When 193 United Nations member countries voted to adopt global sustainability goals in 2015, they were at the forefront of a sustainability and social responsibility movement that has steadily gained steam ever since. The UN later partnered with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and sustainability strategy firm, Futerra, to create Good Life Goals that many corporations have adopted as part of their corporate and social responsibility (CSR) efforts. These goals align with an overall societal shift toward supporting local businesses and looking for ways to support a more sustainable world.
Meeting planners know delegates are now looking for more from events than in years past. It’s no longer enough to have a party and a plenary session or two. Attendees want team-building experiences, and they want to make local discoveries where they can connect with the people and places they visit.
In a recent Hilton poll of 72,000 guests, 86 percent of respondents said a hotel’s environmental and social responsibility is important to them. Overall, 33 percent said they research a hotel brand’s environmental and social efforts even if the information isn’t easily accessible. Among people under the age of 25, that number jumps to 44 percent.
A full 62 percent of respondents said they will switch hotel brands if a company is in the news for unethical business practices, even if the switch is more expensive. It has become more important than ever for meeting and event planners to factor in a hotel’s reputation and a brand’s commitment to sustainable practices.
The intersection of CSR and meeting planning goes beyond a hotel’s reputation, though. Perhaps more important, delegates and guests value destination experiences. People want to be inspired to think and participate creatively rather than sitting passively. Meetings and events now include campfire discussions rather than breakout sessions, and offsite visits to make local discoveries have become the norm.
Group activities help delegates form an emotional connection with the host city. A great example is Amsterdam, where Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station organizes plastic fishing trips as a unique local discovery and team-building experience for event delegates. Participants “fish” for plastic from small boats as they float through the city. The evening ends with sparkling drinks and discussion about everything from Amsterdam’s history to how to keep plastic out of our waterways. This dovetails with Hilton’s commitment to eliminate plastic straws at all hotels – stopping the disposal of 205 million plastic straws every year – and to remove plastic water bottles from all meetings and events in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
The Amsterdam experience, and others like it, enables delegates to experience a city while doing something positive for the community at the same time.
Reasons to share
Creating emotional experiences for delegates makes them more likely to share their experiences with others. The feeling of giving back is one of the most powerful ways to feel positive about an overall event.
As part of its own CSR mission, Hilton has a commitment to cut its environmental footprint in half as part of its “2030 Goals” to reduce carbon emissions by 61 percent and reduce water usage by 50 percent by 2030. The company also maintains a commitment to use locally grown and sourced foods wherever and whenever possible.
At a recent conference, the Conrad Dubai sourced all its flowers from a social enterprise that employs people with disabilities. All of the food was grown and sourced from local suppliers, as well. This not only supports local businesses and the local economy, but it also reduces the hotel’s carbon footprint and prevents the excessive travel and waste needed when importing goods from other countries.
Meetings and events have also gone digital. By using smartphones, tablets and laptops, more than 2,000 pens and notepads can be prevented from ending up in a landfill. By providing high-speed internet connections and ample opportunities to power up, hotels encourage digital connectivity so paper doesn’t have to be used and thrown out at the end of a conference.
Taken all together, Hilton has a three-pronged approach to wellness and sustainability at meetings and events: mindful eating, mindful being and mindful meeting.
At the Conrad Dubai meeting alone, 1,600 kg of locally sourced ingredients were used in preparing food, and 950 kg of sustainable and organic ingredients were used. This contributes to both mindful eating and mindful being, and is part of Hilton’s commitment to source sustainable meat, poultry, produce, seafood and cotton where possible.
Having local, organic food — and knowing where that food came from — contributes to the mental and emotional wellness of delegates. Each property will meet the needs of mindful eating and mindful being in its own way. For example, Hilton Manchester Deansgate offers Yoga in the Clouds as a way to decompress and enjoy the city’s landscape. Globally, 985 Hilton properties have now incorporated sustainably sourced food, wellness options and waste reduction into meetings and events.
All of these amenities and activities add up to a mindful meeting. When delegates are engaged in their space and experiencing a connection with the food and people around them, they’re naturally going to remember and want to share their experience of the event.
When it comes to sustainability, CSR and Good Life Goals, one thing is clear: Travel with a purpose.