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GMIC Sustainable Meetings Foundation Case

Sustainability is the understanding that businesses, communities, and civilizations can only survive and thrive over the long term if their economic, environmental, and social activities are aligned and mutually supportive. The United Nations Environment Program’s definition of sustainable development recognizes the present-day social and economic interests of citizens, businesses, and the wider community, while acknowledging that future generations have a fundamental stake in a clean, healthy environment:

Improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems.

Two factors make sustainability a central concern for the business of meetings:

  • The industry’s size and scope translate into a significant environmental and social footprint that can be controlled in ways that often reduce costs for meeting planners, facilities, and other suppliers. In the United States alone, according to the Convention Industry Council, 1.8 million meetings across the U.S. welcomed 205 million participants in 2009, directly supported 1.7 million jobs, and accounted for US$263 billion in spending and US$25.6 billion in revenue to all levels of government.
  • The ability to maintain and expand the industry’s operations depends on inputs of energy, water, and other forms of natural capital that are placed at risk by unsustainable practices in the meetings industry.

The GMIC Sustainable Meetings Foundation seeks to address these issues at a pivotal moment in the industry’s development. With a new sustainable meetings standard in place in North America, a growing number of meeting facilities attaining some degree of certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, and more hospitality or meeting firms announcing sustainability programs by the day, a casual observer might almost believe that the industry is well on its way to greening its operations and infrastructure. Yet the implementation behind the announcements is inconsistent, attention to the supply chains behind meeting products and services is very rare, the industry’s reliance on inherently unsustainable energy uses receives scant attention, and there has been insufficient measurement even to confirm whether the industry’s efforts to date have reduced its environmental footprint.

Meanwhile, sustainability is emerging as perhaps the only durable solution to some of the trends emerging from the 2008 economic recession. With conference participants demanding more transparent practices and host organizations quite enthusiastic to replace face-to-face meetings with virtual events not only to cut costs, but to meet regulatory scrutiny and reduce the environmental footprint of their overall operations there is a growing business imperative for measurable improvements in sustainability. A host of continuing trends, from corporate social responsibility to decarbonization and rising oil prices, will keep these expectations high on the agenda for the stakeholders who ultimately determine the success of any meeting.

Against this background, the GSMF is committed to the consistent, long-term effort that will be needed to truly bring sustainability practices to the meetings and events industry and the supply chains that support it. We operate at the intersection between value and values: Any project the GSMF funds will deliver tangible results to help meeting and event professionals, facilities, and destinations improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and profitability of their operations. The values underlying those improvements recognize that the three pillars of sustainability economic, environmental, and social are interdependent: that the future strength of the meetings economy will depend on its environmental and social performance, and that the industry’s broad commitment to sustainability will depend on a solid business case.

The Value Proposition for Donors

The value donors receive from their association with the GSMF will depend on the objectives they bring to the relationship and the projects they decide to fund. For example:
  • Sponsorship of a major research initiative in sustainable meetings and events would help a funder position itself as an industry thought leader and visionary.
  • By funding a sustainable meetings education program, a donor could ensure its access to state-of-the-art training for its own members, staff, or clients.
  • Financial support for chapter development initiatives or a chapter projects program would represent a very visible contribution to the world’s most committed network of sustainable meeting professionals and help a donor build relationships on the front lines of the industry.
  • Any funder gains the credibility and visibility that come with supporting a sustainable meetings initiative at the industry’s moment of greatest need.
  • The GSMF also entertains unsolicited proposals in which prospective donors define the activity they wish to fund and the recognition or other benefits they expect in return, as long as the projects align with the GSMF’s mandate and strategic priorities.

A Rigorous Approach

Starting from the sound scientific principles at the heart of sustainable development, the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Foundation is a catalyst for action and collaboration among meeting, event, and sustainability professionals and meeting and hospitality businesses around the world. The GSMF plays a unique role among meeting and event foundations because of its position at the intersection between two areas of expertise and business activity.

The GSMF’s work is essential, not only because meetings and sustainability are complementary, but because they are becoming increasingly interdependent. Just as the continuing health of the meetings business will depend on its ability to embrace sustainability, the ability of sustainability practitioners to deliver an effective message will depend in part on the process and design skills available from qualified meeting professionals.

The GSMF’s rigorous approach to donor liaison, project development, project oversight and evaluation, and responsible investment practices ensures that every charitable dollar it receives is invested for maximum impact, with the smallest possible proportion (current target: maximum 5-10% of receipts) devoted to administration. That impact will be the ultimate measure of the benefit the GSMF delivers to meeting, event, and sustainability professionals, meeting and hospitality businesses, and the audiences they serve world-wide.