Your Association Can Create Positive, Lasting Change Through its Events

How can associations be part of the sustainable solution? By changing the game.

6th Nov, 2022

As we reel from the shockwaves of increasing climate instability, the recent global pandemic, and fresh geopolitical unrest, it’s helpful to zoom out and reframe the meeting’s game with good news. If the climate-leadership focus of the world’s largest money manager and shareholder is any kind of gauge for global market opportunity, sustainability is definitely on the To Do list.

New economics for travel and tourism

Pull focus to the business of travel, which is changing fast, and it’s clear that there’s a huge opportunity for all stakeholders keen on greater sustainability. The inherent interdependence that defines sustainability is beautifully expressed in the Southern African adage of ubuntu, which translates roughly into “I am because you are”. This fundamental philosophy can guide attitudes and actions towards increased positive impact. It makes marvelous business sense, too. As business events begin to return to pre-Covid production levels, post-Covid travellers demand sustainability from destinations, and Google ranks flights by carbon emission and hotels by eco-certification. Then there’s the bad news: business and leisure travel contribute significantly to carbon emissions and waste.

How can associations be part of the solution? By changing the game.

The game is on, but is it the good game?

If we assume the average human being wants peace, freedom, and prosperity, we must assert that the majority of the systems we’ve developed to date want the opposite, and work against those aspirations. We might have been well-meaning when we developed the technologies and take-make-waste mindset that brought us to the new now, but, unmitigated, they define our undoing rather than our destiny.

The data cannot be disputed. We can’t undo what’s done, but we can change reality promptly with long-term, living strategy that’s both responsive and respectful.

How strategy raises the game

Good intentions lead to isolated triumphs, but good strategy leads to sustained success, and successful sustainability strategy leads to more regenerative systems and enhanced circular economy. 

  • For example, it’s great that events and business meetings’ service providers recycle their “waste”, but it’s better for them to reduce that waste with reuse and by repurposing the valuable materials in a circular system.
  • It’s wonderful to see a crop of biodiversity projects take root, but they’re more likely to flourish going forward forty or fifty years (or even just five!) if these efforts are centralised, coordinated, and corroborated by everyone (and everything) they affect, not just the conference attendees who enjoy picnicking beneath them on a Spring afternoon.
  • It’s fantastic that equity and integration are listed by name in a meeting supplier’s HR policy; it’s noticeable when that supplier hires a “nameless” individual who has refugee status and offers them the opportunity to become a team leader.

Strategic choices like these are, of course, easier for Associations to make if it’s easy to find host destinations with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability.

"The data cannot be disputed. We can’t undo what’s done, but we can change reality promptly with long-term, living strategy that’s both responsive and respectful."

Destination Sustainability ranked and rated with the GDS-Index

The Global Destination Sustainability Movement (GDS-Movement) walks the talk by supporting destinations to embrace and fully develop their strategies and DMO, social, supplier, and environmental impact by benchmarking with the GDS-Index. Its vision is to engage, inspire, and empower destinations to become more regenerative and sustainable places to visit, meet and thrive in. In 2021, GDS-Index benchmarked 73 brave destinations that care enough to be counted. The list includes cities small to large, and even whole country regions. They all benefit from measurement and reporting from our proven approaches and methodologies, but it’s collaborative strategy creation that is the true seed for productive change. And this is where the power of the Association comes in.

By making informed business decisions, an association can tackle its own goals and simultaneously co-create a system and strategy with destinations to develop teams with absolute buy-in, engage stakeholders towards total market integration, communicate efforts, share learnings, and celebrate achievement.

If we want to make the most of opportunities in our reach and win the game, we must dispense with despondency, and systematically invest in collaborative action based on living strategy. We already have amazing natural models to inspire us. Note that nature does not evolve in isolation – each element responds to every other in an immaculate and constantly changing web of inter-relationships.

We need to do the same, to recognise every other as a part of the process. Like melting poles and rising sea levels, positive impact can be exponential, and like hope, it can be determined and infectious.

The power of community

It’s benchmarking season right now with GDS-Index. We’re calling all destinations to develop strategies that are resilient, competitive, and future-fit.

6 ways Associations can deliver lasting, positive impact

  1. Educate: train members on the principals of regeneration and data-based examples of a future without them. Try using: engaging workshops, pre- recorded webinars, and on-demand materials.
  2. Advocate: Unite members with common goals and values to address policymakers and the public and push for positive change. Gold star: align with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  3. Activate: Raise awareness with a dedicated plan to showcase relevant sustainability best practices to all members.
  4. Regulate: Develop, use, and share standards and certifications that raise the sustainability standard.
  5. Measure and Report: Rate and communicate your efforts, goals, and journeys to ensure accountability and continual improvement. Demand that the suppliers and destinations you choose also measure, benchmark, and report.
  6. Network like there’s no tomorrow: Associations that strategically champion and nurture professional partnerships can empower SMEs that lack the budget to develop sustainability by themselves. A great example of the collective power of networking arose between Conferli and GDS-Movement. Conferli’s enhanced search tool uses data from GDS-Index to match associations with destinations with a sustainability commitment.

Other Articles

About Us

Supported by the Union of International Associations (UIA), the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO) and the Interel Group, the global public affairs and association management consultancy, Headquarters Magazines serve the needs of international associations organising worldwide congresses.