Last year, we said goodbye to 2019 with renewed awareness and responsibility for the critical conditions of our planet, knowing that these commitments would accompany us throughout 2020. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With the world turned upside down, what’s the role of sustainability in the new normal? And where are we headed for the years to come?
Our Internal Communication Director and Sustainability Ambassador Erica Fawer shared with us MCI’s sustainability journey, dealing with COVID-19 and her hopes for a sustainable, united future for the MICE industry.
What sustainability milestones MCI accomplished in the last decade are you most proud of?
Erica Fawer: There are so many, but I am very proud of our commitment to giving back to the community. Since 2010, MCI talents have helped raise close to €15 million for 626 community projects around the world, investing more than 43,800 hours of their time and energy. For me, that clearly shows that our talents care and want to do good. Another encouraging sign is that almost all our offices (97%) have now adopted eco attitudes in their office operations. We can also be proud to have won 24 industry awards for sustainability, and many won by and with our clients. And I hope there will be many more in the future as we believe sustainable events are better events.
The surge of the COVID-19 pandemic and the public health regulations that followed have had a huge impact on the MICE industry and beyond. How did you tackle this new normal in the People & Culture department?
Fawer: For the last few months, our priority was to make sure our talents, their family and loved ones were safe, and ensure business continuity. Once our crisis cell was activated, our Health & Safety team focused on preparing guidelines for our Managing Directors and local HR on how to operate during COVID-19. Not an easy task with an uncertain and rapidly evolving situation! Kudos to them for how well they managed the situation locally and for finding creative ways to stay connected with their teams, most of them working remotely.
In parallel, we are preparing for the future, when we can meet again. As part of our internal “Practical guide on planning events in times of COVID-19”, we identified that physical distancing and barrier gestures might prevent some basic sustainable choices: water fountains replaced by individual bottles, limited spaces in vehicles mean more shuttles, new kinds of waste (masks, wipes) complicate waste sorting and more single-use tableware instead of reusable ones.
We are encouraging our teams to take this as an opportunity to focus on what can be improved and on implementing sustainable options. For example, favouring local partners, local distribution networks and healthier food, donating leftovers to charities, making the event accessible online for people with reduced mobility, choosing open-air activities where distancing is ensured.
Some community initiatives led by MCI in 2019
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And what about sustainability initiatives? Were you able to continue or did everything stop?
Fawer: From a sustainability perspective and especially the “giving back” aspect, a lot of our local programmes were put on hold due to the confinement or social distancing recommendations. Still, some offices found ways to help our local communities: donating food prepared for an event cancelled a the last minute; thousands of T-shirts purchased as giveaways for an event were given to a refugee programme, making care packages for local communities or talents participating in virtual sports challenges to raise money for various causes.
As for the Global Sustainability Team, we took this opportunity to “press pause” before rushing into the next phase of our sustainability strategy. We have decided to refresh our materiality assessment to make sure that the sustainability issues we had identified are still relevant to all our stakeholders. We will be happy to reveal our “reset” strategy in our next report.
Any learnings that you would like to share that can inspire other organisations to step-up their sustainability efforts?
Fawer: Sustainability should not be an “add-on” but integrated from the start, at the proposal stage. It should involve the clients in the design process and understand their sustainability commitments and ambitions. Even if sustainability is not part of the brief – it could be that your client expects that you integrate sustainability in your event. Take the lead and offer solutions, even the simplest steps, and build on them as you prepare the event.
Don’t re-invent the wheel. Engage and collaborate with your partners and suppliers. Many have already implemented sound sustainability practices.
What are your hopes for the future of MCI and the events industry?
Fawer: I think we all agree that we don’t know how the future will be like, but we can choose to act now and seize the opportunity to build a better future for all. During the COVID-19 crises, we have seen amazing collective actions and global solidarity, which shows we can make big things happen fast.
I believe the crises will help accelerate initiatives at all level (governments, event and hospitality industry, corporations and associations, agencies) as expectations from citizens will continue to raise.
At MCI, we will continue our commitment to making a difference, for the planet and humankind. So, my hope today is that we all say yes to a way of life that leaves the world a better place, stronger and more united.
If you’d like to know more about how we integrate sustainability principles into our client projects and office operations and our community initiatives, discover our 2019 Sustainability Report.