Kongres Magazine talked to Maja Vidergar, an experienced congress sales and marketing specialist at Cankarjev dom – CD Congress Centre Ljubljana. With an M.A. in Geography and Cultural Anthropology, she is a strong proponent of environmental protection, sustainability, and the circular economy. Her footprint in the Slovenian meetings industry spans a prolific career, from the head of the Congress Department at Kompas Travel Agency, a board member of the Slovenian Convention Bureau and a member of the Kongres Magazine editorial board.

Q1: What is your outlook on the past year? What business and organisational challenges did you face in the post-corona times, and what positively surprised you?

I am glad events are live again, meaning they are back in face-to-face form. The positive surprise to me is the warmth, authenticity and humanity that can be felt in actions and communication. I think we are more open and understanding. That doesn’t surprise me. I believe it is a feeling we all share after the last two traumatic years, the isolation, and the pandemic society shutdown.

Q2: We constantly mention sustainability. How good are we when moving from words to action?

As I see things now, there is a big problem with commodities and money. Regarding the former, we need to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and manage things differently. The way we implement events and meetings should follow a new sustainable path. Concerning the latter, we should invest in improvements. But on the other hand, sustainability also makes money. If approached from the right angle, it can also help increase an event’s revenue. And that gives me the comfort that things will eventually change for the better.

Photo Credit: Cankarjev dom

“The way we implement events and meetings should follow a new sustainable path.”

Q3: Why is sustainability important to you?

We are all aware that our way of life should change if we want to survive on this planet. Maybe stating facts this way is a bit melodramatic; however, not crossing the 1.50 Celsius global warming line prevents the most devastating effects on Earth, which result in large-scale drought, famine, heat stress, species extinction, loss of entire ecosystems, and loss of habitable land, pushing more than 100 million people to the brink of survival. I think everybody should contribute as much as they can to improve this situation. And there is little time…What we can do now affects our future.

Q4: In your own words, how would you describe a sustainable venue? What are the main things that venues must consider to become more sustainable?

In my opinion, a sustainable venue does not contribute to the increase of carbon footprint in any way. All the efforts and praxis should be aimed at reducing the present figures. That means applying the necessary change. A venue should consider at least five areas when endeavouring to become more sustainable: energy, water, waste, procurement, and community projects.

Q5: What are the main challenges when it comes to creating a sustainable venue?

Money and knowledge. Initial costs are higher, but we should look at the bigger picture. That is the investment for the future. I would also like to mention knowledge. The more we know, the better we can use our knowledge, and with more knowledge, we can make the right decisions. If properly communicated, these decisions can help strengthen brand awareness and trust and potentially even address a larger audience that appreciates the sustainability goal. But we must all be aware that our communication should be transparent (facts & figures) and true. Our clients are highly sensitive, and the chain of trust should not be broken.

Urban beekeeping Cankarjev dom
Photo credits: Cankarjev dom

“Sustainability doesn’t just have to mean buying organic food and expensive materials.”

Q6: How does sustainability usually impact an event budget?

The direct cost of implementing sustainable ways is higher… But sustainability doesn’t just have to mean buying organic food and expensive materials. If we look carefully, we can significantly reduce the carbon and waste footprints with sustainable actions such as rethinking our procurements (food, decoration, equipment), reducing where possible (swapping bottled water for tap water, encouraging attendees to bring their own water bottles etc.), go digital (digital signage instead of printed signs and posters, digital & paperless communication), reuse (uniforms, furniture, fittings and equipment, even adjusting the dress code for themed events).

I strongly advocate a rewarding system on an EU level for venues or organisers who implement events/meetings with a low carbon footprint (to be honest, there are no zero carbon events, despite all our efforts).

Q7: Are clients more aware of the problems of climate change? What do they wish to change or achieve when organising an event?

We notice more conscious clients every year, especially after the pandemic. Today, it has become more important than ever for companies to behave in a more sustainable and eco-friendly way. But do the organisers select a venue only based on its green or sustainable credentials? Unfortunately, not. The organisers see a venue’s green commitment as an advantage and not a necessity. The selection criteria are still based on the format and goals of an event.

Photo Credit: Cankarjev dom

“We are cautiously optimistic about the coming year, given that economic uncertainty is on the rise.”

Q8: Carbon footprint measurements have shown that more than 80% of the carbon footprint is created by transportation when organising international events. Do you agree that the positive social effects compensate for this carbon footprint, or is the solution to travel less, even when we organise congresses?

I believe in both in-person and hybrid events, especially when the latter is a way of reducing the carbon footprint and making more eco-friendly choices, meaning less travel by car or plane. Maybe we should go back and organise smaller and regional events (easily accessible with public transport and railway) and switch to big, global ones only every second or third year. I do not believe that much in the carbon offset credits can magically turn our event into a carbon-neutral one. I am also very strongly committed to community projects that have positive social effects, such as afforestation, programmes for preserving sensitive ecosystems and many more. Those are all valuable projects for our planet and our society.

Q9: What are your predictions for the upcoming year? Does Cankarjev dom have a busy congress year?

According to the existing bookings, 2023 is all about growth – the number of events will match the pre-pandemic levels and is estimated to grow even further. We are expecting a strong meeting year in 2024. We are cautiously optimistic about the coming year, given that economic uncertainty (inflation, supplier & staffing challenges, the threat of recession) is also on the rise.

Q10: What are your personal wishes for 2023?

To remain as sound and healthy as I can be – is the best way to fight the stress we face in our daily work routine.

Learn more about Cankarjev dom here.

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