Asia still has a long way to go with regard to sustainability. However, signs are encouraging.
The consensus among industry experts is that Asia still has a long way to go with regard to sustainability, particularly when compared to the progress of European cities. However, signs are encouraging.
UFI, the global association of the exhibition industry, recently awarded HML, the management and operating company handling day-to-day management for the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, with its 2019 Sustainable Development Award.
This recognises those that have implemented an innovative communications approach towards environmental protection, with HML’s ‘Think Before Plastic’ campaign triumphing over entries from the U.S. and France.
Its initiative, targeted at event organisers, exhibitors, contractors, visitors and restaurant guests, has resulted in eliminating the use of 883,000 pieces of disposable plastic cutlery, 176,500 disposable plastic straws and 67,100 disposable plastic meal boxes within the first six months, following the campaign launch in July 2018.
Christian Druart, research manager at UFI, says that exhibitions already have a great ‘multiplier effect’ as they reach many stakeholders.
“At UFI, we try to drive the industry into the key topics of actions, with current ones including ‘measurement’ (what to measure, how to ensure consistency) and waste management,” he says.
Ken Hickson, founder chairman and CEO of Sustain Ability Showcase, a Singapore-based sustainability consultancy, points out how Bangkok was ranked number two in Asia (after Kyoto) in the 2018 GDS-Index .
“Its ranking is due to Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) and its active promotion of sustainability best practices, which can be implemented as CSR programmes,” says Hickson.
“One example is ‘Farm to Functions’, which connects rice-producing communities with venue operators and entrepreneurs who require a supply of rice for their events. The programme distributes income directly to farmers.”
Among other Asian destinations, Hickson believes that while Singapore has laid some good foundations, its position as a leading MICE destination in the region leaves more to be desired on the sustainability front, while Taiwan is keeping up the pressure by promoting ‘green MiCE’.
“What the industry doesn’t seem to realise is that sustainability is all about managing resources efficiently — nothing goes to waste — and taking up the mantle of responsible sourcing of all materials,” Hickson emphasises.
“We’ve got to go beyond the incremental changes to transformational changes. Sustainability involves four Es: energy, environment, economy and ethics. Event organisers, MICE operators, suppliers and consumers need to take all those into account.”
Leading by example
Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands (MBS) was Southeast Asia’s first MICE facility to obtain the ISO 20121 Sustainable Events Management System certification in 2014.
This year, Sands Expo and Convention Centre achieved the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum accolade for pioneering a number of sustainable initiatives.
MBS also formed a partnership with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Singapore in 2017, focusing on responsibly-sourced seafood.
Two years on, MBS says it is more than half way towards achieving its 2020 target of procuring 50 per cent of its total seafood from responsible sources, as well as supporting four aquaculture farms.
“Our goal is to initiate a transformation in the seafood value chain. We have the ability to create an impact because MBS procures a large volume,” says Kevin Teng, executive director of development and sustainability at MBS.
“By setting targets and developing strategies and policies around responsible sourcing, we are doing our part in improving the ecological conditions of fisheries and marine biodiversity, as well as the communities that live and work within the industry.”
In June, ICC Sydney was recognised by UFI for its ‘pioneering sustainable practices’, in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. A culinary programme, based on a New South Wales-focused supply chain, and the venue’s launch of the first Reconciliation Action Plan in an Australian convention centre to celebrate Australia’s First Nations people, were singled out.
“Since the introduction [of our Reconciliation Action Plan] we have provided cultural education training for team members in partnership with Eora College and launched a pre-employment programme to provide work experience and a pathway to employment for First Nations students,” says Geoff Donaghy, CEO of ICC Sydney.
He believes the desire to effect positive change is gathering momentum, with the venue seeing deliberate and proactive engagement from its Asia-Pacific partners to leave a lasting legacy for their events.
Keiran Frost, managing director of corporate retreat Camp Glenorchy in New Zealand, says it thinks of sustainability as a ‘triple bottom-line’ goal: impact on the environment, impact on the community and financial impact overall, with the venue aiming to set new standards for combining luxury and sustainability.
The site generates more solar energy than it needs, captures and treats rainfall to meet all of its water needs, and requires less than 50 per cent of these resources than typical destination meeting operations. All profits are donated directly to the local community trust.
“Sustainability is about more than just recycling. It’s about mindfulness in every aspect of planning and hosting a business event,” says Frost.
“Corporate incentive groups [staying here] can feel good about giving back to the community because all profits from their event flow through to the community trust. It’s a combination of luxury, sustainability, inspiration and social responsibility.”
Camp Glenorchy is now exploring programmes for groups to engage with the community by volunteering to plant native plants, participating in parkland restoration, learning about native birdlife or visiting nearby walkways.
Another initiative originating from New Zealand is For The Better Good, a sustainable alternative to plastic bottles and packaging. The company provides bottled water with a compostable bottle and label made from plants as well as bottle collection. A plant-based bottle-cap is in the works.
The company supplies and collects bottles to/from a number of hotels in New Zealand, composting them at a site, along with food scraps diverted from landfill; the compost can then go on to grow more food.
Founder Jayden Klinac says the business is now looking to partner with hotels in Hong Kong, with less use of plastic made from fossil fuels (oil).
“Guests who did not bring a reusable bottle with them while travelling can now use ours as they are non-toxic and reusable,” he says. “Less waste is created, with food growth instead.”