The sky is falling ... the sky is falling ...!
It feels a bit like Chicken Little is on the loose in the meetings industry at the moment.
It started with the legislation you may have heard about that passed on February 17th: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which -- among many other things -- put limits on luxury expenditures, meetings and events. The act requires that companies receiving funds under the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) have policy regarding "excessive expenditures" involving entertainment, air flight, other transportation and "activities or events that are not reasonable expenditures for the staff development, reasonable performance incentives, or other similar measures conducted in the normal course of the business operations." A rather reasonable requirement actually.
Unfortunately, like many well intended rules this one too went a bit awry. It created an impression that all meetings are excessive, wild boondoggles dismissing any value of meetings.
Well, you can imagine the effect this news had on a multibillion dollar industry that has been challenged over the years to be seen as an industry at all. Finally, the meetings/events industry gets recognized! Not obviously the impression we wanted the world to have about meetings. The good news is the industry mobilized.
A petition emerged called keepamericameeting.com asking people to send a message to their legislators to publicly support the meetings and events industry. The petition states: Corporate meetings enhance employee and partner performance, fuel company growth and profitability, support the needs of local communities and aid the American economy as a whole.
In addition, a coalition of industry leaders published their own policy statement calling it a "Model board policy for approval of meetings, events and incentive/recognition travel." The model has 10 points and starts with a general policy statement similar in messaging to the act's language. In general terms, the points cover specific measurable criteria: the return on investment to be considered, when it's appropriate, dollar amounts to consider, percentages of spending, written justification, who should attend and participation. Number 7 is a favorite: "Performance incentives shall not promote excessive or unnecessary risk-taking or manipulation of financial results."
The irony about much of this is all of these processes, the act, the petition and model all came out of MEETINGS people attended to decide all this. But the most troubling part is that no where in any of these initiatives does anyone tie the correlation of meetings to the creation, preservation, implementation or journey of sustainability.
Consider how many conferences, summits, meetings have been and are being held worldwide that play a significant role in the path toward sustainability: The Rio Earth Summit of 1992 spurred international conversations around sustainability issues. The recent 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul focused on the latest concerns and solutions being tried with the Earth's most precious resource. And there is the upcoming COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, this December. Those are a meager sample of the hundreds, actually thousands, of meetings globally that illustrate the power of meetings.
What a HUGE missed opportunity -- especially given today's administrative focus and openness -- that not once did any of these groups underscore that meetings are an essential component of creating sustainable communities. Even the events themselves can be seen as opportunities to educate attendees on the impacts of meetings.
The U.S. Green Building Council's Greenbuild International Conference and Expo is a great example. The conference has won the IMEX Green Meetings award twice and most recently went through the certification process of BS 8901 for Sustainable Events. Attendees are asked to minimize their impact before coming to event and are provided tips that include energy steps to take at home before walking out the door as well rules for the road — take public transportation, bring a reusable beverage container everywhere. The Greenbuild organizers work in advance with vendors, hotels, venues, food and beverage providers and transportation companies to minimize the negative environmental footprint through initiatives that also often save money. The conference's environmental impacts are measured and use as benchmarks to ensure continued improvement. This is only one example; there are many other meetings that build similar awareness.
At the end of the day, our connection to each other, the planet and our impacts are realized when we meet. It is in those gatherings/meetings that innovation breaths life, relationships create connections and amazing things happen.
Amy Spatrisano, CMP, is a leader, innovator and entrepreneur in the meeting planning and events industry. She is a principal with Meeting Strategies Worldwide, an environmental management firm specializing in the meetings industry.
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