As an industry, we've been examining how to “clean up our act” for several years, so the conversation around green meetings isn't new, but it has certainly evolved since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic — especially with the rise of virtual meetings.
Just 18 months ago, flight shaming was gaining serious traction in some parts of the world. Today, after multiple lockdowns and ongoing travel restrictions, there is pent-up demand across Asia (and globally) to return to the skies and meet our international colleagues face-to-face.
New health and safety protocols have also meant the reintroduction of single-use items and plastics to ensure amenities are sanitised and 'virus free'. So, how do we balance safety and sustainability in order to build back better?
This is the question I posed to industry veterans during the recent Asia-Pacific Council for Hotels, Restaurants and Institutional Educators (APacCHRIE) virtual conference, which was jointly organised by Singapore hospitality school, SHATEC.
Pan Pacific Hotels Group (PPHG) CEO, Choe Peng Sum, acknowledged that managing safety with sustainability remains a balancing act, but clients are demanding green initiatives more and more. "Sustainable practices are part and parcel of [client] requirements. The mindset is 'if you don’t have it, I’m not coming' — it’s as easy as that."
Echoing this, Corning Singapore's strategic sourcing manager, travel and professional services, Peter Koh, said the company has sharpened focus on sustainability in recent years, especially in its MICE procurement process.
During the RFP process Koh said his dedicated 'green team' conducts a thorough audit of all vendors across the supply chain with a set of more than 20 questions. Each meeting Corning holds must also produce a sustainability report with details including carbon footprint (and offsetting measures) and delegate wellbeing.
"These reports are then embedded into our annual report because stakeholders want to see how they’ve contributed to our [three main] sustainability efforts: energy, carbon, water," he said.
Koh believes that building sustainability measurement into criteria for suppliers will continue to gain traction and that the requirement for greater visibility will be a driver for greater change.
Paul Cunningham, senior director, operations for South East Asia and Korea for InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) agreed, saying today's travellers are willing to pay on average 31% more if a hotel operates responsibly. The same can be translated to meeting spaces.
Costly, but worth the investment
PPHG recently launched Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay in Singapore, a new brand with a strong environmental ethos. The building, however, formerly the Marina Mandarin, was built in 1987, so a hefty investment was required to transform the property into a green hub.
"It’s not easy to just announce we are sustainable, there's really a lot of cost to making a hotel sustainable — even more if you have to convert a property that's more than 20 years old," Choe said.
"Putting in double glazed glass costs millions of dollars — and all the customer sees a window, but it reduced heat from coming in and saves in energy consumption. Rainwater harvesting systems cost millions, but it’s just being responsible.”
IHG's Cunningham agreed and, moving forward, said sustainability planning must be engrained in the pipeline. As part of the group's 'Journey to Tomorrow' — a series of ambitious commitments to drive change for people, communities and the planet — he said IHG is working closely with owners to ensure sustainable building standards and eco-friendly operating systems are part of the design and building phase.
Every step counts
While necessary safety precautions may have increased waste like single-use face masks and bento boxes for food delivery, options for green meetings remain.
Accor built the industry's first urban aquaponics farm at Fairmont Singapore and Swissôtel The Stamford in October last year, and is on a mission towards zero single-use plastic for its global hotels by 2022.
Tom Meyer, Accor's senior VP operations for Singapore, Philippines and Maldives pointed out that planners and delegates are asking to see the aquaponics farm on their coffee breaks. "Companies are challenging us now — what are we doing?"
He also noted that the younger generation of hospitality colleagues are "pushing us forward" to look at sustainability in a different way.
Corning Singapore's Koh added that in a post-Covid setting, sustainability can mean integrating a walking trail into the programme for team building, which reduces the need for ground transportation. Additional options include recycling bins in rooms and around the hotel, and allowing guests to opt out of housekeeping.
How does Asia fare?
The Global Destination Sustainability Index, which evaluates the sustainability performance of MICE destinations based on the United Nation’s 17 sustainable development goals, is currently dominated by European cities (two cities from Australia also make the top 20).
There are also increasing calls from industry associations across Europe and the UK for radical cross-sector collaboration to create measurable outcomes to achieve climate goals.
Choe believes Asia is "playing catch-up" but there are pockets of excellence. In Singapore, for example, the government is rolling out sustainability initiatives such as adopting the ISO 20121 building standard, and the Green Mark Gross Floor Area Incentive Scheme (GM-GFA), which encourages the private sector to develop buildings that attain higher-tier Green Mark ratings so "the moment you build and exceed the standard, you get to build another floor for 'free'," he said.
Incentives such as this, he believes, will motivative the industry here in Asia to drive change.
The APacCHRIE 2021 virtual conference, held from 2-4 June, gathered more than 380 delegates from 142 institutions and corporations, who dialled in from some 28 countries across Asia Pacific, US and Europe.
Additional reporting by Natalie Joy Lee.