Meetings, Sustainability and The future of Events

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As the year begins, the talk is of pent-up demand for holidays, but can the same be said of the desire to hold face-to-face business meetings?

It’s nearly two years since WFH became a familiar acronym, but Working From Home has left some with a desire to meet colleagues and contacts in person again.

Covid means this won’t be possible for every staff member, with, for example, those who are vulnerable preferring to tune in remotely; then there is the cost of travel to be considered, which will deter others as firms revise budgets in the post-pandemic era.

A final factor, one that may not have arisen two years ago and will also need to be taken into account, is that of sustainability. The age of day trips to New York to attend a two-hour meeting may well be over; nowadays it would be a brave traveller who justifies that, either to their CFO or the corporate’s head of sustainability – a role that probably didn’t exist pre-Covid.

So, Zoom and Teams are here to stay, but nevertheless, humans are innately sociable beings and the desire to meet in person is manifesting itself as 2022 begins.

“There’s been a demand for off-site meetings, it’s a trend we’ve definitely seen,” says Meon Valley Travel’s sales director Julian Munsey, who notes a move towards booking larger offsite spaces to ensure social distancing.

To meet changing demand patterns, major hotel chains and venues now offer hybrid meetings as well as catering for the conventional gathering and are paying more attention to sustainability.

Hybrid meetings have a significant attraction in that the technology is taken care of by someone else. A company’s board of directors, sat in a UK hotel, can speak to teams sat in the hotel chain’s meeting rooms around the world using a video conferencing system that is usually far superior to anything in-house.

Hybrid events also go some way towards reducing a corporate’s carbon footprint. Video conferencing’s introduction was hastened by the pandemic, but emissions created by business travel is an issue that will remain long after Covid’s threat diminishes. Recognising this, hotels are tackling the resistance to meeting in person that sustainability pressures inevitably bring.

Radisson, for example, claims to be the first major hotel group to make all meetings and conferences in its EMEA hotels carbon negative, albeit for a limited period. For every event before 31 March 2022, booked by the end of January, Radisson will offset double the CO2 emissions created by it.

Since the launch of the 100% Carbon Neutral Meetings programme in October, Radisson claims to have offset the equivalent emissions of more than 6,500 cars. Radisson uses the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative (HCMI) to calculate emissions. HCMI takes into account all energy used on site and if applicable, emissions from things like laundry, but does not include attendees’ travel to and from the hotel.

Radisson’s is an interim measure, but a hint of what is to come. Meetings sustainability can go much further; US consultancy Meet Green, for example, lists a series of questions meetings organisers can ask regarding the venue itself – such as what are its recycling, energy and water-saving policies. Another topic is whether essentials like food are sourced locally and if the property has a zero food waste policy.

Meon Valley Travel partner The Venues Collection, which runs seven UK locations, has created a Meetings for Change sustainability package alongside a Future First Charter to act as a framework of social purpose. The charter focuses on three areas, People Pledge, Food Focus & Enriching Environments.

On the people side, each venue will have two apprentices by the end of 2022 and a diversity ambassador will be appointed.

By November, a Menu for Change will be offered to support Net Zero targets, including carbon footprint and sourcing information. Half of menus will be ‘plant forward’ and all will include calorie information.

Each venue will commit to a local community project and will offer electric vehicle charging points, with a pledge for all operations to be Net Zero by 2030.

As businesses begin to meet in person once again, sustainability will go far beyond offsetting the journey to the venue; the venue itself is becoming a focus of these issues.  

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