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Photo: IMEX

Zeitgeist of the meetings industry

IMEX trade show is one of the most anticipated moments in the year when we measure the zeitgeist of the meetings industry.

The central aim of the trade show is to create measurable effects most attendees understand through the following numbers in 2024:

  • 12,000 attendees
  • 63,000 pre-arranged meetings
  • 3,211 hosted buyers from 83 countries
  • 3,100 exhibitors
  • 179 media representatives from 22 countries

More revealing signs about the industry’s form come from topics discussed throughout the three days, at presentations or the several formal and informal talks we hosted with industry leaders at our Ljubljana Talks podcast. One of the omnipresent topics was event architecture and adapting event formats to up-and-coming generations. Using artificial intelligence was another ubiquitous topic. Speakers speculated whether AI will replace destination organisations, trade shows and other human jobs and whether technology is an augury of a changing industry. Proponents of AI promptly pointed out that IBM recently laid off 8,000 employees because of AI. The question thus remains which jobs AI will take over in the meetings industry. Mega events were another prominent talking point, highlighting the upcoming Olympics in Paris and other spectacles. IMEX also promoted well-being extensively. The World Health Organisation defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Events have tremendous communication power, which is why we can use them to promote well-being initiatives. We must praise IMEX for doing a pioneering job in this field.

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America innovates, China copies, and Europe regulates

The central topic of this year’s event was undoubtedly the sustainable transformation of the meetings industry. That is why we devoted tremendous attention to this matter. According to many companies, the ESRS legislation is a game-changer that will end the period of sustainable fairytales. Many event clients have been obliged to write sustainability reports from 1 January 2024 onward according to the CSRD Directive (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive) and the ESRS Standards. There are over 50,000 such companies. Event organisers will need to provide them with concrete information acquired at events while identifying value chains and integrating the collected data into a reporting system.

We surveyed how this looks in practice at a mega event by preparing a list of seven magical positive surprises and seven flops we hope never reoccur.

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Top - positive surprises

1. IMEX began measuring its carbon footprint accurately. That included calculating the carbon footprint of mobility. The initiative represents a quantum leap towards a precise carbon footprint measurement and transparent communication.

2. The solar electric plant on the roof of Frankfurt Messe has been ensuring green energy since 2020, generating 2.4 GWh per year. The remaining electricity comes from traceable renewable sources (solar and wind energy).

3. IMEX excelled in promoting and implementing activities to improve the health and well-being of attendees. Their programme included physical, social and emotional activation and relaxation. Commendable and worth following suit!

4. IMEX Frankfurt plays a pivotal role in strengthening human capital in the meetings industry. They contributed to fostering human capital by preparing an exceptional free educational programme accessible to all.

5. For the first time, an event of such size ensured inclusion for the LGBTQ community. Labelling toilets was an evident step in ensuring equality.

6. The detailed instructions for sustainably organising the exhibitor stands and attending the trade show were praiseworthy. That serves as an excellent starting point for seriously transforming the industry. You can learn more about it at https://imex-frankfurt.com/people-and-planet-pledge. Unfortunately, not everyone follows their sustainable tips.

7. The possibility of carbon offsetting was well-accepted by most attendees. Still, most would like to know what happens with their donations.

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Flop - negative surprises

1. Sustainability seems to be the last worry of the people setting up the exhibitor stands. Enormous heaps of plastic and other waste ended up in the garbage bins before the opening. Most attendees never see this side of the event, yet the organisers should take radical measures and a sustainable approach to resolving this clandestine polluting side of the event.

2. The horrifying size of single-use carpets is unacceptable for a trade show of this format, not least because there are more sustainable alternatives, such as www.rewindcarpet.com.

3. The show’s calculation of personal carbon footprints and CTA to carbon offset is too generic and does not include emission factors. It is hard to trust it.

4. We still do not have precise data on what happens with leftover food at exhibitors’ stands. IMEX is a vast restaurant in a way. Leftover food should be donated to the most vulnerable groups by carefully measuring the amount of waste food.

5. Several destinations still prepare sustainable handbooks. Although praiseworthy, they represent neither breakthrough nor disruptive innovations, doubtless when generated by AI. The era of sustainable handbooks is long gone.

6. Speaking about small steps is still the dominant narrative of many exhibitors and stakeholders despite nature ruthlessly reminding us of the climate crisis. It is time for serious action.

7. Colossal amounts of plastic continue blanketing the venue floor before and after the show. The organisers should ban plastic entirely in the future.

We could go on listing the tops and flops, but the mentioned reasons are enough for a brief sustainable analysis of this year’s IMEX. Statistics have shown that 60% of all sustainable strategies, agendas and pledges remain unrealised. The reasons vary from company to company, yet communication plays an essential role, alongside the perennial reasons such as staff shortage, hierarchy of projects that disfavours sustainability, work overload and lack of motivation among employees.

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In the context of sustainable event transformation, Toleranca marketing and Arctur unveiled the innovative tool for making sustainability ratings of events and their certification, Planet Positive Event. Before the debut, the two companies had tested the tool at pilot projects and various corporate events, as well as Conventa and IAPCO AM&GA. They were among the first in the world to combine a cutting-edge carbon footprint calculator, precise criteria for sustainable events in 16 segments, a certification system and external assessment following the ESRS Standards for sustainable reporting and the CSRD Directive. The responses by international event organisers and the expert community show that the tool is a groundbreaking development. At IMEX, the platform made its global debut. Attendees of the trade show were most impressed by the excellent user experience, easy-to-use app and complexity. The regenerative criteria, measuring the positive effects of events beyond carbon footprint, are one of the stand-out features. Likewise, trustworthy national and international external assessors make the tool unique. The assessors include sustainability experts who guarantee the credibility of the final sustainability rating.

If we want to sustainably transform our events, make behavioural changes among event attendees, and ultimately, change the business practices of attendees, we must build a reputation as a modern company that understands the importance of going beyond “business as usual” by carefully planning communication and transformative sustainable practices at events.


Here is the most intriguing part of our sales talk in Frankfurt, where we compared fairytales to real life:

IN FAIRYTALES…IN REAL LIFE…
We follow the GRI Protocol in sustainability reporting. That is a great start, but the GRI Protocol is only voluntary and non-mandatory.From 1 January 2024, we have been following the ESRS standards, which are legally binding and will gradually encompass most EU companies.
We calculate the carbon footprint of events with imprecise and incomplete calculators. The calculation of Scope 3 emissions by the GHG Protocol is particularly problematic.The Planet Positive Event precisely calculates all three scopes of emissions and covers all GHG areas from Scope 1 to Scope 3.
We need a lot of time and effort to collect all the data, as we are unaware of the logic behind emission factors. There are no standardised forms for gathering data.Planet Positive Event covers all 9 GHG segments of organising events. Gathering data is thus straightforward and supported by understandable forms.
We follow guidelines and handbooks that are generic and imprecise. We don’t rely on science but on our gut feeling and universal suggestions.We rely on science and follow 335 tips on sustainable event organisation, more than 200 recommendations for the future and take inspiration from 9 collections of ideas for measuring carbon footprint.
In fairytales, we love to use the word ESG – one of the most used and misused terms. Unfortunately, many do not know what it means or how to measure it.The ESG matrix automatically generated in our tool clearly and transparently presents achieved KPIs and prompts event organisers to implement concrete measures.
UN’s sustainable development goals – SDG goals are part of every sustainable fairytale. However, in fairytales about events, the SDG goals are never explained.The SDG matrix automatically generated in our tool presents results clearly and transparently. It also measures an event’s regenerative effects in EUR.
There is no expert external assessment in fairytales. Opinions about the credibility of such reports come down to initiatives and biased evaluations.External assessment conducted by an independent expert assessor is a guarantee of quality. Trustworthy assessors are one of the ESRS requirements.

 

I personally hope our industry stops speaking empty words and starts trusting hard science in the next two years. Once we achieve that, the period of sustainable fairytales will undoubtedly end, similar to the debate about seatbelts in cars, which then ended abruptly.

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