Over the past year, associations have become increasingly aware of the negative health impact of events and meetings. Strapped for time, delegates all too frequently opt for snacks and junk food – a problem compounded by the fact that they spend most of their time sitting down, with opportunities to exercise often being scarce. More and more associations are therefore opting for "healthier" venues – those which avoid this common pitfall by making it easier to exercise and eat well.
Just as venues strived over the last decade to reduce their carbon footprint, many are now eager to meet public demand by improving their health footprint, or "healthprint’" As we enter 2017, there’s a sense that healthy meetings are the new Green.
Yet for all venues' talk of advocating healthier meetings, how many have made concrete commitments to improving delegates’ health? Do their menus offer healthy food - and how do they define what "healthy" food is? Do they encourage delegates to stand rather than remain seated? In order to assess which venues genuinely promote healthy living, there needs to be a set of standard criteria by which all are judged.
In 2015, the World Obesity Federation launched its Healthy Venues Award, which allows venues to earn official accreditation for providing a healthy meeting environment. Venues are awarded Bronze, Silver or Gold status according to their adherence to a list of criteria relating to healthy eating and physical activity.
The criteria were developed by a group of experts in nutrition, physical activity and obesity prevention and are aligned with the targets set by the World Health Organisation. For example, points can be earned by offering fruit, vegetables and salad on set menus; by providing flexible meeting environments which support mixed seating and standing; or by promoting active travel to their venue.
By creating a blanket measurement, event organisers - the business event strategists of the world - can tell which meeting places truly offer healthy options. Venues, in turn, can show they practise what they preach.
In February 2016, the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow became the first venue to earn Healthy Venue Accreditation, being awarded the Silver Award. The Vancouver Convention Centre swiftly followed, earning the Bronze Award, and a number of other venues are in the process of becoming accredited.
Yet other venues – including those which claim to be healthy - have not yet stepped up to the plate. Why? The cynics among us might deduce that the desire to appear healthy is more important to some than being healthy. If this is true, it suggests some venues underestimate just how positive an impact improving their "healthprint" can have. Yes, it improves delegates’ health and fitness. Yes, it sets a precedent to create a more health-focused industry. Yes, it helps combat the global obesity crisis. But it is also incredibly effective from a business perspective.
Staff loyalty is improved when their workplace offers health benefits. Business agility and internal communications are shown to improve in healthier environments, and workplace relations are enhanced when staff are united behind a common cause. In addition, official accreditation shows that a venue really cares about its delegates’ health, thus improving its public image.
There may also be an assumption that clients aren’t interested in the ‘healthprint’ of the venues they use – that they only care about margins and ROI, and that health is irrelevant to them. This is another misunderstanding. Associations take ethical considerations into account and are far more likely to opt for healthy meeting places. Ethical businesses are also sure to care – and even businesses which aren’t ethically-minded are more likely to choose meeting places which improve their image. Improving the "healthprint" of a venue is therefore not just great for delegates, but makes sound economic sense, too.
Perhaps some of the responsibility for promoting healthy meetings should fall on associations. If we care about making venues healthier, we need to be more demanding and insist that venues don’t just talk the talk but walk the walk when it comes to health. We need to vote with our feet and send out a message by choosing venues which are genuinely healthy. Only by making a stand can we expect to see positive changes within the industry.
Yet responsibility also falls on venues themselves – to recognise the growing importance of healthy meetings and to offer what many in the industry are now demanding. With a little dedication, your venue could lead the way and become part of the "new Green" in 2017. You just need to prove it.
The Healthy Venues Award is part of the World Obesity Federation’s Action Initiative. To find out more, visit their website.
Alexander French is the Education and Editorial Manager of the World Obesity Federation, which represents professional members of the scientific, medical and research communities from over 50 regional and national obesity associations.
Article Code: 2650
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