by Mitchell Beer
Background: As Chairman of the Green Meetings Industry Council’s Sustainable Meetings Foundation, Mitchell is a firm advocate of the sustainability movement taking place within the events industry. After reading our initial debate on the viability & economic rationale of green meetings, he asked us to post his opinion below. We were more than happy to provide a forum for his views.
The details on how sustainability cuts costs for meetings are just around the corner. Finally. It’s been a huge frustration that the details of the APEX/ASTM standards were confidential while they were being finalized.
But you saw Andrew Walker’s takeaway alert during the #eventtable chat—Level 1 of the standard consists entirely of sustainability measures that are either cost-neutral or save money. Unless you think our industry is 100% efficient, there are lots of places to save resources and money.
And if you consider that meetings produce the second-largest volume of waste of any industry, behind construction, it would take a lot of deliberate effort and persistence not to turn sustainability into a revenue generator.
Your argument about time, learning curves, and productivity is a slippery slope that risks bringing the industry back to the good old, bad old days of counting coffee cups and being treated like glorified party planners. You’re essentially saying no meeting professional should waste their valuable time on any potential innovation unless they can be certain the investment will pay back.
By that logic, the industry’s earliest pioneers in virtual meetings shouldn’t have made the effort, because nobody else had shown the way. We shouldn’t try to integrate social media, content capture services, mobile apps, or event scheduling systems with face-to-face events, unless we know for sure that each of those new frontiers will pay off.
We know that’s the wrong conclusion to reach for IT innovations. So why is it automatically the right answer for sustainability?
I agree—actually, I feel very strongly—that sustainability programs should be held to the same standard as any other innovation in the industry. They have to be based on solid research and planning, and companies should only adopt them if the balance of probabilities points to success.
The sustainability leaders in meetings and events have done their due diligence, and now they’re doubling down on their commitment. That’s how a couple of hundred industry volunteers ended up playing a crucial role in bringing the APEX/ASTM standards to life.
I think you’re right that we have to be careful about unintended consequences—with sustainable meeting programs, and with any other innovation.
It makes me crazy when chains, destinations, and other industry organizations announce grand, sweeping sustainability programs that turn out to be run out of the PR office, rather than the engineering department. The result is often greenwashing—whether the organizations actually intend it that way or not.
But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. On the contrary, it underscores the need for a standard that will give the industry a clear, consistent idea of how to introduce a sustainability program that really works.
I’ve gone on long enough, but I’ll just note how curious it is that you used ‘irrational exuberance’ as the headline for your post.
The phrase apparently goes back to a talk by Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan about 15 years ago, in a warning about rampant excess in financial markets: he was concerned that investors might not know “when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values,” leaving the economy vulnerable to sudden shocks like the dot.com bust.
By that definition, I don’t see anything rampant or irrational in the science or practice of sustainability—ecologists and engineers are among the most careful, methodical people you’ll ever meet. But when meetings and events, or any other industry, continue consuming energy and water, producing waste, and emitting carbon at a faster rate than the earth can sustain? That’s what I’d call irrational exuberance.