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June 30, 2008
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Heather Robinson:Engaging hearts and minds on sustainability




An event is defined as being an important happening. How we go about organising events, meetings, launches or conferences has now been put under the microscope, and environmental issues are understandably being put into play. Global warming is a serious concern and all companies have to look at how they are contributing to the health of the environment.

Are you going to jump on the carbon bandwagon and acknowledge your footprint by further developing environmental issues through the cheap and easy route of offsetting your carbon? Or do you tackle the serious issues of how incredibly fast the environment is deteriorating and what part you play in helping fix this situation, and in-turn address the influence you have on others to do likewise?

We can tick all of the boxes when putting a carbon neutral/environmentally friendly event together from travel arrangements to materials used at the event. We can take measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, using websites and email to promote the event rather than promotional material or handouts, making sure to recycle, and distributing presentations electronically after the event.

However, making a difference in this world starts with setting precedents that look at culture as well as cause and effect.

Cultural change
In September 2007, Bartle, Bogle, Hegarty (BBH) held a three-day conference called futurestock in Miami, Florida. Some 700 members of staff from their six worldwide offices were invited to meet, share ideas and celebrate their combined success across three days and nights of informal presentations, events and dinners.

Environmental responsibility is very high on the agenda of the founders and, of course, the carbon from the event was to be offset wherever reductions couldn’t be made, but there was always an awareness – a conscience – that the most effective way to reduce their carbon footprint was to not hold the event at all.

The solution came when the THA events team formed a partnership with The Carbon Neutral Company to invite key experts to attend what was to become one of the key sessions of the programme, The Carbon Effect: our clients, our business, our future. The intention wasn’t to highlight the impact that global warming was having on the planet, but rather, emphasise the impact that the BBH audience had at changing culture through the way they conduct their business and advise their clients on how they could conduct theirs to make a real difference.

This unique session was chaired by Channel 4’s Julian Rush, who quizzed experts, including Mark Armitage, chief executive of The CarbonNeutral Company, and Tachi Kiuchi, former Mitsubishi electric chief executive and current chief executive of The future500, about why the reduction in carbon emissions is business critical, and how BBH can work with clients to develop clear communications strategies to tackle the issue.

Striking a balance
The forum was a runaway success with what proved to be a highly challenging audience and in subsequent breakout sessions their personal impact was discussed through workshops and a presentation given by Eugene Harvey from ‘We are what we do’.

In a people-centric industry, the futurestock event managed to strike a balance between the business need for people to meet, challenge, debate, be inspired and celebrate with the social responsibility that we all have to care for our environment and the planet as a whole. We didn’t tick all of the environmental boxes in a physical sense. What we did manage to create was a new direction in thinking that highlighted the future potential that the whole of BBH has a responsibility to build a lasting legacy with their clients on a scale that would have a far greater impact than that of offsetting a single event could ever have.

Heather Robinson is director – global account management at the THA Group.


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