Sustainability Report: Still MIA in RFPs

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ICCA sustainability reportPlanners say sustainability is a key consideration when planning their events, but according to a new sustainability report, it’s still not generally incorporated into their RFPs.

As meeting and events continue to ramp up to 2019 levels and beyond, is sustainability still top of mind? According to the newly released International Sustainability Report, 71% say it’s very or extremely important, up 6% from two earlier similar surveys conducted by ICCA in 2023. The most recent study is based on data collected from 248 respondents worldwide from July to September 2023 and sponsored by ICCA and Destination Canada. Only 7% said sustainability was either not very important or not at all important.

However, caring about sustainability doesn’t necessarily translate into taking action, the sustainability report found. The majority of respondents (56%) were with associations, and they remain committed to using their meetings to concentrate on their top priorities of enhancing knowledge, training, education and professional standards. Those who rotate their meetings from continent to continent — which is associated with the highest carbon footprint due to the long-haul air travel international attendance requires — were dominant for 36%, with 26% saying they rotated nationally and another 15% rotated their largest meetings regionally. About a fifth of respondents represented suppliers, 10% were corporate planners, and the remainder with CVBs or intermediaries. Almost half were from Europe, with a third from North America, 12% from Asia Pacific, and the rest from Africa (2%) and South America (4%).

All too often, sustainability isn’t making it into the initial planning steps, including the request for proposal (RFP), the study found. About a third said sustainability either didn’t make it into their overall meeting planning process, from RFP through planning and execution, or just integrated it a little bit. About a fifth said they did integrate sustainability into their RFP design, with slightly higher percentages adding sustainability further along in the planning process, and 26% saying it was somewhat integrated into meeting execution and 28% saying it was a consideration while planning the event. Just 8% said sustainability is very integrated in their future meetings’ RFP design.

ICCA sustainability report
So what does top the list? Not surprisingly, costs were the highest-ranking criteria when it comes to procuring events, venues, products and services, with 74% putting that at the top of their list. Accommodation, venue capacity and space were ranked highest by 61% of respondents.

But just because contractual flexibility, capacity, cost and location tend to dominate RFPs, that doesn’t mean sustainability is just a talking point, not an action item. Instead, the sustainability report found, sustainability efforts tend to be included in overall event planning, said 53%, with another 62% saying it’s a key piece of their strategic planning work. Sustainability also is embedded in their mission statements and policies, said 42%. Another 40% said sustainability was included in their annual reports.

“These are high-level commitments to sustainability across the macro-dimensions in the planning stages and are considered at the executive level in the long-term goals and vision of the organization,” the report concluded. However, the study also found that sustainability was being incorporated at lower levels in items such as key performance indicators (KPIs), event codes of conduct, annual reports and policies. Some of the most frequently mentioned sustainability efforts included going paperless, making more sustainable catering and materials decisions, eliminating single-use plastic and providing sustainable travel and transport options.

The ultimate takeaway is that sustainability is increasingly incorporated into the more strategic, longer-range aspects of the planning process. “This might be attributed to the fact that strategic and event planning are inherently forward-looking, and thus lend themselves to the incorporation of sustainability as a fundamental element of long-term vision and event execution.” However, these elements still aren’t trickling down to the operational level just yet for many organizations, possibly because of the time and resources it takes to bring lofty goals down to the nitty gritty of event planning.

Download the full report here.

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