The Austrian Eco-label:
Green Meetings & Green Events
Business etiquette just turned Green
January 9, 2017
Leading the charge in eco-friendly business practices
IMAGE: Austrian Convention Bureau / bildgewaltig.at
Each year, over 18,000 meeting events are held in Austria. That uses a massive amount of resources and energy, and leaves behind an even greater carbon footprint. Research carried out by the Austrian Convention Bureau concluded that each participant in a three-day congress would leave behind 3.5kg of residual waste, 5.5kg of waste paper, 151 litres of wastewater and crucially 204kg of CO2 from the moment of their first arrival to their final departure. That’s an incredibly high level of resource and energy consumption for just one person by any standards.
That was precisely why the Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management decided to do something about it and counteract the environmental impact by launching the Austrian Eco-label “Green Meetings and Green Events”. This Eco-label, also known as the Eco-label Directive UZ 62, has been developed by the Association for Consumer Information (VKI) in cooperation with the Austrian congress and event industry, relevant stakeholders and environmental experts, and has helped meeting and event organisers to significantly reduce their environmental impact and their ecological footprint.
How does this happen?
The key aspects of the directive are increased energy efficiency, waste prevention and environmentally friendly arrival and departure procedures. At each Green Meeting, around 30% of the residual waste and up to 55% paper waste can be expected to be saved. In addition to this, regional added value and social responsibility are factored in at all stages of the planning process.
The onus is not just on the location itself, but on the entire experience; from the very beginning to the very end. It’s all about demonstrating good environmental stewardship and exhorting socially responsible meeting protocols, some of which include:
Eco friendly catering and gastronomy also plays a large role in Green Meetings in Austria; disposable dishes, cutlery or PET bottles are not allowed. And in contrast to typical meeting protocols, food is not simply thrown away, but (if possible) is stored in optimal conditions in order for it to be used again at a later date. In fact, anything that can be reused will be reused.
Another important criterion of the Green Meeting is social responsibility. Every year, the Austrian Convention Bureau (ACB), the non-profit organisation which serves as the platform for the Austrian congress and conference industry, nominates a regional charitable organisation. Donations are then collected during the Convention4u: the annual convention of the ACB. So far, a charity quiz for children with skin disease, a photo campaign to support a disabled people’s home and a care home, and table football among the meeting delegates to raise money for children with cancer have all taken part, with plenty more good causes earmarked for the future. It’s proved to be a great way to support good causes and networking among the delegates.
How to organize your meeting in Austria
The Austrian Eco-label can host all kinds of conferences, as well as all kinds of events; from seminars, board meetings to training courses and workshops and more: you name it, they can do it. Detailed information is available in the guidelines (in German and English), which can be found on the website of the Austrian Eco-label. The criteria of Eco-label Guideline UZ 62 are basically divided into two categories: Basic requirements; which the meeting has to meet in any case, and specific criteria; which can be freely selected depending on what the stakeholders are offering, but which must also reach a minimum number of points in order to qualify.
If an event organiser is considering holding a Green Meeting, he or she should first of all go through the criteria list of the UZ 62 Directive. If these criteria make it possible to carry out such an event and fulfil all the required criteria (basic requirements), Austrian licensees will be called upon to support them.
In order to be recognized as a Green Meeting, all mandatory criteria of the UZ 62 Directive must be fulfilled. The necessary total number of points can be achieved with additional points from the optional criteria checklist. The data is entered into the online certification software, and is verified by the VKI or the Ministry of the Environment. In Austria, a Green Meeting is not just some term bandied around recklessly in order to win some cheap greenwashed points; on the contrary this is very serious business, and when you read through the exhaustive list on the UZ 62 you soon come to realise exactly why.
Why choose Austria?
It’s not just the excellent infrastructure and enviable location in the heart of Europe which makes Austria an ideal location for meetings, conferences and exhibitions, but it is also the hospitality, the innovative power of the MICE industry and the unique offerings that set it apart from everywhere else.
Each of Austria’s nine federal states has its own designated Convention Bureau. Here, meeting professionals sell their respective destinations and regions. The Convention Bureaus also act as a link between event organisers and local companies, helping to provide their clients with the very best of breed within their regions. In 2015, nearly two-thirds of all events took place in the federal states (excluding Vienna). This underlines the competence of the whole of Austria in the meetings sector, and not just in and around its capital city.
In addition, Austria has its own umbrella association for the congress and conference industry in the form of the Austrian Convention Bureau; one of Europe’s most respected convention bureaus. For 23 years, the ACB has been pushing the meetings industry agenda through an excellent network of individual companies and services providers and has been providing high quality assistance to people seeking out expert advice.
Then there’s the fact that for Austrians, well, sustainability comes naturally and is an inherent part of their lives. Since 2006, Austria has regularly enjoyed top 10 placing’s in the Environmental Performance Index, and is generally considered one of Europe’s most progressive countries when it comes to sustainability. The WEF’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report also rates Austria as one of the world’s best destinations for sustainable tourism.
As Alfred Strigl, deputy director of the Austrian Institute for Sustainability, points out: “When it comes to the environment, Austrians are top of Europe and top of the world. We are the pioneers of Europe. We have a broad traditional knowledge of natural topics that comes from a conservative way of life – the farmers, hunters and forest men – that has been handed down from generation to generation. We know how to read the landscapes. We know about the cycle of life, to listen to the wind and to pay attention to the seasons and the way the herbs grow, the birds, the mushrooms and so on.”
And with regards to the clean economy of tomorrow, Austria is clearly a country which knows in which direction it needs to go, and is going there fast. Hydropower generates 60% of Austria’s electricity needs, whilst Lower Austria, the country’s largest state, now generates 100% of its electricity from renewables. Bioenergy is also a rapidly growing sector. Make no mistake; sustainability is everywhere in Austria, so where better to hold your green meeting than a country which is able to practice what it preaches?
With such a staunch focus on sustainability, Austria’s pioneering role in the European meeting industry hasn’t gone unnoticed, either. Indeed, many convention bureaus from around the continent are already citing the Austrian meeting industry as being the one they seek to emulate in their quest to bring their business meeting models into the 21st Century.
And bringing the meetings industry into the 21st Century is precisely what many people are good at doing in Austria. In 2015; 64 Green Meeting licensees were already registered in Austria. These certified a total of 329 events with more than 286,000 participants, including 270 meetings and 59 events.
22 out of 75 members of the Austrian Convention Bureau are already licensees. Convention Bureaus, PCOs (Professional Congress Organisers), DMCs (Destination Management Companies), venues, suppliers and tourism operators all make up the mix, but the work doesn’t end there. As Michaela Schedlbauer-Zippusch, Managing Director of the Austrian Convention Bureau, states: “We are proud to be the first licensee and are pleased that nearly 30% of the members now act as licensees. But in the future it is also our duty to inform potential congress organisers about the unique offerings in Austria and to help bring about a complete rethinking of the entire conference sector”.
It is precisely this tradition of pragmatic application and progressive thinking which ensures that the Austrian meeting industry is never staying still for very long, but is constantly evolving and trying to find new ways in which to further the green agenda.
A common myth: Green Meetings = expensive meetings
Clean and green meetings do not have to cost the earth; literally and figuratively speaking. The digital era is drastically helping to reduce traditional printing and distribution costs, whilst local sourcing of foods and materials are also helping to keep costs down to a minimum. On the administrative side of things, and as a general rule, no costs for the certification are incurred by the organisers of Green Meetings. The licensee absorbs this cost in the course of their annual subscription fee, whilst consulting costs are agreed individually between the organiser and licensee. So with creativity and ambition, Green Meetings are possible in any size, location or budget; it’s really all down to the organiser on how far they want to push the boat out.
And a highly modern location is not necessarily a prerequisite for hosting a green meeting, either. With the help of the Vienna Convention Bureau (VCB) in 2012, the “Global South-South Development Expo” (GSSD) was held for the first time as a Green Meeting at the 13th Century-built Hofburg Vienna. The VCB supported the organiser UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) with recommendations for environmentally-friendly mobility in the city, as well as eco-labelled hotels. 900 participants received bio-friendly produced and/or upcycled conference equipment such as conference bags, writing instruments and brochures. Much information was not printed as is traditionally the case, but was supplied on USB sticks instead. To give each participant the opportunity to support the Green Meeting philosophy, a “Green Passport” packed full of green tips were also issued.
Another exemplary project was the ECR “European Congress of Radiology” in 2014. For this was the very first year the event was held as a Green Meeting, with 20,000 participants no less. The fact that the Location Austria Center Vienna is a licensee for Green Meeting certifications proved to be a succinct advantage. The ECR was conceived as a paperless congress, with all information being made available through the congressional app and website. It’s these types of initiatives which have really helped to propel the status of Green Meetings higher and higher.
A growing market which continues to attract a large amount of investment
As competition from around the globe continues to grow, Austria has remained more than capable of holding its own as one of the world’s leading congress destinations, as is aptly demonstrated by the continuously growing number of congresses and conventions taking place all over the country. Not one to miss a growing trend, Austrian companies have shown themselves willing to invest accordingly. In the past 3 years alone, around €105 million has been invested into the Austrian MICE industry, whilst a further €33 million has been earmarked for projects in 2017.
It’s a trend which Christian Mutschlechner, the man who has been the President of the Austrian Convention Bureau for the past seven years, puts down to a logical progression of interests: “Organisers of congresses and conferences are being asked to improve and modernise the facilities for scientific congresses and training seminars. Suppliers, in particular congress and conference centres, are obliged to support these demands and are therefore required to invest a greater amount in the technical infrastructure as well as in the general interior of the congress rooms. The cooperation of customers and suppliers enables a further qualitative improvement of the actual goal of scientific congresses: an even better and more engaging experience, and also a greater level of interaction which translates into better education and success in the long term.“
Continuous development and innovation
The Austrian meetings industry in no way sees Green Meetings as the be all and end of sustainability in the sector, which is why in addition to the UZ 62 guidelines, many other innovations have been taking shape. The city of Linz has developed the concept of a new conference format called the Blue Meeting®. There are three levels to the Blue Meeting concept: the person, the venue and the programme; all optimally coordinated to ensure that not only is the environment getting the attention it deserves, but also the individual needs of people too. As the motto of the Blue Meeting concept goes: People are individuals, not simply machines to be filled with information at will.
In the catering sector, the concept of brain food is also garnering more and more attention. By focusing on the nutrients which will support healthy cognitive function and boost memory, it stands to reason that more positive and productive meetings can take place. This is proving to be a real hit with meeting planners and executives alike, who all stand to benefit from the increase in productivity.
These are just a couple of examples which demonstrate that the issue of sustainability in Austria goes far beyond the mark of the Green Meeting, but there are plenty more to discover.
The future is green
You’ll find many companies in Europe today exalting their environmental credentials at every possible opportunity, but not half as many will factor sustainability into their business etiquette. But the simple fact remains; executives are effectively ambassadors for their companies, and if they aren’t walking the green walk, whether that be the form of doing business or holding a meeting, the big question is why should anybody take them on their word when say that they really do care about the planet?
This kind of greenwashing is becoming increasingly apparent in today’s world, and doesn’t cut any ice with an increasingly discerning marketplace. We live in an age when environmental stewardship is increasingly becoming top of corporate agenda, and actions speak much louder than words.
Green Meetings can be used to build a positive image among the participants, the local communities and the sponsors; and can do so in a way which reminds companies that sustainability isn’t just a temporarily fashionable buzzword, but is a way of doing business which must endure for all time, lest we wish to lose the fight against climate change.
Since its inception in 2010, the Austrian Eco-label for Green Meetings and Green Events has served as the forerunner for countering this current status quo in the European meetings industry. There’s certainly a lot that we can learn from the Green Meeting industry in Austria; it’s ultimately down to us whether we’re ready to listen.
Find out more about the Austrian Ecolabel for Green Meetings and Green Events:
Austrian Convention Bureau
Tel: +43 676 57 64 666 E-Mail: email@example.com
Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management
Tel: +43 (1) 515 22-1648 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
VKI Association for Consumer Information Team Eco-label
Tel: +43 (1) 588 77-235 E-Mail: email@example.com
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