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October 20, 2008

GREEN MILE 3:A statement of intent

When energy company E.ON’s Sustainable Energy Solutions division wanted to hold a group-wide corporate meeting, it needed a venue that reflected its own corporate social responsibility policies. Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre seemed a logical choice.

As one of the UK's leading electricity and gas companies, E.ON is constantly faced with sustainability challenges. On the one hand it aims to provide greener, more sustainable sources of fuel to meet both consumer trends and its own corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals. On the other hand technology is increasing, household demand for fuel is up and energy needs must be met.

So what is the right solution?

As a company, E.ON has come under fire for its desire to build a coal-fired power station, but it is arguably just looking at the opportunities available to it to meet customer needs.

Sheepdrove: Setting new standards in sustainability


In January 2007, the company created a new division called Sustainable Energy Solutions (SES), which set out to provide end-to-end carbon solutions for companies across the UK. After a year of success, the management team wanted to bring the group together to reflect on the past and plan for the future. The group was immediately faced with the conundrum of finding a venue that reflected its own CSR standings.

Making a statement
SES eventually chose Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre for the event, and as a result made an immediate statement to the attendees, the business as a whole, the press and the outside world. As a global leader in environmentally friendly conferencingm, Sheepdrove is at the forefront of green technology, services and design.

E.ON's event was spread over two days and included a variety of conference and teambuilding sessions, all of which were created to help SES move forward.

The conference sessions were based in Sheepdrove’s main suite – The Oak Room – where they combined presentations from E.ON's management team, shareholders and customers. In particular, Barrett Homes created a real buzz with its case study and description of a zero carbon development in Bristol.

Even the teambuilding exercises were created to reflect E.ON's improving green credentials and plans for environmentally friendly sustainable energy sources.

Back to nature
Instead of the more traditional motorised sports (which Sheepdrove refuses to offer), the delegates were set wildlife-focused tasks, including the building of a bird-hide, birdhouses and benches – all of which link back to the centre's sustainable woodland management programme.

"We were delighted to find such a hidden gem in the middle of the Berkshire Downs," says Sam Bayliss, head of SES. "Sheepdrove seemed to be the perfect choice and we were not disappointed. The event was a huge success and the venue was the perfect choice. A real eco-friendly conference with a difference."

Still a long way to go

However, although keen to praise SES for its determination to find a venue that matched its true CSR credentials, Sheepdrove centre manager Russel Downing still believes there is a long way to go before other organisations share similar visions and values.

“There has been a huge amount of press coverage and awareness raising campaigns on CSR, much of which is positive, but there is also plenty of green-washing taking place from companies just wanting a ‘slice of the cake’," he says. "Too many businesses have seen an opportunity to make some extra money and made small changes to appear green. It may be working in the short-term, but it isn't a long-term solution.

“I am not convinced all this interest will lead to dramatic changes. Delegates will always want five-star luxury, the non-sustainable driving experiences and extravagant, unseasonal, foreign food – all of which we work round at our events."

The question is, as an industry, will we let Downing be proved right, or take green issues more seriously and make sure the venues and other suppliers we use match our own sustainable ambitions?

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