Creating more sustainable, healthy and prosperous destinations

21st Jun, 2016

By 2050 70% of the world`s population of almost 10 billion people will live in cities. It is becoming increasingly critical for association executives to broaden their agendas to include strategies to help their organisation and its members become part of the ecosystem focused on creating more sustainable, healthy and prosperous cities.

Destinations Management Organisations and Convention Bureaus can be key partners on this journey. However many associations are not leveraging the skills and resources available to them, while also failing to walk the talk of their values.

Pioneering DMOs

A growing number of Destination Management Organisations (DMOs and CVBs) around the world have started to really understand that their role is not only to promote business tourism, but to be a key part of their cities economic social and environmental development strategy. As a key pillar of this strategy, leading DMOs are developing the capability to support visiting associations and corporates to achieve their sustainability goals.

So what are the leaders doing to make their destination a more sustainable partner for associations?

  • Developing Sustainable Destination masterplans and roadmaps
  • Creating an ecosystem with private and public partners to support local businesses, visitors and the community
  • Building capacity of local suppliers through education, standards and knowledge sharing
  • Providing and promoting financial incentives to help visiting organisations and local partners to implement more sustainable solutions.
  • Communicating strategies, results and stories of progress
  • Measuring, benchmarking and reporting on their sustainability performance

Opportunities for the Associations

When planning for the next event, association executives needs to consider how their conference or congress can help them and their members to accelerate their sustainability strategy. They need also need to think how to maximise the services provided by the DMO. Some keys steps include:

1.     Content: Develop an event experience and program that promotes knowledge sharing, and co-creation of new sustainability solutions, processes and products

2.     Think legacy: Consider what can be left in the city after the event. How can the event develop knowledge in the local community, build business, and catalyse social change. Think how event delegates can be engaged to support local community projects with their skills and muscles

3.     Partnerships: Reach out to the DMO and ask them to facilitate introductions to key local players in the private, public and not for profit world

4.     Make it competitive: Ask the DMO about the sustainability programmes of the city and its events industry. Include sustainability into the RFP and decision making progress. Assign 5-10% of the selection criteria to sustainability factors of the destination, and then shop around.

5.     Walk the talk:Choose suppliers who have solutions that can help to reduce waste and carbon emissions, and use more sustainable and healthy materials to produce the event and feed your guests.

A helping hand

However it can be challenging for an Association Exec to find a “sustainable destination”. To simplify this task the Global Destination Sustainability Index was launched in March 2016. The GDS-Index is a collaborative business initiative created to help Destinations, Event Planners and Suppliers to benchmark the sustainability strategies and performance of destinations and its’ meetings and events industry.

Today over 35 cities including Barcelona, Copenhagen, the Hague, Helsinki, Houston, Geneva, Frankfurt, Oslo, Reykjavik, Stockholm, Stuttgart, Sydney are in the process of benchmarking. The goal is to have 100 cities in 2017.

More information is available on

Smart associations and destinations are using sustainability as a competitive edge. It’s a way to differentiate, to attract customers and investment, to stimulate innovation, and recruit the best talent.

The article was contributed by Guy Bigwood, MCI Group Sustainability Director. As a thought-leader in Sustainability, he has held various association executive roles. For the last ten years he has been consulting and advising on the development and implementation of sustainability strategies for association, destinations, corporations and governments.

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