Doing the right thing is not always easy. Just ask any marketer trying to build green marketing practices. Despite the fact that environmental awareness is at an all-time high the industry is still searching for a definitive system for qualifying sustainable events.
While there is no one-stop shop for a green seal of approval one standard companies are gravitating towards is the BS 8901 a sustainable management system developed specifically for the events industry by BSI Management Systems of America that rates companies based on individual key performance indicators. That standard is currently in North America in a trial phase. The APEX/ASTM Standard slated for a fall 2009 release will also serve up accepted practices for eco- and socially-friendly meetings and events in the U.S. For brands unwilling to wait green consultancies can help develop actionable custom roadmaps towards short- and long-term sustainability.
The APEX/ASTM Standard is made up of nine committees dedicated to various aspects of the event industry. The committees designed by a panel of industry experts (all volunteers) are divided into categories which include: Meeting Venue Accommodations Communications On-site Office AV/Production Transportation Destinations and Exhibits. The committees work under the guidance of the Green Meetings Industry Council the organization that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contacted two years ago when it decided to look into implementing these standards. Unlike green practices being developed internally by individual companies this standard will be considered legitimate because it will be recognized by the government after being certified by ASTM International (formerly the American Society For Testing and Materials) a voluntary standards development organization. And the events industry will recognize it too since it’s approved by APEX (Accepted Practices Exchange) an offshoot of the Convention Industry Council that typically makes up standards for the events industry.
Each committee has to undergo separate processes with APEX and ASTM for approval. Once all the standards are written they must remain open to the public for 30 days for comment online (apexsolution.org) as well as in city discussion groups that function like town hall meetings arranged throughout the country. The committees must answer every person’s concern before presenting the final version to the ASTM for approval. Let’s just say it’s been a long process. Last month the first three committees—Meeting Venue Destinations and Transportation—were submitted for the first round of the ASTM process. None of the committee submissions passed through the ASTM process and are now being tweaked by GMIC’s panel to create more robust and defined standards. The goal is to launch all nine sectors by the fall.
“Right now the guidance out there is discussing how to address low hanging fruit which is excellent to get people started but you need a continuum of specifications to help drive your efforts forward and that’s what these set standards will provide ” says Jessica Ludders leader of the Meeting Venue committee.
Ludders senior project manager at Seattle-based agency Sound Planning worked with Microsoft’s Convergence 2009 event team to utilize the BS 8901 as a benchmark to test and validate the company’s practices. For that work Microsoft earned the first U.S. Phase 1 and 2 certification towards the BS 8901:2007 standard. It’s on the way to earning Phase 3. Ludders explains that BS 8901 (broken up into three phases: planning implementation and check and review) and the APEX/ASTM standards can work well together in the future.
“The BS 8901 standard is more holistic and a systems-based approach but it’s not prescriptive like the APEX/ASTM standard because it provides flexibility to say what key things you want to focus on ” she says. “It looks at the triple bottom line: planet people and profit. Key performance indicators are what you’re judged on and audited against. The APEX/ASTM Standard can provide a great place to start with by saying ‘Here are the
key specifications I need to focus on: size shape and location.’ The checklist that is provided by APEX/ASTM feeds into key performance indicators in the BS 8901 standard.”
With BS 8901 and the APEX/ASTM Standard not quite ready for mass adoption many companies that want to implement sustainable practices into their business have to take matters into their own hands. Consulting companies can help.
Axis Performance Advisors in collaboration with the International Sustainable Development Foundation and the Zero Waste Alliance has developed SCORE (Sustainability Competency & Opportunity Rating and Evaluation) a sustainability self-assessment that can help organizations determine how green their business is as a whole and how they can improve. SCORE stemmed from the book The Business Guide to Sustainability by Axis Performance president Darcy Hitchcock who co-authored the book with Marsha Willard.
“SCORE is best used as an internal assessment measuring the degree to which an organization has embedded sustainability into its business practices ” says Hitchcock. “There are functional assessments (things that would be similar regardless of the type of organization like purchasing and human resources) and then sector-specific assessments which capture those things that are special to that sector.”
SCORE is done in four steps. It starts with an initial overview with the client about what SCORE is as well as a discussion about who needs to participate when to do it and which method will be used. Next a two-hour meeting is held to collect data. A second two-hour meeting follows to present the results to the client and help them decide what to do next. And finally there’s a six-month follow up to hold the client accountable for the sustainability efforts discussed in the third phase of the assessment (for more information visit: axisperformance.com).
While there is no sector-specific assessment available for events SCORE can still come in handy for event marketers. An event marketing agency or an event facility can use SCORE to figure out what they need to improve to become more sustainable in their business operations from year to year. SCORE can also help companies understand how they stack up against their competitors in terms of sustainable business practices.
For event planners in particular SCORE can help make their own business practices greener and enhance their expertise on the subject matter to make them better resources for their clients especially to those clients seeking a certification from BSI and possibly in the future the APEX/ASTM Standard.
“If an event planner has a client that wasn’t able to get certified then SCORE can help them figure out what they need to get better ” Hitchcock says.