In conversation: sustainability critical for legacy with American Express Meetings & Events

According to the Global Destination Report, 95% of destination respondents view legacy as a critical component when it comes to hosting business events, which goes beyond the simple metric of economic impact. In practical terms, this means all business events should bring with them a positive outcome which leaves the host destination in a better position, from simple education to an advancement in healthcare.

Yet this often requires the movement of people and materials, and travel is known to be one of the largest carbon contributors. A positive legacy, therefore, must be achieved sustainably.

Agencies are in a crucial position in which to bridge the knowledge gap likely faced within corporations when it comes to ensuring their business event programmes are sustainable, and that the positive legacies they bring are not undone.   

Eloísa Urrutia (pictured) is the Head of Meetings & Events Sustainability Strategy and Solutions at American Express Meetings & Events. She sat down with The Business of Events at IBTM World to explain how the agency is helping its clients.

TBOE: Sustainability is very much on the agenda, but do you think this is being driven by clients or you as an agency; and do you think that they are educated enough on the subject? 

Eloísa Urrutia: Education is the foundation of any sustainability strategy. If we want to drive change, we need to engage people. The level of sustainability engagement really depends on the corporation. Some corporations have ambitious corporate sustainability goals that they have already cascaded or are starting to cascade to their travel, meetings, and events programme, and others are in the preliminary stages. Some do not yet have goals.  

This comes to the second key element, which is to have a strategy and to have objectives. It must be ambitious in the long term, but realistic in the short term. Corporations must take progressive steps, but they must incorporate goals, best practices, and tools. The need comes from all stakeholders. 

We know there is going to be more regulation on sustainability. We also know investors are asking for sustainability solutions. There are studies showing that companies that are more sustainable perform better from a financial perspective. We are seeing attendees, clients, and employees wanting to be related to brands that reflect their values. So, the pressure comes from all different stakeholders. 

TBOE: How are you supporting clients? 

EU: American Express Meetings & Events developed a suite of sustainable solutions that help clients align their corporate sustainability goals into their M&E programmes. This helps them achieve their corporate goals with specific, best practice guides, tools, and technology. 

We have approached this on two levels. The first is on an event-by-event case. These focus on operational measures and meeting owners, where they can reduce and measure the event’s carbon emissions. They have access to tools and practical guides on how they can reduce these emissions and achieve carbon neutrality.  

From a strategic meeting programme perspective, we have also helped clients develop a comprehensive and achievable roadmap, again, in line with our corporate strategies.

TBOE: What would you say are the core foundations of driving forwards to a more sustainable sector? 

EU: For us, it is a core element to our business. Our mission is to power progress through travel and sustainability is part of progress. 

Sustainability needs a collaborative approach, an alignment between all industry stakeholders, including corporations and travel management companies, to work together on a common framework. 

It is vital that we all speak the same language when we want to implement sustainability elements into meetings and events. Initiatives such as the Net Zero Carbon Events (NZCE) pledge and roadmap are one example of a collaborative forum that will help us, and the wider industry, drive sustainability forward. 

TBOE: Why have you signed the NZCE pledge? 

EU: We believe that sustainability is an especially important ecological imperative, but more than that, it has become a sound business strategy that all corporations should embrace if they want to maintain their license to operate. 

We have made it a priority to operate our business in the most sustainable manner possible. Meetings and events play a pivotal role in connecting people, driving innovation, and creating business, and leaving legacy, but they should not come at the cost of the environment.

Our M&E sustainability strategy pivots around three important pillars: our own internal corporate strategy and education, thought leadership and industry collaboration, and delivering sustainable meetings and events solutions for our clients. We have signed the NZCE pledge to actively collaborate with NZCE initiatives, including developing a common framework for measuring the events´ greenhouse gas emissions and building an industry-wide roadmap towards net zero by 2050.

TBOE: We are here in Barcelona for IBTM World, one of the industry’s biggest shows. What have you been doing here? 

EU: It has given us a fantastic opportunity to lead the sustainability stream at the exclusive corporate experience day [Monday 28th November]. 

Together with two partners, we delivered thought leadership and shared best practice on how to implement a sustainable meeting programme from both a strategic and tactical perspective. This was centred mostly on the need to reduce event emissions. 

I was also invited to join the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC) session on the Net Zero Carbon Event pledge. 

We have also had the opportunity to share the findings of our 2023 Meetings and Events Forecast, and one of the important things to report is that face-to-face meetings are roaring back. It is actually quite overwhelming. 

Companies want face-to-face conversations and are being driven significantly by the need for more internal meetings. We know almost half of the companies globally have remote or hybrid workforces, therefore they need to focus differently on how to drive a new age of corporate culture. This is clearly being driven by face-to-face meetings.  

On the other side of the coin, we are also seeing signs of awareness about the current economic climate and the potential challenges it poses. The report notes higher budgets, a higher number of attendees, but also higher costs. Yet I would say the summary of the forecast is a good one, and offers and optimistic view of the meetings and events landscape for 2022 and 2023. 

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