AIPC CEO Sven Bossu sees the sun shining again for convention centres and the sustainability agenda:
Preparing the AIPC Annual Conference is a great opportunity to reach out to our members and get a feel of what is really going on in the world of convention centres. While I am writing this column, it is 27°C outside, sunny and with a beautiful blue sky – which is exactly the sensation I get when talking to the members. Looking at the global map, the picture is still unbalanced but business is coming back; which allows to focus again on the biggest opportunity we have ever faced: sustainability.
It is actually a delight to hear: “I do not have a lot of time right now: we have back-to-back site visits, and we are preparing an event which takes place in two days’ time”. It is the type of message we missed over the last 12 months, and it is one I am starting to hear more and more. To be clear: it is not a message I am hearing on all continents, and we are still facing a lot of uncertainty when it comes to vaccinations, variants and international travel regulations. But there is a breeze of optimism.
At the same time, this summer breeze also reminds me of another thing: climate change. The moment my home country (Belgium) can rightfully claim to produce great white wines, you know there is a problem. And where there is a problem, there are opportunities.
Despite the pandemic, 2020 has been an important year for sustainability. The US re-entered the Paris Climate Agreement and the European Union put the bar higher for climate targets for 2030. That is the day after tomorrow. All industries will need to adapt to make those targets – including the event industry.
The COP26 which will take place in the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) later this year is likely to further boost ambitions, supported by the fact that governments, investors, consumers, and entrepreneurs – for different reasons – have put into motion a snowball which cannot be stopped and becomes bigger by the day, stimulating the innovations needed to make this change happen.
It is important to realise that sustainability is not an option. Having a plan is not only a ‘must have’ but also a ‘must do’, simply because both our investors and customers are asking for it – and ‘No’ is not an answer.
The research done by the Joint Meeting Industry Council (JMIC) already demonstrated the potential positive impact the event industry can have when it come to the Sustainable Development Goals defined by the United Nations (visit: https://www.themeetingsindustry.org/industry-resources/un-sdg-reporting/). But more needs to be done and it might require a re-think of the way we do certain things.
Our industry has, however, one big advantage (to paraphrase the architect Thomas Rau): “Everything on earth is limited, except that which is between our ears”. We have some of the most creative and innovative people on earth working in the events industry, and they will leverage the innovations made in the industries surrounding us and make events sustainable.
That is why I am delighted to have both the manager for the climate action team, Niclas Svenningsen and the director of conference affairs, Laura Lopez of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as speakers at the AIPC 2021 Annual Conference. Their insights and experiences will inspire us to define and take the actions needed to make the difference – to prepare for a sustainable future in order to have a future.
One of the stories which inspire me when it comes to sustainability is that of Illy, the Italian coffee producer. They want to be producing coffee in a CO2-neutral way by 2033 – the company’s 100th anniversary. For Illy, the situation is clear: if nothing happens, 50% of the coffee plantations currently in place will be of no use in 2050. Therefore, in 2019, the company changed into a ‘societe benefit’ – a legal status for companies wanting to combine profit growth with a tangible and measurable contribution to society and environment. As I say, sustainability it is not an option anymore.