A pledge for sustainability

Date: 14/10/2021


I am writing this column in Waimes, in the south of Belgium, while enjoying some time off with the family. Over a month ago, floods destroyed several villages only 20 kilometers from where we are. Thousands of people lost their homes, and the material damage is immense. Just as an illustration: 50,000 cars were damaged or destroyed and 155,000 ton of debris has already been collected. It brings climate change and the impact it has awfully close. At the same time there is hope: a sense of urgency has emerged at all levels of the society to address this challenge, including the events industry.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report published mid-August was very clear: global warming is speeding up AND it is still not too late, if we decide to act now. The COP26, taking place early November at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow is the moment where the world can say: it stops here.

The event industry needs to pick up this challenge. During the AIPC Annual Conference mid-July, sustainability was high on the agenda. We had several panel discussions with representatives of both the industry and the UNFCCC and the conversation continued during coffee- and lunch breaks. The message was clear: sustainability is not an option anymore. Venues which do not have a net zero plan will attract event organizers nor investors in the nearby future. At the same time, we need to acknowledge the efforts already done by convention centers worldwide and ensure that all parties involved in defining sustainability policies are fully aware of these efforts. Achieving net zero in the event industry is however an objective which can only be met if all the stakeholders in the value chain commit to achieving it, hence the need for an industry wide initiative.

The UNFCCC already initiated such initiatives in other sectors, like sports and fashion – resulting into detailed roadmaps towards net zero with key milestones and measurable objectives to report upon. In their view, the events industry could be the next chapter and the conversation was started with UFI, ICCA and AIPC – three global associations, representing a substantial part of the events value chain. Together with the UNFCCC, the three associations created a steering group, composed of nine CEOs from organizations representing organizers, venues, and exhibitors.

This steering group was complemented with an operations group, which took on the endeavor of defining a pledge which was inclusive – an element which is of very high importance to the UNFCCC and a key success factor – and will indeed lead to the net zero objective. By mid-August, the pledge was drafted and ready to be shared with the full event industry for further input.

A lot was learned in the process. The draft pledge evolved from an eight-bullet action list to a four pillar, process driven commitment. The pledge also takes into account different realities across the globe, when it comes to – for example – switching to reusable energy. And the pledge has the ambition to lead by ambition and statistics, demonstrating progress made in a clear and tangible way. In a nutshell, the proposed pledge comes down to the following:

  1. Develop a plan to achieve net zero by 2050
  2. Collaborate with the other stakeholders in the value chain to drive change
  3. Measure and track scope 1, 2 and 3 GHG emissions
  4. Report on progress made

These are very ambitious and much needed commitments, reflecting the very nature of the event industry: driving excellence by collaboration.

We also realized that we needed an industry wide platform to get an industry wide commitment. Therefore, JMIC, the Joint Industry Meeting Council, will be used as the platform to collect your input and make the pledge a truly SMART one: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time bound.

As always, the success depends on the parties joining. But this time, there is no doubt about the cause, so there is no excuse not to join.

Sustainability is the single biggest issue we face, and we can – if we act now – make a real difference. So go to the JMIC website, sign up and make it happen. We can.

Sven Bossu, CEO AIPC

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