Sustainability has been a watchword in travel and business event planning for years, but its prominence is only increasing as action on cultural, economic, and environmental initiatives accelerates around the world. C-suite leaders, destination marketing organizations (DMOs), and event planners must keep sustainability top-of-mind as they plan for 2023 and beyond.
To aid in that goal, Destination Canada has launched a first-of-its-kind national program aimed at improving the economic, socio-cultural, and environmental sustainability practices of business events hosted in Canada, and helping others in the sector engage with this process.
SkiftX spoke with Virginie De Visscher, senior director of business development for Destination Canada’s Business Events team, about how the organization is approaching sustainability, helping its partners rise to the occasion, and thinking about business event trends that lie ahead.
SkiftX: Sustainability has become an increasingly important factor in deciding how and where to host an event. How have you seen attitudes in the C-suite shift on the topic in recent years?
Virginie De Visscher: Sustainability continues to be a top priority among C-suite executives. More than ever, they are looking at how destinations and venues are incorporating sustainability measures into business events.
However, this focus on sustainability is especially apparent among certain sectors. For example, many organizations in the natural resources sector are limiting meetings and conferences to reduce their carbon emissions. Meanwhile, corporations, compared to associations, are driving the movement for more Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) in their meetings. This is positive, as we all need to play a role in hosting more sustainable events.
SkiftX: Tell us more about the Canadian Business Events Sustainability Plan. Why was it important for Destination Canada to develop a national strategy?
De Visscher: In May 2022, we announced the launch of the Canadian Business Events Sustainability Plan, which focuses on boosting sustainability for international association conferences, trade exhibitions, workshops, seminars, corporate meetings, and incentive group events. It directs coaching, training, and education opportunities to domestic partners to build on their existing sustainability programs. It also supports the implementation of new programs across business events hosted in Canada.
Creating this was important for Destination Canada because the work we are leading in sustainability is invaluable in strengthening Canada’s broader regenerative tourism ecosystem for years to come.
SkiftX: How are destination partners getting involved in the Canadian Business Events Sustainability Plan, and what support do they receive from Destination Canada?
De Visscher: The Canadian Business Events Sustainability Plan will build on an evidence-based foundation established through a national destination assessment. This assessment will evaluate existing sustainability initiatives in Canadian cities and will be used to measure and track change over time.
This work is benchmarked through the Global Destination Sustainability Index (GDS-Index), the world’s leading sustainability performance program for business tourism destinations around the world. To date, 15 Canadian DMOs are pursuing GDS-Index benchmarking and have begun accessing coaching, training, and education opportunities. Indexing will begin in the second quarter of 2023. Once complete, Canada will account for a significant portion of the GDS-Index destinations.
SkiftX: While this is a new, national program, can you tell us about some ongoing sustainability initiatives from destinations across Canada?
De Visscher: Canada is one of the most progressive destinations when it comes to helping planners achieve their sustainability goals.
For example, the Vancouver Convention Centre is the world’s first and only double-LEED Platinum-certified convention center. The center has a six-acre living roof — the largest in the country — with more than 400,000 indigenous plants, uses a seawater heating and cooling system, and incorporates local wood products from sustainably managed forests throughout.
Food management and sourcing also play a leading role in reducing an event’s environmental footprint. Venues focusing on food programs in Winnipeg, such as the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg, are using suppliers that work with local farms to offer seasonal and plant-based menus. And venues across the country are also tackling food waste. For example, the Shaw Centre in Ottawa has a partnership with Food Rescue, developed by Second Harvest, Canada’s largest food rescue organization, and donates surplus food to those in need in the community.
Business Events Montréal, the first Canadian city to join the GDS-Index, recently created and launched an industry-leading “Guide to Best Practices for Sustainable Business Events” as part of its new sustainable tourism strategy. Released in July 2022 to clients, the 28-page guide captures detailed information about how to make an event more sustainable.
In addition, Explore Edmonton launched its Responsible Events Program (REP) in August 2022, which provides tangible options regardless of the event’s size, type, or budget. The REP was designed in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).
SkiftX: Destination Canada has taken a true leadership role in making business events in Canada more sustainable. How do you align stakeholders across the entire supply chain around common sustainability goals?
De Visscher: Collaboration is the key to the success of the Canadian Business Events Sustainability Plan — not just nationally, but internationally as well. As part of the plan, Destination Canada has set up a Canadian task force of sustainability experts from across the country. We are also engaged in discussions with the Global Destination Sustainability Movement (GDS-Movement) and the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), as well as other national and municipal destination marketing organizations. All are driving and paving the way toward economic, social, and environmental sustainability for tourism and business events.
SkiftX: How is Destination Canada measuring its progress toward sustainability goals and holding itself, and its partners, accountable?
De Visscher: Destination Canada has partnered with Greenstep, a leading Canadian-based firm in environmental sustainability, to evaluate our organization’s carbon footprint and propose a plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions. We’ve also consolidated our international office space to reduce our carbon footprint.
One of the events we host each year, Innovate Canada, takes qualified international C-suite executives behind the scenes to see what’s occurring across Canada’s leading innovation sectors. Innovate Canada 2023, which will be held in Waterloo, Ontario, will be the first time the event is carbon neutral.
Additionally, as mentioned earlier, Destination Canada is supporting domestic partners from across Canada to embark on the GDS-Index, which allows us to help benchmark, enable knowledge sharing, and drive capability improvement across the events industry, accelerating change and impact.
SkiftX: What trends in sustainable business events are you watching most closely for 2023?
Virginie De Visscher: As sustainability continues to become an essential component of business events — and as business travelers increasingly want to avoid negative impacts on the environment and local communities — there are some key trends that we’re watching closely for 2023. These include a focus on choosing the right partners, the use of local products and vendors, eliminating food waste, and weaving sustainability into contracts.
More and more, we’re seeing planners align with partners that can help them reduce their event’s impact, whether that means choosing venues and hotels with strong green initiatives or activities that minimize attendees’ carbon footprint. Planners are also taking note of the measures in place for proper food management, including disposal and donation options for surpluses. They are also exploring ways to partner with charities, food banks, and innovative companies that help sustainably process leftovers and when negotiating contracts, often include elements like food donations, local purchasing, composting, and post-event reporting.
Click here to learn more about Canada’s economic sectors in the article and video series created in collaboration with Skift.