Germany is well-known the world over for its efficiency—and the country has put that cultural characteristic to imitation-worthy use when it comes to its sustainable meeting practices.
Here are six lessons big-picture industry thinkers and strategists around the globe can learn from Germany's approach.
1. Invest in training for industry experts.
Last year, the German Convention Bureau launched a first-of-its-kind, multicity green meetings seminar program that will ultimately train and certify as many as 500 professionals working in the German meeting, incentive, convention, and exhibition industry. The program is slated to span several years and educate planners from major hotels, venues, and key convention centers—who can then bring what they've learned back to their coworkers and management teams, as well as to their clients hosting meetings in the country.
So far, Germany has trained 182 green consultants, and two more seminars are scheduled this year. The seminars are capped at 20 participants each and aim to teach both theoretical and practical aspects of organizing green events—including definitions of sustainability, what certifications are available, current market research, and best practice examples.
2. Commit to a dedicated conference.
Germany's Green Meetings & Events Conference drew about 340 participants this year for an event dedicated to event and meeting sustainability, and the event was entirely carbon neutral. Content focused on all aspects of sustainability, including environmental protection, corporate social responsibility, occupational health and safety, employee protection, and compliance. This year's conference will be followed by another in 2015 at the newly opened Kap Europa conference center in Frankfurt.
3. Establish written guidelines.
The key outcome from the inaugural Green Meetings & Events Conference was a set of industry-specific sustainability guidelines known as fairpflichtet—or “right and fair.”
The code is based on the U.N. Global Compact, designed to make globalization more socially and ecologically sustainable. Supporting member organizations agree to maintain minimum standards, self-regulate, and exchange ideas. There are 10 guiding corporate responsibility principles in the German sustainability code—ranging from transparency to strategic action—designed to position the meeting industry competitively on a global scale. That's a win for both the country's bottom line as well as the environment.
4. Develop and support venue infrastructure.
The Darmstadtium convention center in Darmstadt near Frankfurt is run almost entirely on renewable energy via geothermal, biomass, and solar technologies. The leading-edge green property is one of more than a quarter of all German venues with some form of green certification—in part because of federal regulation, as well as because of a shared cultural prioritization of environmental causes.
5. Don't tolerate lip service alone.
Talking about “green meetings” alone does nothing for the environment—and little to drive progress. German thought leaders stress the importance of the substance and action—not to mention measurement—behind the concept. Green Meetings & Events Conference keynote speaker Klaus Toepfer, the former federal German minister of the environment, said, “We should be very wary of ‘green painting’ when there is no substance to back it up. We need proof, and more and more event organizers agree.”
6. Continually reevaluate.
German Convention Bureau regional director for the U.S. and Canada Laura d’Elsa says the key is to not rest on laurels after initial successes, but instead to continually reevaluate what more can be done. “Are you doing everything to keep waste at a minimum? Can you further reduce your waste? And are there any new technological developments that can decrease waste? These possible developments also make it all the more important to focus on innovation and investing in research and development,” she said.