International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) and global event agency, MCI Group, recently launched the Global Destination Sustainability Index (GDSI)—an ambitious project to drive the sustainable growth of international meetings destinations and galvanise event planners to make more responsible destination choices.

The index will benchmark destinations by assessing the sustainability performance of a city as well as the business events industry within that city.

Roger Simons, Singapore-based group sustainability manager at MCI, says the index will help DMCs and convention bureaus implement an integrated sustainability strategy that encompasses social, environmental and economic factors —and ultimately drive competition around sustainable events.

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“By benchmarking performance, destinations will have a clear understanding of how they are performing with sustainability, a clear pathway of what they need to do to increase performance and discover best practice from their peers in the industry.”

The joint MCI-ICCA project was largely inspired by the ICCA Scandinavia chapter, which launched a highly successful benchmarking scheme for the Scandinavian region in 2012. Its index now has 20 cities across five Nordic countries measuring and providing data for assessment.

Simons says: “As a result of the Scandinavian Destinations Sustainability Index, we managed to increase the number of destinations with a sustainable events strategy by 25 per cent. Since then, our partnership with ICCA has evolved, and it’s a natural evolution for the index to now go global.

“Culturally, the idea of benchmarking, self-analysis and collaboration has worked well in Europe; but now we’ve witnessed great enthusiasm in the Asia region and Latin America. City benchmarks, such as the annual ICCA ranking of event destinations, or The Economist’s ‘Most Liveable Cities’, are now increasingly being used by bureaus to drive strategy and marketing.

“Feedback tells us that convention bureaus are now ready and keen to tell their sustainability stories and to improve their performance. In addition, many destinations are realising that sustainability can offer a clear competitive advantage.”

The GDSI will benchmark cities (and bureaus) according to seven key areas: environmental infrastructure; city strategy; convention bureau strategy; industry support; hotels and convention centres; client support; and quality of life.

Simons explains: “For the city, we assess the performance of the overall sustainability strategy, environmental infrastructure (water, waste, recycling), air quality, carbon emissions, public transportation and ethics. These are critical areas of city performance which a bureau may be able to influence, but normally has no control over.

“Then we assess the performance of the events and meetings industry. We review the bureau’s sustainability strategy (if one exists); what is included, the commitments, the objectives and how it is created. We assess how the bureau encourages and develops the sustainability of its local industry and how it supports both clients and potential clients to organise more sustainable events.

“As part of the holistic picture we’ll also analyse the performance and sustainability credentials of the key hotels and convention centres in the city.”

Lagging behind?

While cities like Bangkok, Singapore, Taipei, Melbourne and Sydney are leading the charge in the sustainability stakes, concerns regarding green meetings are highly varied across the APAC region.

Glenn Hansen, president and CEO of iCompli Sustainability, says: “As with anywhere in the world, there are leaders in sustainability and others lagging a bit.

“When you include China, APAC lags behind the rest of the world. However, with China regarded on its own, the region is definitely showing improvement as we have seen with recent international certifications awarded to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, Marina Bay Sands in Singapore and the Incheon Convention Visitors’ Bureau in South Korea.

“Sustainability lags in China primarily because it is still a relatively new concept and is not seen as important as economic development. Sustainability tends to be driven by competitive pressures, which is why some Chinese companies with more of an international presence have begun to adopt sustainability initiatives as they compete in the marketplace with global companies where sustainability is more of the norm.

“The MICE industry tends to follow the lead of their client companies so it’s not surprising that sustainability initiatives are not as advanced as in the rest of the Asia Pacific region.”

Simons acknowledges Asia’s relatively slow uptake, but remains hopeful the GDSI, which is expected to release its first set of city benchmarks at the 2016 ICCA Congress in Kuching, will drive growth. 

“The Asia Pacific region has and will continue to face major social and environmental challenges that will increasingly effect the events and meetings industry.

“The aspiration of the project is that the GDSI will drive destination and bureau leaders to focus on sustainability strategies that deliver social value, economic growth and competitive benefit. The Index has been proven to stimulate collaboration, reward great performers and share best practice.

“There’s a lot of conversation around MICE sustainability here in Asia and now we’ll have a concrete benchmark that can underpin that conversation.” 


Main image: Cloud Forest at Singapore's Gardens by the Bay