How the incentives industry can transform the sustainability agenda

US incentive professionals deliberate over how they can influence delegate behaviour.

Reducing carbon footprint: communicating with transparency, consistency and rigour is key to avoid greenwashing.
Reducing carbon footprint: communicating with transparency, consistency and rigour is key to avoid greenwashing. Photo Credit: Adobe stock/ buravleva_stock

US incentive industry practitioners recently converged to discuss how their industry can communicate the value of sustainability and its best practices while still protecting profits and the overall incentive experience.

Views from a range of suppliers, including hotels, DMCs, event planners and tourism experts, were expressed at a recent SITE webinar. 

“We think that sustainability is more than good intentions like eliminating plastic straws - at Melia, we must integrate the concept throughout our supply chain,” said Tomàs Franquet Ella, sustainability director at Melia Hotels International.

“Be clear about your sustainability criteria. We have design and construction manuals that include these attributes. The way we use certain materials in furniture and rooms should be done from a sustainable perspective. The gastronomy offer is very relevant too and can be designed with health and proximity (how far food travels) in mind and by managing surplus food.” Ella added that communicating with transparency, consistency and rigour is key and that the industry must avoid greenwashing at all cost.

“What is not measured does not exist,” he said. “We need indicators that allow us to see the evolution and the goals we have; this can lead us to challenge for improvement. The better our stakeholders understand what we do, the more we can attract talent and investment.”

Rachel Riggs, GM, environmental strategy at Maritz Global Events spoke about the importance of measurement, and how event professionals have to evaluate the carbon footprint of events in order to make a difference. 

“Everything starts with measurement - we don't know how to get to net zero or whether other commitments have been met unless we measure,” she said. “We know how to make reductions - and we can implement events that can really make a difference - not only with regards to emissions but also in the social environment, within the destination where your meeting is held.”

Riggs said the events industry can take the lead as it has a huge opportunity to manage groups and their behaviour to lessen impact - and compared this to the fashion industry which has much less control, having to rely on consumers buying sustainable products for example.

“As event professionals we can change the behaviour of our incentive participants, by not having plastic, by recycling,” she said. “We can put sustainability into practice and demonstrate it, so delegates can take (these learnings) back with them.”

She also emphasised the importance of doing the right thing for the industry, for fear of facing regulation further down the line.

“That’s the last thing we want - governments coming in and telling us, you can't have carpet, you can only serve this,” said Riggs. “We need a collaborative effort from the industry, not a competitive one.”

Jane Scalette, changemaker at Terra Focus and previously deputy director, international marketing & promotions at Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, urged the incentive industry to collaborate further with governments.

“There’s a huge disconnect with the government side - as an industry we have so much information to share, as well as education and training,” she said. “Incentive industry professionals can really help governments understand sustainable practices around carbon footprint reduction and environmental stewardship.”

When looking at ESG (environmental, social, and governance), Melia’s Ella urged the industry to think more about governance when tackling sustainability issues.

“My experience in the last few years is that many hotels started doing things in terms of environmental protection because they feel very close to this, to the landscape and to beaches, for example,” he said. “ But governance is the most important (criterion) because it sets the foundations of every system that you define.”