Setting the scene...


The Meetings Industry Association (mia) kicked off its high-profile campaign encouraging the business meetings and events industry to use less single-use plastic with a roundtable discussion. 

Key discussions from the debate, which is being championed by mia chair Kay England, included engaging government, metrics and benchmarking, addressing cost issues, sharing best practice and working collaboratively with other sustainability leaders. 

Held at London’s 15 Hatfields, central London’s most sustainable venue that has a zero waste to landfill as well as a strict ‘no bottled water’ policy preventing one million plastic bottles being dumped into the ground, the roundtable was the industry’s first debate focusing on the issues and opportunities facing the sector. It aims to reach caterers, hotels, venues and suppliers in the business meetings and events industry across the UK.

Zoological Society of London’s Rachel Shairp, who is also a leader of the #OneLess campaign that’s aiming to reduce the number of single-use plastic water bottles entering the ocean from London, argued public awareness is now at an ‘all-time high’.

She said: “We know if we don’t do anything that in 2050 the ratio of fish to plastic in the ocean will be one-to-one. That’s driving a lot of the action we’re seeing across society. I think we need ambition and we need it fast. 2050 isn’t far away at all. It’s been good to see a groundswell of support, but these are systemic issues we’re dealing with that are complex.”

Industry panellists shared ways they were operating more sustainably. Ivor Turner, general manager at The Lensbury, described how sales dropped by 50 per cent when they initially removed plastic bottles from their vending machines – until they educated guests.

He said: “People aren’t as green as they make out to be. People have habits and having the tin didn’t register. As soon as we put the reason up, the sales went back up.”

The discussion turned to the importance of agreed and set metrics for measuring sustainability as well as introducing official accreditation for venues and suppliers.

Jon Proctor of Green Tourism said: “I think it’s great how single-use plastic has captured the imagination, but the key thing is having good metrics and good measurable items. If we get this message right, we can effect big changes.”

Jane Longhurst, chief executive of the mia, admitted that it will be ‘hugely challenging’ just because of the diversity of the sector and the massive period of uncertainty being faced, thanks to the backdrop of Brexit. But she said she felt the association should be supporting the sector in making a positive change and helping it communicate and measure the savings and mooted the idea of creating handy sustainability checklists.

“Demonstrating the impact and your savings is what I think the mia needs to take responsibility for,” she said. “Helping people with a template or something that says ’this is how you measure it, this is how you take it to your client and this is your saving’ will be key, because you’ve got to sell it to the accountant as well.”

Other key talking points included examining the industry’s wider CSR credentials touching on areas such as hotel toiletries and encouraging the sector to research the best alternatives for their organisation. 

After the debate mia chair Kay England, said: “It was fantastic to have some of the leading minds in the industry and sustainability sharing their passion, expertise and ideas on turning the tide on single-use plastic during our initial roundtable. Their commitment and enthusiasm has helped further fuel the mia’s desire to effect positive change. We are now finalising the framework of the campaign and compiling a whitepaper.”