Sustainable events may seem like a costly endeavour given the current economy, but they can be more pertinent than ever post Covid.
“[Current hotel performance] has a big impact on what happens in the world of sustainability. The biggest challenge is how to keep the momentum going — for sustainability to not play second fiddle," Jesper Palmqvist, Asia Pacific director of data solutions provider, STR, said during an event for sustainable tourism.
Speaking at the PHIST conference last week, Palmqvist said: "Right now, the economy is more important. It is hard to argue that without money, you can influence environmental [causes]. Health ministers are calling the shots and [environmental concerns are lower priority]. Getting sustainability in there from ground zero is a better opportunity."
At the same time, it is a long shot to expect the private sector to proactively embrace sustainable practices due to their costly associations. The current climate has forced struggling businesses, including in the meetings and events industry, to prioritise shorter-term considerations.
This does not mean that top-down sustainability initiatives are on hold. Important work to broker sustainability to private sector players continues at the United Nations Environment Programme’s SEA Circular initiative.
Maggie Lee, programme management officer for SEA Circular, told M&C Asia: “We understand that many industries are struggling at these difficult times. That’s why the approach by civil society and intergovernmental organisations now is shifting to providing solutions instead of asking for proactive changes.
"Tools, communal resources and hurdle-removal are some of the things that are prioritised so we could help the private-sector transition as smoothly/seamlessly as possible,” she said.
Post Covid, sustainable practices could have added importance for event planners.
Sustainable events can translate to cost savings, Pat Satkhum, senior manager, Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), stressed during a PHIST masterclass. From impressive displays made of up-cycled crates encasing LED lights, to locally-sourced produce that also doubles as decoration, the examples of cost-saving sustainable practices are plenty.
On the topic of farm-to-table dining, speakers at PHIST also foresee the trend gaining traction post Covid. Incorporating locally-sourced produce into hospitality and events supply chains is a win-win for this climate. Not only is this prudent for business bottom lines, it also happens to be in vogue as an F&B concept that resonates with consumers.
Importantly, Satkhum pointed out that sustainable events are not only environmental, but also social. Herein lies the overlap between political will and sustainable business practices. Despite industry observers noting a shift away from environmental sustainability, there is growing political will in a Covid-hit world to incentivise practices that benefit local employment and income.
As the events industry awaits a return to normal, and with layoffs and rationalisation exercises the talk of the day, now is the time for the MICE stakeholders to revisit their supply chains and align themselves with sustainability, not least with regard to social inclusion.
“Sustainability is long-term. But as shown in the PHIST masterclasses, they can also save cost (in the immediate term). All playbooks are out… but [hotels] can obtain sustainable certification. It Is not that hard,” Palmqvist summed up.