The pockets of confusion that greeted the release of the Global Reporting Initiative’s Event Organizers Sector Supplement (EOSS) last week pointed to the time and effort that will be needed to put the full menu of sustainable meeting standards into practice.

Thousands of hours of volunteer effort have gone into the standards in recent years, and rightly so. They’re a tool for understanding the environmental and social benefits and cost savings that sustainable meetings can deliver, measuring progress against a clear benchmark and communicating that progress to clients and stakeholders.

The problem is that the majority of meeting professionals are still only vaguely aware that any standards exist. And some of the people who were most involved in developing the long-awaited APEX/ASTM sustainable meeting standards were a bit nonplussed by the release of yet another new sustainability reporting framework.

At the Green Meeting Industry Council, where I’ve been active for several years, we’ve thought of the three major standards—APEX/ASTM, the EOSS, and ISO 20121 (still under development by the International Organization for Standardization)—as supporting and complementing each other. But more work is clearly needed to help planners and suppliers understand and begin using them.

Meetings sustainability specialist Elizabeth Henderson, one of the industry advisers involved with the Global Reporting Initiative, explained the differences between APEX/ASTM and the EOSS in a recent e-mail:

“APEX/ASTM contains specific, environmentally focused measurement goals, such as achieving ‘x’ reduction in waste per delegate,” she wrote. The EOSS is about “how you report those achievements, using a globally accepted reporting template customized for the event sector. This is a huge opportunity to increase the credibility, transparency, and strategic importance of the sector within the business community.”

By bringing together environmental, social, and economic factors, Henderson said, the EOSS will help meeting professionals “become more integrative in their thinking about sustainability.”

She suggests thinking of the standards as three different parts of a single system:

  • APEX/ASTM helps planners and suppliers decide what to measure, by setting environmental targets in nine key areas of event operations.
  • The EOSS provides guidance on how to report the environmental, economic, and social impacts of a specific meeting or series of meetings.
  • ISO 20121, when it’s released, will be the management system that links sustainable event activity to an organization’s wider vision, mission, values, and objectives.

Standards are an essential tool for capturing the environmental benefits—and the significant economic gains—of a genuine, effective sustainable meetings program. But their adoption will be driven by demand. The interest is out there, in the thousands of businesses and associations that are rethinking the sustainability of their own operations. But it will take time and training before most meeting professionals are in a position to begin taking meaningful action, and the initial response to the EOSS suggests a long road ahead.

Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content, and founding chair of the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Foundation. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog and tweets as @mitchellbeer.