A Shift in Mindset — and Behavior 

Meeting the challenges of climate change demands that we find new ways of thinking about sustainability.

Author: Sherrif Karamat       

Sherrif Karamat

Sherrif Karamat, CAE,
President & CEO, PCMA and CEMA

I was glad to see the progress that event strategists are making in bringing sustainability into the way they do business, as reflected in the Meetings Market Survey 2023, published in November’s Convene: Three out of five planners say they are more intentional about designing events with sustainability initiatives than before the pandemic. And 31 percent of respondents include sustainability elements in their RFPs, compared to only 14 percent of planners surveyed in 2019.

Those numbers represent significant changes in behavior and, just as important, in mindset. And I know that we can do so much more.

One of the most encouraging trends I see is the shift away from zeroing in on the individual’s role in creating carbon emissions toward thinking about how to create systemic change across organizations, businesses, governments, and communities.

The idea of a “carbon footprint” — the amount of carbon emissions by an individual person or a group — is a good tool for measuring the impact our actions have on the environment. But the idea that we as individuals can mitigate our environmental impact through our own efforts — such as erasing our own personal carbon footprint through recycling and/or buying offsets — is one that was popularized by advertising campaigns sponsored by oil companies.

By making environmental sustainability primarily an individual responsibility, critics have pointed out, oil companies took attention away from the fact that fossil fuels account for the majority of global greenhouse and carbon dioxide emissions. It would be one thing if efforts like offsetting and recycling could solve the problem of climate change, but they won’t even come close — one analysis showed that less than 5 percent of offsets were effective. Another estimated a mere 9 percent of the world’s plastic is recycled.

Likewise, as we design meetings, we can’t enact the same few initiatives in isolation from one another and expect to make a difference. We must be diligent about measuring the impact of our practices, fearless about facing the truth about their efficacy, and tireless in looking for new solutions.

At Convening Leaders 2024, PCMA is advancing “sustainability by design” as the most effective pathway toward transformational change. In this model, we aspire to embed sustainability into the entire planning cycle, and in every decision and detail, from the ideas and conversations we have, to event operations and logistics, and the wider circle of relationships with vendors, venues, and the local community.

Our actions and beliefs as individuals play the most important role in reversing climate change. But our power resides in cultivating an unshakable belief that we will make the biggest difference by working together.

Business event professionals are in a unique position to leverage change through our networks, which extend to nearly every profession and industry in the world. My hope is that in the not-too-distant future, five out of five meeting planners will say that they are intentional about designing events with sustainability in mind at every step.

Olympic-Sized Goals

You need look no further for an example of the “sustainability by design” model than Senior Editor Jennifer N. Dienst’s cover and CMP Series story about the plans for the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. For the first time in the history of the Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has created a roadmap that puts sustainability front and center. Their target is an Olympian one, as well: to be the first Games to halve its carbon emissions, compared to the average of London 2012 and Rio 2016. Read how they plan to make it happen.

We’ve also set ambitious goals for Convening Leaders 2024, based on the EIC Sustainable Event Standards, and carried out in collaboration with Honeycomb Strategies, the San Diego Convention Center, and other vendors. Stay tuned for an update on our progress.

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