Sustainability gets serious

It’s a tale of contrasts when discussing the importance of CSR and sustainability in the luxury events world. Depending on who you talk to – CSR is barely on the agenda at all, or it’s so important that it’s becoming an integral part of business pitches.

When we asked event professionals what they are seeing as increasingly important in luxury events, CSR scored lower than the likes of personalisation, local experiences and technology in our survey. But the general consensus when talking to people in the industry is that it’s an issue that can no longer be ignored.

Pure Events, Absolute Corporate Events and The Boosting Group are among the agencies that haven’t seen an increase in demand from clients for CSR or sustainable practices to be incorporated into their events. “I have to say that it doesn’t really come up in conversations with our clients,” says managing director Chris Parnham, although he adds that clients have reacted positively to the agency’s own efforts to give back through charitable associations.

One of the biggest challenges that has held clients back from committing to CSR is the financial implications. With budgets remaining tight, it can be difficult to justify additional costs for carbon-offsetting or other sustainable practices. “In the corporate world, budget will always be the leading factor. I think people want to be seen to do something sustainable, but when they see the difference in the price tag, it’s not viable,” says Pure Events managing director Charlotte Gentry.

“Clients in the charitable or public sector are probably more aware of this because they have to be, but realistically I think the impact that events are having on the planet does not make a difference to the decisions most corporates make on a day-to-day basis. Are they going to keep their staff in the UK and not travel in a bid to be greener? I think that’s highly unlikely,” she adds.

However, Gentry does admit that smaller changes, such as reducing plastics and banning plastic straws at events is coming and in many cases is being driven more by agencies than their clients. She referred to a debate she took part in last year on sustainability, where an agency said their client wanted plastic straws, but the agency pushed back against the client’s decision and eventually won.

While it’s naive to think that clients will suddenly start ruling out venues or destinations purely based on plastic usage or CSR credentials, the tide is beginning to turn and that’s in part due to increasing public awareness of environmental and sustainability issues. With around eight billion tonnes of plastic entering our oceans every year, and barely a week passing by without some alarming news headline about the future of our planet, there does seem to be a real public momentum around sustainability, which is putting pressure on the events industry to take action.

Plastic waste

Chantal Challenger, strategic meetings manager at BCD Meeting & Events Indonesia, says that in the past year “CSR has been firmly ingrained in clients minds when considering hotels, some clients more than others.” Julia Bary, managing director of Grand Luxury Experiences, agrees, adding that “CSR used to be distinctive of our US clients but now it’s important to everyone.”

An increasing number of clients are including CSR and sustainability in their RFPs and pitch documents. “In recent tenders and proposals, we have had to give CSR benefits for each destination we pitch and how we can incorporate client policies into their events. For example, to have canned water instead of plastic bottles, to ensure recycling bins are visible and to look at venues that have that sustainability edge,” says Angelee Rathor, managing director at SevenEvents.

Millennials are also a driving force behind the changing mindset around CSR. Compared to previous generations, millennials care more about working for an environmentally and socially responsible company than salary – 64% won’t take a job if a potential employer doesn’t have strong CSR practices (2016 Cone Communications Millennial Employee Engagement Study). Those CSR practices have to extend throughout a company’s entire practices, including its events, otherwise it could potentially impact on a company’s ability to appeal to, retain and inspire millennial talent.

Indeed, First Incentive Travel chairman and CEO Joost de Meyer says that being mindful of the environment is increasingly important to employees taking part in incentive programmes. “They are looking out for things like plastic bottle and straw usage at the hotels they are staying in,” he explains, though he adds that it is gradually becoming easier for clients to make sustainable choices as more hotels and venues implement policies to reduce their environmental impact.

Destination convention bureaus are also recognising the growing demand for sustainability in the MICE market and starting to better communicate their initiatives to help event planners make greener choices. Visit Monaco for example has launched a ‘Green is the New Glam’ campaign aimed at communicating that luxury can in fact be sustainable. With a target to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, the principality has introduced new transportation options – 17 bike stations, a solar powered bus boat and a dozen hybrid buses – to make it easier for visitors to reduce their carbon footprint, while a number of hotels including Metropole Monte-Carlo, Fairmont Monte-Carlo, Monte-Carlo Beach and Monte-Carlo Bay are investing in sustainable initiatives, with the latter two achieving Green Globe certifications for their efforts.

Metropole Monte-Carlo

Aside from the environmental impact of events, the other key aspect of sustainability is social impact. Incentives in particular lend themselves well to incorporating activities that leave a positive social legacy on the destination or local community. From planting trees in ravaged rural environments, to assisting with the conservation of endangered species and building schools or providing much-needed supplies for disadvantaged children, there are all manner of programmes available for corporate incentive groups to get involved with in destinations across the globe.

With incentive groups increasingly seeking not just unique, but life-changing experiences, these types of CSR activities are coming to the fore again. There are multiple benefits of incorporating CSR into an incentive travel programme, according to Top Banana director of incentives, Elliott Grant, who points to research suggesting that 84% of delegates are more engaged with a programme featuring CSR.  

“Individuals bond with company values and associate the business with lasting positive memories, the company builds a connection with a cause which helps with both staff retention and customer perception and the project benefits from raised awareness and connection with the both individuals and corporations,” he says.

While it’s heartening that clients are beginning to take sustainability more seriously, there is a long way to go before it becomes a given rather than a nice thing to do. The industry is still very client led says Black Tomato Agency co-head David Heron, which means that if a client is not pushing for it, then agencies tend to back off. But as more agencies embrace sustainability to engage their own employees, so the message is getting through to clients. “We could do a lot more to creatively bring CSR into our events and experiences, and I’m certain that moving forward as an industry, we will,” concludes Heron.

This article is part of our first inSPIRE: the ANNUAL edit – an in-depth report on current and future trends in the luxury events and incentives market, featuring exclusive research and interviews with industry experts from across the globe.

Stay tuned – the full report will be available to download soon…

By Susie Harwood


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