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February 8, 2011

GREEN MACHINE:Preview of the Green Meetings Industry Council Sustainable Meetings Conference

Ian Whiteling looks forward to an annual event that champions best practice in environmentally friendlier meetings and events.

If you thought for one minute that the global financial crisis and the following, much publicised Age of Austerity would place corporate environmental and social sustainability issues on the backburner, then you couldn’t have been more wrong. Green factors in the specification of event services were never the overriding criteria prior to the recession, but they were key, and, if anything, their importance has increased.

This is not only down to companies wanting to be seen to be greener, but also because people are waking up to the cost-saving nature of taking a more sustainable approach to business – from energy saving and increased efficiency levels to staff motivation, recruitment and retention.

One organisation that champions sustainable activity within the corporate meetings and events sector is the Green Meetings Industry Council (GMIC). From 20-23 February 2011, the GMIC holds its annual conference in Portland, Oregon featuring a programme of key insight and thought leadership on best practice on green event organisation and management.

Leading the way
“We believe that our industry needs more leaders to champion, lead and implement sustainability initiatives in all sectors and geographical regions of the industry,” says Guy Bigwood, the MCI Group’s sustainability director and GMIC president.

“Leaders are at all levels,” he continues. “It can be a chef in a kitchen of a hotel, the procurement manager of a global agency, the communication director of a big corporation. Sustainable change needs to happen in all departments and all these leaders will benefit if they can come together to share experiences, and network to create and find new solutions.”

Bold and brave words indeed, given more gravitas by the fact that Bigwood’s employers are one of the leading global events agencies. But surely the GMIC’s annual shindig requires buy-in at corporate planner level to be a credible conduit for change? From this perspective, Bigwood is proud of the breadth and diversity of the event's delegates.

“The 6th annual Sustainable Meetings Conference convenes senior level meeting and hospitality professionals from Fortune 500 companies, destinations, hotels and leading green industry associations into an immersive and innovative conference design,” he explains, highlighting the forward-looking approach to the architecture of the event to help get key green messages across.

“We have engineers, marketing executives, sales reps, sustainability professionals, students,” he continues. “In fact, it's one of the most diverse groups of people at any meetings industry event.”

Knowledge and networking
Drilling down into the content, the conference has three pillars:
• Challenge – where delegates gain new insights, increasing their knowledge and their leadership skills in sustainability.
• Collaborate – which helps delegates build new networks of friends, colleagues and suppliers to accompany them on their journey towards sustainability.
• Create – which aids delegates, through cross innovation, develop new solutions to today’s implementation problems.

What’s particularly refreshing is the GMIC’s ability to bring together key figures from industry associations across the globe in the name of sustainability.

“For me, one of the true indicators of our success is the involvement of senior staff from the other meetings associations: MPI, ICCA, PCMA and the CIC,” says Bigwood. “Collaboration is critical if we are to create long-term sustainable change. We can help these leaders develop their skills and network, and then they can use their massive distribution channels to accelerate the transformation.”

Green to the core
So what about the sustainable credentials of the conference itself? Surely you can’t hold a forum on green meetings without the meeting being as green as possible?

“GMIC follows the APEX green meetings and events standard recommended guidelines [introduced at MPI’s World Education Congress in Vancouver last July] for greening of its annual conference, from destination and venue site selection to measurement and post-event reporting,” Bigwood explains.

“The key to running a green event is selecting the right destination and venue. Portland and the Double Tree Hotel are both award-winning examples of sustainability. It’s hard to imagine anywhere better to organise the conference and we will be promoting and sharing their leadership stories in the conference.”

Well that certainly throws down the gauntlet to venues and destinations across the globe to show their green credentials and pitch for GMIC 2012!

“The chef at the double tree is a real inspiration and has planned an amazing schedule based on his concept of FLOSS: Fresh local organic seasonal and sustainable,” Bigwood adds.
The conference team has also engaged in some unique partnerships with local furniture providers, ranging from stage décor to other materials – click here to see for yourself. And it’s not just about environmental concerns, social issues are also high on the agenda.
“This year, in additional to the environmental elements (food composting, waste diversion, metal reusable water bottles provided to attendees, etc) we have a stronger emphasis on social and community legacy programmes,” says Bigwood. “The community programmes include: Yoga provided in the morning for delegates in partnership with Street Yoga, a non-profit organisation that teaches yoga to underprivileged youth and families in Portland, to an all-attendee community bike-building project to benefit the local Boys and Girls Club. Rather than added on to the conference programme, the social and community elements are integrated into it.”

On the agenda
Aside from a highly sustainable event, what's in store for delegates this year?

"We have designed a very special programme," Bigwood replies. "The 2011 GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference will use principles from the online gaming world – specifically role-playing, leadership, narration, feedback and ranking – to encourage attendees to actively engage and learn about industry developments in a hands-on manner. The non-traditional rhythm is intended to enhance attendee education and encourage provocative and inspiring discussions that tackle the current challenges and future opportunities of the sustainable meetings industry."

Inspiration is provided with a formidable keynote from Dr Karl Henrik Robert – founder of the Natural Step and a real hero of the sustainability world. His proven scientific system has been used by global leaders in sustainability like Nike, Ikea, Scandic Hotels and Interface hotels.

Inspiring an industry
A long-time champion of the GMIC is Paul Salinger, vice president, marketing at software giant Oracle, whose company has put the association’s recommendations into practice.

“What’s unique about the GMIC conference is the ability to connect with so many like-minded people,” he says. “These are people that really are committed and want to transform not only their own work, but an entire industry.

“Through shared experiences and learning, and hearing from experts in the field, the GMIC conference challenges us to think about how we plan and execute events differently to drive more value in a more responsible way.”

Meanwhile, in Europe, the director of the Estoril Congress Centre in Portugal and board member of the Estoril Convention Bureau, Pedro Rocha, is under no doubt about the impact the event can have.
“The GMIC Conference is the ultimate source of inspiration for those who are willing to lead the necessary change in the meetings business,” he says. “It’s a privileged platform where attendees can interchange experiences with a common goal – to build a better World.”

Click here for details about the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference programme.

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