon footprint report, both European and American, only 1 out of 10 receive all the information they requested every time.

Making Sense of the Results

Table from IACC showing the percentage of planners who report requesting a venue's carbon footprint report. 72% respond no, 19% respond yes, 9% respond unsure
IACC chart shows which percentage of respondents do or do not request a venue’s carbon footprint report

Cooper made it clear that the process of ranking categories of CSR may not accurately reflect a meeting planner’s values. If a planner is forced to choose, he says, “It is not necessarily that something is less important, but that when there are areas that we’re particularly focused on, we’ll place that higher.” Meeting planners in the Americas are concerned with making sure that events are accessible and open to all attendees—and they are right to be!

All social responsibility categories play a role in building ethical meetings. However, climate sustainability consistently ranking last for American planners stands out. It signals a need for American meeting planners to give some special TLC to their consideration of a venue’s climate sustainability.

Although ranking surveys can inaccurately make it appear as though climate sustainability is less important to planners than it actually is, Cooper confirmed that it still lags. “We knew from polling meeting professionals at events in 2022,” he says, “that when you asked a room of 70 planners, ‘How many of you are asking CSR-related questions within your RFPs on sustainability?’ only three or four were putting their hands up.”

Cooper explained that IACC had this in mind when they created their RFP template. “We list all the questions that you could be evaluating a venue against, in all of the areas. You don’t need to put them all into your RFP,” he advised. “Pick the ones that mean something to your organization, your culture, or even to you personally.”

Read More: Year of the Sustainable RFP

Simple Changes Go a Long Way

This is just what IACC Certified Venue Fagerudd Hotel, in Enköping, Sweden, did, when they normalized all their menus to be vegetarian. Guests request meat dishes as an exception, rather than the other way around.

A vegetarian plate by the chefs at sustainable venue Fagerudd
A vegetarian plate by the chefs at Fagerudd

 “Our chefs have had to develop food that doesn’t only taste great, but also offers a variety of flavors, colors and textures.” Fagerudd CEO Sebastian Tarkowski explained in a video. “The vast majority of our returning guests not only continue to request vegetarian meals because they appreciate the taste and the initiative. They also express that they experience a fresher feeling in the afternoon. They get better meetings, as a bonus.”

Serving vegetarian food instead of meat lowers the carbon footprint of each dish by 2 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalence, according to Tarkowski. In 2022, they served 12,000 lunches, 80% of which were vegetarian. In total, they avoided around 19 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Fagerudd shows that a simple yet specific switch, along with some thoughtful investment, can make a huge difference in a venue’s climate sustainability.

So Where Do We Go from Here?

Cooper suggested sharing stories. “Every time we provide a case study, we’re inspiring someone else to be unique in what they do.”

He explained that there are growing numbers of venues investing in practices that reduce their carbon footprint and he expects those numbers to grow, “whether because the industry pushes itself or whether it accelerates because the client organizations that are running meetings require more data and assurance that a venue is operating sustainably.”

Investors around the world see climate sustainability as important, and shareholders are asking for data on an organization’s carbon footprint. When meeting planners do too, venues are increasingly inclined to establish climate-friendly practices.

Cooper added: “10 years ago, sustainability probably wasn’t even spoken about in terms of venues. We’re making great inroads.”

Read More: Sustainable Meetings Through Renewable Concepts

IACC provides tools that meeting planners can use to make climate friendly choices by choosing responsible venues through their RFP template. The Meeting Room of the Future Trends Report shows us both how far we have come, and the work we still need to do.

Yes, we do talk about sustainability a lot—that’s because it affects all of us. And it’s easier than we think to be more climate friendly and source sustainable venues. If planners make a habit of requesting a venue’s carbon footprint report, they can make a huge difference with every event they host; venues can prevent enormous amounts of pollution with a small menu shift. And there are so many other ways to make a big difference—and have healthier, happier meetings in the process.