Led by umbrella organizations such as the World Travel & Tourism Council, International Air Transport Association and Joint Meetings Industry Council—and supported by the sustainability initiatives of hundreds of meeting and travel industry suppliers—the meetings industry is blazing a path toward net zero.
The journey began in November of 2021, when world leaders met in Glasgow, Scotland at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) to present how their countries would achieve a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, in accordance with the Paris Agreement. At this meeting, the Net Zero Carbon Events Initiative was launched with more than 100 first signatories—signifying the business events industry’s commitment to play an important role in addressing climate change.
Net Zero Carbon Events was founded by industry organizations including the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), the International Association of Convention Centres (AIPC) and others, under the umbrella of the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC). The initiative now includes more than 300 signatories and 130 other supporters from countries around the world.
At the following year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), held in November of 2022 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, the group published an actual “Roadmap” that can be used by all meetings industry stakeholders to help tackle climate change and achieve sustainable events. The Roadmap includes two versions: a detailed document of more than 80 pages with comprehensive information on how to implement action to achieve net zero, and a 20-page executive summary.
The next phase has been an ongoing communications campaign with the theme, “Route to Net Zero Events,” and frequent social media posts about the Initiative and Roadmap on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. Throughout 2023, stakeholders of the initiative have been engaged in eight parallel workstreams, defining pathways towards decarbonization of the meetings and events industry. Five workstreams focus on the priority action areas described in the Roadmap: Venue Energy; Food and Food Waste; Logistics; Smart Production and Waste Management; and Travel and Accommodation. Three transversal workstreams were introduced to support and coordinate the initiative: Measurement, Carbon Offsetting and Reporting.
Meanwhile, a number of parallel initiatives have also taken hold—all with the goal of creating a more sustainable meetings industry. The Hotel Sustainability Basics, a set of 12 globally recognized criteria launched by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) at ITB Berlin in March, is designed to provide an achievable starting point by offering what it believes to be the “fundamental standards required of our sector.” Individual hotels can then build on these fundamentals to more complex sustainability efforts, which ultimately would lead to greater sustainability across the entire industry.
The Basics criteria have been recognized by the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance as the starting point for a net-positive industry. WTTC has also partnered with Green Key and SGS, an organization that provides inspection, verification, testing and certification services, to develop an online verification system. To be officially verified, hotels must meet 8 of the 12 criteria—which cover everything from using green cleaning products to reducing energy and water consumption, waste and carbon emissions—in their first year, and prove their commitment to achieving all 12 of the criteria by year three.
Among all the activities of a meeting, air travel is responsible for the biggest carbon footprint. A notable outcome from COP26 was the move by 23 nations to sign the International Aviation Climate Ambition Declaration. Among its goals, the Declaration recognized the need for aviation to “grow sustainably” and acknowledged that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is the appropriate forum in which to address emissions from international aviation. Ensuring the maximum effectiveness of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) and the development and deployment of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) are key aims of the Declaration.
At the 77th International Air Transport Association (IATA) Annual General Meeting in October of 2021, member airlines passed a resolution known as Fly Net Zero—a commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions from their operations by 2050. The IATA World Sustainability Symposium is the only event for airline sustainability professionals to upgrade their environment knowledge levels and connect with other businesses that can support their sustainability targets. This year’s symposium, to be held in October in Madrid, will report on the progress made toward the net zero goals set two years ago.
Beyond these business events and travel industry efforts, the United Nations Race to Zero is a global campaign rallying companies, cities, regions, and financial and educational institutions to reach net-zero value chain greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050. It has mobilized a coalition including (as of January 2023) 8,296 companies, 52 regions, 1,136 cities, 1,125 educational institutions, 593 financial institutions and 64 healthcare institutions. Marriott International is the only hotel company that has joined Race to Zero, along with the three major U.S. airlines: American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines.
As the practice of sustainable procurement gains ground, Prevue has created the following guide for our readers to learn more about the green practices of meeting industry suppliers.
Net Zero Carbon Eventsnetzerocarbonevents.org
Hotel Sustainability Basicswttc.org/initiatives/hotel-sustainability-basics
Sustainable Hospitality Alliancesustainablehospitalityalliance.org
Fly Net Zeroiata.org/en/programs/environment/flynetzero