Glasgow, UK-6 November,2021: People with American Amazon caps taking part in a demonstration march against climate change in Glasgow city centre during UN COP26 climate conference.

Or turkeys voting for Christmas

Following the completion of the COP26 conference, it seems ever more likely that the climate conference will not enter the history books as a ground-breaking event. A clear-cut answer pertaining to the future is blocked by those with the greatest responsibility towards global warming. These are individuals who are estranged from reality and cannot comprehend environmentally critical questions. On behalf of the fossil fuel industry, Glasgow was attended by perhaps more than 500 lobbyists?

Unfortunately, the meetings industry, similarly, often participates in poorly-produced propaganda campaigns for the public. Often, individual meeting planners are much more aware than those whose job it is. It is a fact that with existing models, we cannot make a quantum leap in our fight against the climate crisis. Impotent associations that are only purposeful to themselves do not contribute much to finding a solution.

The meetings industry urgently needs a global and transparent coalition to fight climate change. We need an industry that will be led by younger, educated and environmentally-motivated individuals.

Above all, we need a bounce across the destructive borders of countless campaigns. By solely planting trees, we will not save the dire situation. If something is labelled as green and sustainable, that does not equal it is factually green and sustainable. Green islands at international tradeshows cannot compensate for our carbon footprint. It is time to face the music; the meetings industry is a rather dirty sector that creates plenty of waste. We must start with a responsible measuring of the CO2 footprint of events. The sooner standards are set, the sooner we can expect change. In my opinion, the industry requires something resembling energy labels with white goods. The problem, however, is that every third label providers print on their products’ packaging, is untrustworthy as shown by Greenpeace research. That is why Greenpeace is demanding harsher legislation for preventing fraud and scams regarding product labelling.

Further demonstrative of the situation is our intiative, where we asked 20 leading destinations according to the GDS Index to provide us with honest answers. We only got a response from about a third of destinations that walk the talk. Anyone considering making a valuable impact in sustainability should read their interviews. The rest were evidently scared by the questions. I have the utmost respect for destinations that replied that they were only starting their sustainable path. I believe honesty is the best policy in this area.

I am well-aware of the seven deadly green sins as the organiser of the Conventa tradeshow. That was one of the reasons why, in 2009, we started the process of transforming Conventa into a green event. Since its inception, we acknowledged the fact that presumptuous proclamation to be green does not function. What we can do, though, is take small steps that will help the event become carbon-neutral. Indeed, we have taken many steps, yet, after 14 years, we are not even halfway on our criteria list. Out of 243 criteria, we have accomplished only 48 per cent. Thus, we have a long way to go.

Photo Credit: Net Zero Carbon Events

Conventa has recently joined the initiative Net Zero Carbon Events Intiative. From the aspect of spreading awareness regarding environmental topics, the project is admirable. The Net Zero Carbon Events pledge at COP26 was followed by distinguished politicians and over 1000 attendees online. Nonetheless, far more important than the promotional phase will be the second stage that shall see numerous steps taken to help clarify the undisclosed facts of our industry.

To illustrate, I will use the banal example of the usage of recycled paper. It may not be necessarily environmentally friendly just because it comes from a sustainable source. The production of the so-called recycled paper can manifest in immense gas emissions or water pollution. Claiming that we use recycled paper needs to be traceable with adequate documentation. The most misleading of all, in this case, is the “no CFCs” label considering that CFC chemicals are forbidden. Similarly, vegetable oil, bearing the label “cholesterol-free” is equally deceptive, considering such vegetable oil does not exist.

Another in a long line of problems are various environmental standards. In one of our latest researches, we delved into how aware individuals were.

As expected, answers were unsurprising to the question: Do you trust green event certificates issued by different institutions?

– 62.5 % Depends on the institution
– 19.4 % Yes
– 12.5 % No
– 5.6 % I don’t know

The answer thus depends on who issues the certificates. That is why survey respondees were asked how well they were acquainted with particular environmental certificates (from 1, I have never heard of it to 5 – I am completely familiar with it).

– 2,74 ISO 20121 – Sustainable Events
– 2,19 LEED: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design
– 2,00 The Austrian Eco-label Guideline 62 for “Green Meetings and Green Events”
– 1,97 The BS:8901- British Standard Sustainable Events Certification
– 1,95 Green Globe
– 1,91 EIC Sustainable Event Certificate
– 1,88 Green Meeting Standard
– 1,82 SEPC Sustainable Event Professional Certificate Programme by Events Industry Council
– 1,78 IACC Green Star
– 1,73 SMPP Sustainable Meeting Planners Programme
– 1,69 Green Key Meetings
– 1,65 A Greener Festival Certificate
– 1,58 Positive Impact Ambassador
– 1,55 SEA Accredited Professional

Photo Credit: Net Zero Carbon Events

We must also stop at advertising codexes that are in existence in almost every European country. In Slovenia, the 17th article of the Slovenian advertising codex was devoted to this. It states that advertising containing environmental argumentation should be envisaged so that it does not ill-treat the client’s concern towards the environment and does not exploit their possible lack of knowledge in regards to environmental topics. The claim “protecting nature” is not allowed to be used unjustifiably.

The relatively low average grade was surprising, meaning that standardisation in the congress industry is not on the agenda yet. Or, perhaps promoting standards is lacking.

This year’s conference in Scotland is supposedly going down into history. The mellow words in the agreement that are unfit for the alarming state have rightfully disappointed us. Moreover, inhabitants of the most endangered countries must feel betrayed and angry.

Photo Credit: Glasgow Convention Bureau

I am a firm believer that despite everything, the event helped boost our industry forward in considering the necessity of organising more sustainable events. Alas, climate conferences are organised only once a year while we have an opportunity to preserve our environment daily. I will conclude by quoting Padraic Gilligan on the problem of transport concerning the decarbonisation of the meetings industry. Padraic said that the entire meetings industry is, in essence, turkeys voting for Christmas.

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