The International Congress and Convention Association wanted to do more around sustainability for its 58th ICCA Congress in October in Houston. While it made a push in many areas—using biodegradable badges and electronic post-conference surveys, not handing out conference bags, following good waste management practices, and so on—organizers also asked an important question: How can we engage attendees in event sustainability?
At the same time, Business Events Dubai, which had hosted the 2018 Congress, was looking for opportunities to stay involved with the event, and it didn’t want to be just “a sponsor with a logo on the wall,” says Shawn Cheng, CMP, DES, project manager, conferences, at MCI, the conference organizer.
What emerged was a daily “self-sustainability checklist,” sponsored by Business Events Dubai, to help attendees track what measures they’d taken onsite to help conserve and be sustainable. “The checklist began as a sponsorship activation, but it turned into a much larger initiative,” says Cheng. “We quickly realized the potential impact it could make on the Congress and future events.”
The MCI team created the checklist, with feedback from ICCA and Business Events Dubai, then put it on an online form site, Wufoo, and linked it to the conference app. The checklist has six categories: transportation, energy conservation, waste reduction, education, health and wellness, and “spread the word.” And each category has a number of possible actions to check off, each aligned with one of the United Nations 17 sustainable development goals, or SDGs. For example, among the actions in the waste reduction section were:
• I brought my reusable coffee mug and used it today. | SDG15
• I only took one hotel key card or the necessary amount when checking in at my hotel. | SDG12
• I did not open the bottled water at my hotel room today. (if provided) | SDG14
Altogether, there are 33 actions on the checklist.
MCI designed the self-sustainability checklist to be completed daily, but Cheng says that in the next iteration they’ll ask attendees to only do it once. Completion rates were good on the first day, he says, but tapered off. Cheng has five other suggestions for planners considering a similar idea:
• Think about the metrics you would like to report on and ask the right questions at the beginning.
• Make the checklist items short and quick to read.
• Make them easily attainable and fun.
• Make the checklist anonymous.
• Promote, Promote, Promote!
• Give attendees an incentive to complete the checklist.
Based on 878 actions that attendees checked off, MCI created the following infographic to illustrate where the group focused its sustainability efforts and the contributions made to each SDG.