60 seconds with… VO Communication’s Denis de Wagheneire on sustainability

Sustainability will be a key theme at inVOYAGE 2019. And it’s a topic that Brussels-based VO Communication’s client services director Denis de Wagheneire – who is attending this year’s event as a buyer – is passionate about.

As part of this week’s special inSPIRE edit on sustainability, we caught up with Denis to find out what the agency is doing to reduce the impact of its client’s events on the planet.

Tell us more about VO Communications?
We’re one of the top three communications agencies in Belgium and we have ten companies within the business focusing on different services, from design and content management to institutional services, marketing and events. I work in the events department, which has 25 people, and specialises in incentives and team-building.

Are you seeing increased demand for sustainable options from clients?
We have been trying to be more sustainable across the VO business for many years but its relatively new on the incentive side – we have been only really been actively pushing it for about a year and a half. It is quite difficult in the events world because of the carbon impact from air travel, plus there has historically been very much of a throw-away culture in the events industry with lots of things like decorations only being used once.

I have definitely noticed a big change from, say five years ago in terms of demand from clients. Not all of our clients are interested sustainability, and it’s a lot easier for smaller events than larger ones as the cost is less, but around 75% of our clients this year have taken up the option to reduce the impact of their events.

If a client prefers not to do it, as a business, VO pays a fixed amount from our own pocket to one of our NGO partners. We are trying to be ambassadors and show clients that as well as being better for the planet, it’s great for image building and can have a positive impact on their brand.

We’ve actually won a subsidy from Brussels city to create a resource that will be useful for all event agencies and suppliers in our country. It’s going to be like a guide that offers advice on how to share, reuse and recycle materials and reduce the impact of events.

What sustainable options are you offering clients?
We work with CO2logic, an independent climate advisory organisation based in Brussels, to enable our clients to make their events carbon neutral. They have created a document to enable you to keep a track of how many tonnes of CO2 your event is using, from flights to transporting people on the ground, within venues and hotels and transporting goods and food.

Clients are then able to pay a certain amount per tonne of CO2 to one of several NGOs that we work with to neutralise the impact of their event. For example, it can be replanting tress into a forest, or one of the NGOs we work with in Africa provides special kettles to enable tribes to boil their water using 60 times less wood than they would normally use. If a client subscribes to the service, they get a certificate from CO2logic to say their event was CO2 neutral.

Other ways we can make events more sustainable on-site is of course to not use plastic bottles, and to work with caterers and suppliers to try and encourage them to use local produce – we want to be local and work with as many local people and businesses as possible.

For example, we recently took a group of 60 people to Marrakech where we privatised a desert camp. As well as pushing our suppliers on the ground to work with local people and use local food produce, we wrote everything down within the system to calculate the carbon impact, worked out the cost to compensate, and the client paid to make their event CO2 neutral.

Do you think sustainability is just a fad or will continue to be a major trend?
I think everybody needs to be responsible and show that they want to make a difference, but people need to do it at their own speed, and it’s obviously going to be harder for companies in sectors like petroleum.

It’s going to be interesting for us as an organiser to think differently and look at the objectives of company incentives and how you can use sustainability to reinforce the values of the client.

One of the reasons I want to attend inVOYAGE this year is to talk about how clients react to sustainability and also how the incentive sector is evolving and how we communicate the value of incentives to clients.

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