Beginning this week, we’re introducing a new MeetingsNet column, The Green Line, focused on all aspects of meetings and sustainability—environmental, economic, and social.
On June 4, I participated in Black Out Speak Out (BOSO), a day-long protest in which hundreds of Web sites went dark in response to federal legislation that will gut environmental protection in Canada and shut down funding for environmental science and policy research.
I was inspired to act by a courageous blog post by Shawna McKinley, Vancouver-based sustainability director with MeetGreen, that connected the dots from BOSO to meetings and events by pointing to the jobs and economic activity that depend on British Columbia’s tourist industry. Much of that activity could be threatened by the unrestricted pipeline development and tanker traffic that will be enabled by the budget bill that gave rise to the protest.
“The travel and tourism industry in Canada (and that includes meetings and events) is dependent on the perception that this country is home to unparalleled natural beauty,” she wrote. And “I benefit personally and professionally from the work of dozens of environmental charities whose ability to access funding and actively participate in public consultations is essential.”
Shutting down my firm’s online presence for a day was scary stuff, especially working in a professional setting as relentlessly nice as meetings and events. If any of my clients had told me they were put off by my stance, I would have pointed to the scientific evidence that the world is at a dangerous environmental tipping point. But that explanation wouldn’t have reached those who took offense but didn’t say so—and I think that’s why people in meetings and hospitality are often cautious about taking a public stand. In our dealings with clients and participants, our first imperative is to put people at ease (and at the very least, try not to offend anyone). But like it or not, if we want our businesses and our industry to remain strong, we have to pay attention to the systems, infrastructure, and basic, day-to-day stability that make it possible to hold face-to-face meetings.
The Gulf States meetings industry got a dire early warning about the business impacts of climate change when Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore in 2005. Seven years ago, scientists were cautious about linking specific environmental disasters to the larger warming trend, but the connection has since become unmistakable.
It may soon be tougher to offer participants the tired but standard choice between chicken and fish when nearly 80 percent of global fish stocks are fully exploited, overfished, or depleted. (Species at risk fare particularly badly in Canada’s new environmental legislation.)
When legislators in North Carolina and Virginia, and Tea Party activists in Virginia stifle research and infrastructure spending that would help coastal communities prepare for sea-level rise brought on by climate change, they’re attacking the basics that make meetings in those destinations possible. Since late 2009, I’ve been carrying around a map that shows Orlando, Miami, and the Florida Keys under water by 2100, due to climate-induced sea-level rise.
Meetings represent many millions of dollars per year in community economic activity. Hotels, CVBs, and meeting planners have clout as local job creators. So when you see climate denial, funding cuts, or other environmental threats in your jurisdiction, you can and should push back as though your business depends on it. Because, increasingly, it does.
Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog and tweets as @mitchellbeer.