Impact and Measurement

In 2015 the United Nations created 17 Sustainable Development goals to create a world that works for everyone. These goals range from gender equality to sustainable cities, from access to education for all to sustainable procurement. These goals cover all areas of life from health, to work, to food. These goals are varied and vital to create a balanced world. There is only one industry which is relevant to all of these goals. On first guess you might assume that industry is technology or pharmaceutical or retail? The one industry which is essential for all these goals to be met and for creating a world that works for everyone is the meeting and events industry. The global meeting and events industry brings people together and facilitates an opportunity for learning, idea exchange and collaboration. By coming together solutions are developed for the greatest challenges we face from disease and poverty to climate change.

There is significant global data on the economic impact of an event but to focus purely on economics is to overlook the wider impact of an event. Unfortunately there is little evidence of the event industry measuring the social and environmental impact of people coming together to collaborate and learn. The global industry will talk about this impact (usually under the description ‘legacy’) but the focus continues to be more on money spent on hotel nights and number of people employed rather than new inventions created and new collaborations fostered.

In 2010 the Global Reporting Initiative launched a reporting framework for the event industry to enable there to be a standard approach to sharing data on economic, environmental and social impacts. Since launching there have been a limited number of events which have put this report into action and communicated their findings to the industry. The Olympic and Paralympic Games are the notable exception as the concept of sustainability continues to grow in strategic importance. Unfortunately the wider event industry can be of the opinion that the Olympic and Paralympic Games are unique in terms of their ability to report and measure.

So what is the future for the event industry measuring, sharing and taking time to understand their impact?

Firstly, if the industry took more time and focus to measure their economic, environmental and social impacts the results would probably be good. We would see that people attending events meet with a greater of number of people than if they tried to hold face to face meetings on an individual basis. We would see the positive results that happen when people come together to collaborate: from creating new treatments for disease to innovating on solutions for food poverty. We would also understand just how many people are involved with and impacted by events and how vital events are as a route to behaviour change.

Secondly, it is a recognised fact that what gets measured gets monitored and will reduce. Measurement and reporting is way for any industry to understand the issues they are facing. Regularly event industry professionals will ask questions like:

“What is better a biodegradable cup or washing a porcelain cup to reuse it?”

The truth is we do not know which option is better. Measurement is vital so we can understand the questions to ask to find the right solution. For example, what is the waste infrastructure? Where are the cups being manufactured? How will they travel- a life cycle analysis is not something the event industry is familiar with doing but the more we measure the more we can start to understand how our impact depends on multiple factors.

Finally, sharing our measurements and our understanding of our impacts is essential for our industry to develop and become more sustainable. Instinct may be for measurements and reports to be keep internal and private. This approach is potentially damaging. If people could share their learnings we would be much more likely to be able to collaborate to create solutions. A great example of this is the International Tourism Partnership’s Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative which is making it possible for the industry to understand carbon footprints of hotels by geographic location and size. A healthy competition to decrease negative impacts is just what the industry needs to be stimulate action.

Our changing global economic environment, climate change and societal threats such as terrorism means the event industry will have to increase its ability to prove its relevance. Collecting, reporting and understanding both positive and negative impacts is essential for this. As we approach this years CSR Share Day on April 22nd it is a great opportunity to review the action we are taking to demonstrate to the world the value of our industry and how our industry could be used to inspire positive change (rather than being blamed for negative impacts).