Canada Launches Sustainability Benchmarking Initiative

Destination Canada
Destination Canada builds on its Business Event Sustainability Plan (Photo credit: Mathieu Dupuis/Tourisme Montreal)

Destination Canada unveiled the next phase of its Canadian Business Event Sustainability Plan at IMEX America 2022, as its domestic partners across the country embark on the Global Destination Sustainability Index (GDS-Index) annual benchmarking process. While attending IMEX, Prevue caught up with Virginie De Visscher, senior director of business development, economic sectors, business events, Destination Canada, for insight into the initiative.

“We launched the Canadian Business Event Sustainability Plan at the last IMEX in Frankfurt and now this is the evolution of it,” says De Visscher. “We have seen that there’s a real need from the client’s perspective to be more sustainable, but there’s a misunderstanding of what is out there. And when I say sustainability, it’s not just the environmental aspect, but all the pillars. So looking at how to make a meeting greener, but also really looking at the socio-cultural aspects, such as bringing indigenous cultures into the meetings and helping them to thrive. It’s about looking at the marginalized members of our communities and asking how we integrate them? And then the economic aspect of sustainability, how do we empower local communities and support them economically by buying local, as an example?”

“So all those initiatives are taking place across the country, and what the GPS Index will allow us to do is benchmark that. It will really measure where we’re at because without measurement we can’t progress. We need that baseline, and it doesn’t matter where we sit on that echelon, that’s where we start from and then we can grow.”

The GDS-Index is a sustainability performance program for business tourism destinations around the world. Used by over 80 cities globally, the GDS-Index benchmarks and improves the sustainability performance and strategies of the destination, its tourism supply chain, and the DMO.

“It’s not a certification, it’s really a benchmark to start measuring progress,” says De Visscher. “It will get us a whole inventory of all those sustainability practices that are taking place across the country. All those stories, like which city has a program for delegates to use public transport, which cities are powered by solar energy or geothermal. The things that delegates really want to know about our meeting organizers, and then we can translate that into turnkey solutions for the clients.”

Destination Canada launched the Canadian Business Event Sustainability Plan in the spring of 2022. The initiative is a first-of-its-kind national program aimed at improving the economic, socio-cultural, and environmental sustainability practices of business events hosted in Canada. Aligned with the aims of the plan, the GDS-Index is intended to cement Destination Canada’s position as a global leader in business event sustainability, and position Canadian destinations as changemakers accelerating progress toward the industry’s 2050 net zero targets.

“We want to keep live meetings — but how do we do it in a way that we’re not hurting our people and our planet at the same time?” says De Visscher. “Sustainability is something we’ve been talking about for years in this market, but now we’re finding that companies are saying they cannot participate with a destination that does not have sustainability practices. You cannot submit an RFP to them to do an event in that location unless they have certain sustainability behaviors in place. So it’s finally moving that needle from what we’ve been talking about for many years. It’s like the pandemic took something that was a trend, and turned it into something that needs to be translated into operations. It needs to be real, and people are hopefully tired of just talking about it — they want to see real action.”

Tourisme Montreal was the first Canadian city to join the GDS-Index. The destination recently launched a Guide to Best Practices for Sustainable Business Events as part of its new sustainable tourism strategy. Released to clients in July 2022, the 28-page guide was designed to drive concrete action across the industry — from new planners to more seasoned experts — by capturing a wealth of detailed information about how to make an event more sustainable. From small steps to more complex initiatives, everything is organized per category, with action items, local resources, and handy checklists to help make implementation easy and simple.

Explore Edmonton is the first city in Western Canada to join the GDS-Index. The destination launched its Responsible Events Program (REP) in August 2022. Ranging from social to environmental giving projects, the REP provides tangible options for planners to choose from that not only align with their event’s objectives but can be implemented regardless of the event’s size, type, or budget.

“What differentiates Canada as a destination is the heart and the warmth of the people, and when I say that, I don’t mean a cliche,” says De Visscher. “I mean the real welcoming nature of the people, and in a world where we crave those in-person interactions, that depth is really seen. Whether you’re coming for a corporate meeting, an association meeting or an incentive, you’ll feel that welcomeness. But the people are also at the heart of our knowledge capital and our sector expertise. We’re not just a beautiful country, we’re also a very smart country. And it’s that mix of the brains and the beauty that separates Canada apart.”

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