We sat down with Ben Wielgus, Head of Sustainability, Informa plc, to discuss strides the world’s largest B2B events company is making to advance its sustainability priorities, measure progress and collaborate with industry partners to accelerate change.
As head of sustainability for the largest B2B events producer in the world, what are your thoughts on how the pandemic has impacted the meetings and events industry’s focus on sustainability?
"Well, it's certainly impacted! Whether it's for better or for worse only time will tell. On the downside, it has disrupted the lives of millions of people who work in the industry and the tens of millions who rely on trade shows and events to learn, network and do business. Back at the start of the pandemic, we had people asking for the events to be delayed until it all blew over 'in a few months' and an equal number who were eager for the events to go ahead as they rely on them so much for making their sales for the year. On the plus side, the pandemic has helped us achieve five or ten years of innovation in a short span of time; we've all learned to be more agile, to experiment with new formats and to really focus on those things that add the most value to our customer markets.
It could have been easy to imagine that sustainability would be one of the first casualties of the pandemic, but I think we are now seeing that it's actually higher on people's agendas than it was in early 2020. I think we all appreciate the importance of resilience in the face of big world changing trends, we all recognize the value that diversity of thought can bring and we all know that the pandemic could just be a taste of what's to come unless we address some of the challenges from sustainability. In many countries, people's value sets are now more on the surface, people want to return to work that has meaning and people want to know they make a positive difference with their time. Sustainability sits very well with that."
In November of 2021, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index ranked Informa at the top of its sector for global sustainability. What specific sustainability efforts helped Informa achieve that ranking and what are its Sustainability priorities moving forward?
"To be honest, it really is a collective achievement. I'd love to say we found a silver bullet, but one of the reasons we chose the DJSI as our focus index is that it measures a broad spectrum of issues ranging from how we treat our people and our approach to environmental management to how we protect customer privacy, our content policies and our board tenure. To do well in the index requires us to think about every aspect of how we run our business to ensure we're viable, sustainable, ethical and successful in the long term."
What are sustainability trends that you are seeing in the meetings and events industry and how are they impacting meeting planner roles and responsibilities?
"As we come out of the pandemic, and as the focus on the climate crisis grows, I think we're going to see people are going to be much more selective about how they spend their time, money and carbon in what may well be a travel constrained world. I think we'll see a movement away from 'frivolous' to clock up air miles or for a one-hour meeting and instead people will want to get the biggest return from their investment in being away, whether that's the cost, the environmental impact or their time away from family and colleagues.
This presents great opportunities for the meetings and events industry where our events can act as efficient travel consolidators, allowing many things to be accomplished in one place. Trade shows evolved from markets, and conferences evolved from forum and lecture halls, and they have existed for thousands of years because people want human connection. Bringing everyone together in one place is an efficient use of people's time. So, meeting planners are going to have to lean into this, make sure the event isn't just 'chalk and talk' and instead ensure that it focusses on what the audience needs most, and ideally ticks off a few other boxes as well."
For life sciences meeting planners, there is a great interest in understanding what is the best approach to measuring sustainability efforts and impact. Can you discuss common KPIs and measurements to measure sustainability initiatives and their impact?
"There are lots of things to think of here. The carbon and waste impacts are of course key to the environmental agenda, but we should also be mindful of attendee's wellbeing, how we open our content and communities to diverse mindsets and how we leave a positive legacy in the communities that host us; and then recognize the ability of meetings to educate, persuade and support. For Informa, we're also thinking a lot about how our content supports the sustainable development of the industries we serve. How much of our content enhances things like patient safety, the efficacy of drugs, the sourcing of ingredients ethically and more?"
We are seeing a number of industries ensuring that their partners/vendors are aligned around sustainability goals. Is there potential to further advance sustainability efforts in collaborating with partners that are aligned on sustainability goals?
"At the COP26 climate summit meeting in Glasgow in 2021, arguably one of the biggest and most important meetings in history, we saw industry after industry make pledges around moving to net zero collectively and together. This not only creates a groundswell of action and a chance to hold each other accountable, it also signals direction for the whole value chain in that industry. We were part of the launch of the Net Zero Events Pledge which brings together more than 280 organizations in the meetings industry to accelerate our work on reducing our negative impacts on climate change. I think it is essential that every industry has these collaborative forums and I hope to see the same in the Life Sciences industry soon."