In 2005, MCI, the global event giant headquartered in Geneva, organized Europe's 500 Entrepreneurs for Growth Summit in Barcelona. The managing director of MCI's Barcelona, Spain, office, Guy Bigwood, was handed the task of finding a speaker dynamic enough for this meeting of Europe's top entrepreneurs.

Bigwood came up with former vice president Al Gore, who, in lieu of politics, was focused on the issue of global warming and was about to star in 2006's most unlikely box office smash, An Inconvenient Truth. Gore's speech at the November 2005 meeting was a huge success. “Al Gore in person is no comparison to the film,” says Bigwood. As convincing and well-researched as Gore was in the film, in person “he was very, very compelling,” says Bigwood.

So compelling, in fact, that Bigwood walked away convinced that MCI needed to follow Gore's lead and develop its own sustainability program. Fortunately, because his entire executive committee also heard Gore speak, it didn't take much convincing — he got the job.

Where Do You Start?

Bigwood's first step was gathering information. He headed to the IMEX Show in Frankfurt, Germany, where he attended a seminar by green meetings expert Amy Spatrisano, CMP, principal of Meeting Strategies Worldwide, Portland, Ore., a consulting and training company that works with organizations to produce sustainable, green conferences and corporate social responsibility programs. When they spoke afterward, she says, “It was clear he was excited about the possibilities, but everyone gets excited at first. Does that excitement translate into action? With Guy it really did.”

After getting the approval of the four-member MCI Executive Committee and the company's international board, Bigwood had to gain the buy-in of MCI's 500 employees. Spatrisano and Bigwood brought in a third player: consultant Mike Wallace, Wallace Partners LLC, San Francisco, who provides organizations with guidance on environmental governance and sustainable services.

Wallace interviewed key MCI executives, including potential critics who showed little understanding of or interest in corporate social responsibility and green issues. “We talked about what is going on with CSR on a global level, and what their peers — whether it's Wal-Mart or Nike — are doing,” says Wallace. “I wanted them to understand that they aren't alone.”

At the same time, Bigwood identified a core group of champions: MCI employees who are passionate about the environment and social issues. Spatrisano led intensive training sessions with this group about green meetings and how to implement them, looking at issues such as negotiating with suppliers, identifying green hotels, examining recycling policies, and conducting site inspections and negotiating contracts. She also customized a training manual for these employees, which of course was printed on recycled paper and bound in environmentally sound binders. The initial training was completed in about two months, and those MCI green champions are providing follow-up training for the entire company.

Get With the Program

At the heart of MCI's new initiative is a green office program, which will have as its model the Barcelona office.

In Barcelona, the process started with selection of office space, which included large open spaces with plenty of natural light, eliminating much of the need for artificial light during daytime hours. MCI redesigned the office using sustainability practices and principles. For example, they installed energy-efficient windows, and construction waste was sent to a recycling center. Low-consumption fluorescent lighting was installed in the hallways, 90 percent of desktop computers were replaced with laptops, and timing switches were installed on printers, all reducing energy consumption. MCI will try to replicate these practices in its other offices.

Another of Bigwood's goals is to reduce his company's environmental footprint, which is proving to be a challenge for the global company, which has 17 offices from Latin America to Shanghai. “Defining how we measure that … is complicated and confusing,” he says. “There are lots of different entities — the United Nations, the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) — that have their own reporting systems.”

MCI is developing its own environmental footprint calculator to document, benchmark, and analyze the impact in the form of greenhouse gas emissions and other byproducts of the company's business in each of its offices. MCI is collecting and reviewing that information from 2006 and from that analysis will devise reduction goals.

The company has also developed a Sustainable Event Methodology, which it will use to help clients measure and reduce the environmental impacts of their programs. This will include providing them with carbon offset options to help mitigate the CO2 emissions generated by their travel and events. (See story on carbon offsets, page 32.)

A longer term goal is to create a new “industry practice” area for the renewable energy sector, based on what MCI has done developing event and communications services and strategies for clients in certain business sectors, such as information technology.

Bigwood, who is leading the initiative, said the renewable energy sector is “obviously booming” and will be looking for help with training, incentives, events, and communications service. “It's a tremendous business opportunity,” he says.

Earth Day Kickoff

The company's big kickoff was a press conference this past Earth Day, with festivities at all of the MCI offices. In the Brussels office, 40 employees attended a launch party where they enjoyed Fair Trade snacks and drinks and screened (of course) An Inconvenient Truth. At the Geneva headquarters, they created a bamboo theme for an indoor picnic lunch, while in Paris, the group bicycled or took public transportation to a picnic held near the base of the Eiffel Tower.

And to think it all started with an unexpected box office hit. “Really, truly, it took Al Gore's movie, and Hollywood getting involved, for this subject to get ‘cool,’” says Spatrisano. “Now, the average person is waking up to it, and businesses are moving to it, and CEOs are dealing with it. And I think the meetings industry has finally decided we should be doing something, too.”

Green Goals

Each of MCI's offices set three concrete actions they will take to become greener. Among them:

  • Change most light bulbs to energy-efficient ones;
  • reduce flushing water in the toilets;
  • install recycling bins for paper, plastics, aluminum, and glass;
  • offset business travel;
  • bike to work;
  • encourage carpooling;
  • don't leave computers on standby;
  • bring re-usable chopsticks or other utensils for meals;
  • use both sides of paper;
  • choose hybrid or electric “green cabs”; and
  • meet regularly to share ideas.

Three Prongs

MCI's new CSR strategy has three parts:

  1. a green office program for its 17 worldwide offices,
  2. a “CSR task force” designed to support clients with their own CSR efforts, and
  3. the development of a new consulting services for the renewable energy industry.