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January 28, 2009

Andrew Williams: Beyond carbon footprint and recycling

Let’s begin with a reminder of the immortal words of diva, chanteuse and all-round vocal legend Whitney Houston when she sang,

“I believe that children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.”

Beautiful, isn’t it?

I think kids get a raw deal in the events industry. Go to any industry show and you’ll soon hear the main gripe from exhibitors: “Too many students!” Never mind that most students couldn’t care less about your below-average hotel or the thousandth chocolate fountain they’ve seen that day, they are still clogging up your stand and no doubt scaring off all the hundreds of eager customers just waiting to get their cheque books out.

It’s easy to forget that we were all young once, and perhaps being part of the old boys club that is the events industry is not always everyone’s ambition in life. It’s only by encouraging young people that the events industry is actually a worthwhile platform to develop their skills that there’s any chance of us dragging live events kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Planning or the future

Just as the current financial gloom will at some point lift, so the cycle of employment and unemployment will also continue to revolve. Right now it’s tough to find a good job in the events industry, but it won’t always be that way. In months and years to come, it’s going to be tough for us as agencies, venues and suppliers to find staff that are up to the job and that want to work with us. At that point, we’re going to have to show that we care about people, not just profit. 

It doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. We are currently working with London Met University to encourage their event management students to think more sustainably. We’re also delivering guest lectures at Bucks New University and are always keen to develop links with other educational establishments.

Unlike many event management agencies – come to that, many businesses full stop – we also offer a programme of paid internships. So rather than getting a succession of downtrodden envelope-stuffers who can barely scrape together the bus fare home, we attract talented, intelligent, enthusiastic interns who recognise that their skills are being developed and are therefore eager to get involved and make a good impression. They can start and leave at short notice, and when they do move on they become ambassadors for our brand, assuming we’ve treated them fairly. Imagine an army of ex-interns in your business sector, all telling people how great it was when they worked for a fortnight at your venue, or what a laugh it was putting ideas together for that pitch. No one is ever going to make their first million an intern, but if you want to operate your business ethically, surely it’s a good start to pay people to work for you?

Beyond the three Rs
This is a great example of how the sustainable agenda has a much wider impact than just thinking about carbon footprints or recycling. Sustainability is about reaching a balance, ensuring that the needs of the environment, the community and the financial structure we work in all complement each other. Paying attention to how your business develops and evolves is part of that sustainable approach. 

It’s also another example of how sustainability can add value and create opportunities for your business, a far cry from the old green cliché of paying more for a substandard product. If sustainability isn’t “on brand” for your business, or doesn’t fit with your company values, the chances are that the fault doesn’t lie with sustainability – it probably lies with you.

Andrew Williams is managing director of Seventeen Events.

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