The need for responsible events is getting clearer… but the commitment is still limited. As says Stephanie Harris, IRF President, “our interviews revealed that sustainable practices are becoming more important to clients and more prevalent in RFPs. However, many clients reconsider if it increases costs or compromises.” Here are the main conclusions.
- The demand is getting clearer (slowly)… though still slowly: almost 80% of respondents reported at least some pressure from clients to provide more sustainable options in meetings, events, incentive travel venues, and transport. The glass is exactly half full: to the question “To what extent are you seeing a trend among clients requesting more sustainable rewards?”, exactly 50% answer “none” or “little”, and 50% “somewhat” or “large”. We are still far from sustainability being a key criterion.
- We should listen to the market. The demand is getting real, and the study reminds us that 85% of consumers report that issues around environmental and social sustainability impact their purchasing decisions. And according to a 2021 Edelman Trust survey of several thousand employees, 61% say they choose to join or leave a firm based on the (mis)match with their values and beliefs, 60% expect the CEO to speak out about social and political issues that they care about, and 71% say that their ability to make a social impact at work is a strong expectation or a deal breaker when considering a new job.
- Cost is the primary barrier to sustainability. This is an obvious test of commitment, and according to the study, the commitment to sustainability does not go as far as justifying a premium. The study concludes it is important to identify and implement sustainable practices that can reduce travel costs.
- Destinations closer to home getting more popular, especially those that do not require air travel. This is both due to environmental and sustainability concerns, and to the need to reduce costs (and we could add time pressure in this overstressed world). Several interviewees are experiencing greater demand for closer and shorter incentive travel and a renewed interest in sustainable eco-tourism. Though few expect to see a significant shift away from glamorous destinations, in one provider’s catalog, ‘experience local’ has become the most popular reward.
- Local partners are in. The use of local entertainers, food suppliers, and speakers are ways to reduce costs, lower environmental impact, and support the local economy. The trend towards “re-locating” partners enters our industry. Another application is that DMCs can be engaged to design meaningful, sustainable experiences in communities where their events are held.
- … but international travel can have its own positive impact. The study reminds us it can be hugely beneficial to local communities and their economies, and vital to people’s understanding of and empathy toward others, values important in these tense times. Participants can also learn about local sustainable practices and bring those practices home. Perhaps most importantly, those who never visit the oceans, rainforests, plains, mountains, or other environments – and witness the life in them – may lack sufficient understanding of their importance to care about and advocate for them.
- Sustainable rewards and benefits are becoming more prevalent. Examples include charitable contributions on behalf of the employee, the opportunity for employees to reward their co-workers, and the donation of employee work time to a charitable cause.
- Sustainability motivates! The study reports employees being happier and more satisfied when rewarded with a charitable contribution to a charity of choice as opposed to cash, and this satisfaction is linked to greater overall team performance.
Even if results can be qualified as mixed, with sustainability not being a key decision factor yet, the change is underway and the study stresses that “MICE professionals should prepare now for profound changes in the way they execute their strategies and initiatives”. There is not only responsibility, but also business there, as Enrique Lores, HP’s CEO expressed in the Fortune Global Sustainability Forum. “Our thesis has been that we needed to work on sustainability goals because it’s the right thing to do, because we want to have a positive impact on the planet, but also because this can be the source of competitive advantage. More and more, both our consumers and our business customers care about it. Last year we did more than $3 billion in deals that we won because of our sustainability practices”.