Why prioritising welfare is key to sustainable meetings and events

welfare sustainable meetings events

[Credit: Stress Matters]

Kerrin MacPhie, chief executive of the Meetings Industry Association (mia), emphasises the need for greater attention and focus on welfare in sustainable business meetings and events. 

In the business meetings and events industry, the focus on sustainability has increased intensely over the past couple of years. Nine in 10 organisations (91 per cent) now list sustainability as a key part of their business strategy, and almost three quarters (73 per cent) have measurable targets in place, according to the mia’s latest member research.

We are well beyond the stage where sustainability is a nice to have. It’s rapidly becoming one of the – if not THE – most important decision factor for corporate clients, and event organisers are prioritising hotels and venues that adopt sustainable practices. Fear of climate change is changing attitudes according to recent research by The Meetings Show – half of meeting planners cited climate change concern as the primary driver for implementing sustainability measures in meetings over the past two years.

Most planners (93 per cent) stated that sustainability will be ‘much more’ or ‘more’ important in the next two years, especially amongst younger planners. This means that hotels and venues without a sustainability policy are in danger of being left behind. More than half (54 per cent) said their organisations have made a commitment to net zero, with a third (34 per cent) committed to reaching the goal by 2030.

This is all hugely positive and shows that as an industry, we are moving in the right direction. But the business meetings and events industry has so far predominantly focused its sustainability efforts on environmental initiatives. Our member research demonstrates a clear organisational focus on the ‘planet’ pillar, with almost all (91 per cent) of those with sustainable targets focussing on waste management. And quite rightly so, given the urgency of the issues our planet faces. But by comparison, the ‘people’ pillar doesn’t receive as strong a level of attention, with one third (33 per cent) not currently holding a dedicated wellbeing and mental health strategy.

In the race to net zero, it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. You only need to look at the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) to see that true sustainability goes much further than measuring carbon and reducing waste. It requires taking a sustainable approach to all aspects of the way we do business – from reducing our environmental impact to improving employee health and wellbeing and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). In other words, prioritising people as well as planet and profit. 

A sustainable business cannot happen without people. It’s therefore crucial that wellbeing is given its rightful prominence within any sustainability strategy and incorporates initiatives promoting work life balance while supporting and acknowledging the diverse needs of individuals and groups in the organisation. 

Stress Matters is a company which provides businesses with mental health first aid training and more for its employees. Positive employee wellbeing should be a strategic priority to ensure the industry can attract and retain the wonderful talent working in our sector. Partnering with companies such as Stress Matters will help to equip teams with the tools to address and meet wellbeing needs as well as make positive, long-lasting cultural changes.

In addition to implementing good health and wellbeing – one of the UN SDGs – it can also be promoted throughout many aspects of physical meetings and events. For example, building time into programmes for exercise and relaxation, or providing healthy and nutritious catering. Or even setting up wellbeing or quiet spaces for people who need to take time out. Events can also have a huge positive social impact on the communities and destinations they operate in.

We believe partnerships are crucial to our industry’s ability to work towards a more sustainable future. Sustainability is a complex topic, which is why it’s important to collaborate with experts in different areas to fill in the gaps in our knowledge and share best practice so we can all do better. New Intent for example is a pro-social organisation dedicated to helping events realise the potential to give back to communities and create positive transformation in society.

Smaller venues and boutique hotels that offer business meetings and events as a small part of their revenue can also do their bit for sustainability. The government’s SME Climate Hub, a non-profit global initiative that empowers small to medium sized companies to take climate action and build resilient businesses for the future, has a whole range of free resources that boutique hotels and smaller event organisations may find helpful. 

The key to success when it comes to sustainability is planning and collaboration. We need to set realistic and achievable goals for ourselves and measure along the way to ensure we stay on track. But it’s important to remember that the three pillars of sustainability are people, planet and profit, and running a sustainable business or event is about getting the right balance across all three.

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