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Eventful News: Sustainability, Bleisure, & the Facial Recognition Dilemma

Attendees expect sustainability. And as events commit to being “greener,” they also struggle to find meaningful ways to make good on that word. This week, two of our biggest stories showcase impactful, approachable ways large-scale events can bring sustainability to fruition — and they go farther than just recycling. 

Stay in the loop with the week’s five biggest event news updates.

1. This Event Proved That Ditching Plastic is Possible (The Conversation)

Sustainability is a hot topic in the modern world of meetings. But is a large-scale, plastic-free event actually possible? Just ask the Australian Marine Sciences Association, who took it upon themselves to “turn the tide” with a completely plastic-free event for 570 people. And they did it all without expanding their budget or impacting their bottom line. (Yes, really.)

From day 1, we were clear we wanted to eliminate plastic and reduce overall waste – everything from day-to-day rubbish to plastic take-home novelties that feature at so many conferences but inevitably make their way into landfill…Recycling is only a small part of the solution. We need to ‘refuse, reduce, and recycle’ to really tackle plastic.” -AMSA

What does it mean for planners? 

Knowing the difficulty of the task ahead, AMSA started planning toward the goal a full year before the event took place. But it’s not just the timeline that planners can look to when “de-plasticing” their own events — the association used some smart, replicable tactics to replace conference must-haves that are normally produced with plastic. Some of these included:

  • Cardboard name tags without pockets
  • Bamboo lanyards with metal clips
  • Delegates had to bring their own coffee cups/water bottles
  • Plates, silverware, and glassware for all meals
  • No envelopes or printed conference abstracts

What’s next?

Perhaps the biggest reason that the AMSA was able to pull off such a remarkable feat was collaboration. All exhibitors, workshop organizers, and delegates committed early on to kicking the hard stuff (aka plastic). The time has come where sustainability is a chief concern for events and attendees alike, and the next step is accountability. When everyone involved in the event shares a goal and feels accountable to one another, even truly plastic-free events are possible. 

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2. Visitors Centers (and Attendees) Are Big on “Bleisure” (Skift)

With millennials making up the majority of modern attendees, many find themselves stuck between a destination and a hard place. The “experiences over stuff” generation has a desire to travel and experience new destinations in their leisure time, yet leisure time is often more of a luxury than a reality. The result? They’re using business travel to explore leisure destinations — and from destination marketing to meetings agendas, “bleisure” is evolving how events are planned.

If the attendees can’t go out and experience a double-decker bus, we’ve had clients bring in double-decker buses into the convention center and turn them into food trucks. Or they’ve taken the exhibit hall and turned it into a giant, adult-sized ball pit. It’s taking what you have and making it as quirky and creative as you can and integrating the destination into those experiences.” -Joshua Novick, Vice President of Business Development, London & Partners

What does it mean for planners?

If attendees like the destination, 79% will generally return for leisure or even extend their stay if possible. However, this doesn’t just spell big bucks for destinations and venues, it also means that planners have to choose destination based on more than the age-old adage of “rates, dates, and space.” 

Attendees are looking for authentic interaction with their host cities, and a chance to experience all that gives a city its unique culture. For planners, that means planning events in ways that give delegates a true taste of the culinary scene, a chance to imbibe in nightlife, and easy, walkable access to city centers. In many cases, that means turning to unorthodox venues and meeting spaces to make it happen. 

What’s next?

As the desire to interact with host cities grows, that interaction won’t just happen outside of conference hours — it’s going to define conferences and enliven agendas. In fact, events such as the Forbes Under 30 Summit are already spilling into the city and turning the destination itself into the convention center. But this sort of paradigm shift in agendas will also make it paramount that the city aligns with the overall message and purpose of the event.

Further Reading: Where You Meet Matters: How to Choose a Purposeful Meeting Destination

eBook: Where You Meet Matters

3. Clean Air Affects Events More Than You Might Think (Meetings Today)

Most conventional buildings are lacking the proper ventilation to truly purify the air that attendees are breathing. With pollutant concentration 2-5x higher indoors than out, that’s a pretty big deal — one that has the full attention of the CEO of Luxury Associated Hotels International, Michael Dominguez. 

As he reports in this piece for Meetings Today, a recent review of 15 air-quality studies reports that improved ventilation, and in turn higher air quality, can actually improve cognitive function by as much as 11%. 

Breathing is an unconscious activity for us all, and as such we tend to take for granted the importance of the quality of air we’re inhaling. The average person breathes in more than 33 pounds of indoor air daily, and as we age, our body’s ability to compensate for the effects of air pollution become more limited.” -Michael Dominguez, CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels International

What does it mean for planners?

Think about it: If your brain was a car, an 11% gain in speed would be the difference between going 70 mph and 78 mph. Which means that by kicking dirty air out of the left lane, your events can benefit from better networking, higher engagement, superior panels, and more. 

To take advantage, planners need to inquire about air quality at venues and look for purifying elements such as indoor foliage, which filters air naturally via plant-based decarbonization. It might even mean taking the next event outside.

What’s next?

The wellness movement has grown steadily in the industry, and, as it continues to grow, so too will the level of sophistication. As it does, many of the things we take for granted at events will fall under the scrutinizing lens of behavioral science. Colors, spatial layout, and, yes, air quality, are just some of the many environmental factors through which planners can produce productive meeting mindsets amongst attendees. 

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4. Face the Facts: Facial Recognition Comes With a Moral Dilemma (NY Times)

Facial recognition technology has exciting implications in the hospitality industry, especially for hotels. However, as the New York Times reports, it also poses an ethical dilemma. Dozens of facial databases are compiled without any knowledge of the general population, and then being shared around the world — potentially with entities such as foreign governments and even private enterprises. 

While it’s well-known that tech giants such as Facebook and Google have sophisticated facial recognition compilations, it’s far less known that the camera at the local coffee shop might be storing the same type of images. Or, to that fact, what those images might be used for. 

You come to see that these practices are intrusive, and you realize that these companies are not respectful of privacy…The more ubiquitous facial recognition becomes, the more exposed we all are to being part of the process.” -Liz Sullivan, Activist and Former Leader at AI company Clarifai

What does it mean for planners?

While events and venues alike may be eager to implement the latest in facial recognition technology, the question becomes at what cost? And simultaneously, is there really much of an improvement in the guest or attendee experience over RFID technology? With facial recognition being used in potentially invasive ways, investing in the technology with good intentions could ultimately still be funneling money toward more questionable outcomes. 

What’s next?

Technological development is ultimately a race, one in which urgency can sometimes overshadow outcome. Yet as our privacy dwindles, the awareness of the phenomenon is increasing — and so too is awareness of some of the many trade-offs that come with minor conveniences. With that awareness could come a potential backlash calling into question the necessity of invasive technological elements in the world of events and beyond.

Further Reading: 4 Event Technology Trends Shaping the Future of Events

5. How One Sorority Used Excess Food in a Barry Thoughtful Way (CNN)

Hurricane Barry might have shut down the Delta Sigma Theta National Convention early this past weekend, but that wasn’t going to stop the sorority from making a positive impact on the community. Instead of letting food for the weekend go to waste, the organization and its catering partner Centerplate donated their remaining 17,000 meals to a local food bank to help offset some of the negative impact of the hurricane for at-risk populations. 

With 16,000 attendees and two food functions canceled — our Sisterhood Luncheon and closing Soiree Celebration — there was inordinate amounts of food that would have been wasted. Kudos to Centerplate.” -Beverly Smith, CEO of Delta Sigma Theta

What does it mean for planners?

While the convention had plenty of leftover food due to the hurricane, most events that run their full course are still laden with plenty of leftovers when it’s all said and done. Planners and venues are well-equipped to proactively work with local shelters and other humanitarian groups to put that food to good use — so the question becomes, why aren’t more events doing it?

What’s next?

It shouldn’t take a hurricane for events to find creative and positive ways to eliminate food waste. Just as importantly, it’s something that most major events are well-equipped to do. As sustainability and authentic community involvement become ingrained in attendee expectations (and thus event planning), eliminating food waste is one area of focus that has the potential to feed two birds with one stone.

Further Reading: 8 Food Trends Driving Serious F&B Revenue

Published July 18, 2019

Come back to our blog next Thursday for another roundup of the most important event news of the week!

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