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TBGI Working Paper 5

Process vs. Performance Standards for Sustainable Meeting and Event Management

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Andrew Stephen Walker

July 2012

Abstract

This paper examines two emerging voluntary industry standards – the process-based ISO 20121 Event sustainability management systems and the performance-based APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Event Standard – and examines whether they can complement, rather than compete with, each other to provide a more comprehensive approach to the complex task of managing and measuring sustainability within meetings and events. A framework for analysis was developed through examining the academic literature on competition between process and performance-based sustainability standards within the forestry sector where several internationally-recognized standards have interacted in the marketplace for over a decade. Three criteria – legitimacy, accountability and effectiveness – were identified to evaluate the potential competition and complementarity between the two standards. The resulting analysis demonstrated that considering who was involved, how the process was managed, and the resulting final output, both standards have succeeded in their quest for legitimacy. The greater challenge will be to ensure that each standard holds users, and the wider meetings industry, accountable for their activities to ensure effectiveness. A balance of the flexible process-based ISO 20121, combined with the more stringent performance-based APEX/ASTM, is recommended to minimize the potential barriers that will undoubtedly exist considering the complexity of both standards. Used together, a more well-rounded approach is possible. APEX/ASTM will specify the agreed-upon environmental issues that must be addressed in order to reduce the growing ecological footprint of the meetings industry. However, while this may achieve success in the short term, it will take the systems thinking associated with ISO 20121to really enable users to imbed these practices into their organizational culture to ensure long term success through continuous improvement. Effectiveness is more achievable through widespread use, hence the need for trade organizations such as the Green Meeting Industry Council and Meeting Professionals International to champion the implementation of both standards in combination to accelerate the journey towards a more sustainable global meetings industry.

Keywords

Sustainability, Green, Meeting, Sustainable, Event, Corporate Social Responsibility, Voluntary Standards, ISO, ASTM