International sustainability events can spur collective action and partnership, but delegates can often travel thousands of kilometers just to get there. How can we look at conferences in a new way?
From March 5th to 8th this year, various public and private sector organizations came together to discuss challenges, success stories, and ways forward in the water, food, climate and energy nexus. It was a moment of collective action and partnership among different actors serving different interests. Even Coca-Cola and Pepsi, competitors and two of the world’s largest buyers of agricultural products, sat at the same table.
The Water Institute at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill hosted over 300 participants from 33 countries for the Nexus 2014 Conference .
33 countries. 300 participants. From Australia to Zambia.
What is often missing in sustainability oriented gatherings is an all-encompassing approach
Impressive stats but perhaps unimpressive greenhouse gas emissions associated with the travel? I myself traveled over 6,500 kilometers to reach Chapel Hill. The debate continues over travel’s impact on the environment versus its ability to help sustainable development through productive exchange and understanding. After all, international conferences and events bring people together who would otherwise work in silos. And sustainability-focused conferences have a special role in helping the quadruple bottom line (QBL) of sustainability: bringing together social, environmental, economic, and intergenerational considerations. Sometimes the interactions are fruitful and otherwise would not have been possible without face-to-face presence. Sometimes not.
The current research indicates that “face-to-face” is a better approach than “virtual” in three situations:
- To capture attention, especially to initiate something new or different;
- To inspire a positive emotional climate, as a way to catalyze collaboration, innovation, and performance; and
- To build human networks and relationships.
There are many ways to offset carbon emissions associated with travel. Conference organizers can help participants by providing an offset mechanism during registration. But what is often missing in sustainability oriented gatherings is an all-encompassing approach. An approach that integrates sustainable practices throughout the content _and_logistics. The last Stockholm World Water Week did discourage bottled water by providing potable water stations in many convenient locations at the venue. However, I have yet to attend a conference where the water or carbon footprint of the meals is provided.
I’ve been served water-intensive steak at a conference on water conservation.
All too often I’ve attended conferences that have not provided more information on the sustainable attributes of the local economy. A local guide may be provided, but the participants have no idea if they are mostly helping or hurting the sustainability cause through their choice of accommodation, meals, and side activities.
Quadruple was created with the sustainability-conscious traveler in mind. The app, Quadruple Sustainability + Travel , addresses the QBL of sustainability: society, environment, economy, and future generations. _Quadruple_includes travel advice, learning and sharing. The user can learn about the basics of sustainable development, take a quiz, and stay up-to-date with a news feed that pulls together various sustainability-focused news outlets. Sustainable travel suggestions can be sent through the app. The main feature is an interactive map where one can select a country and city, and find the TOP 10 SUSTAINABLE things to do, food to eat, places to stay, and more.
After speaking with residents of Chapel Hill during the conference, I learned about great places and have included the suggestions for the Research Triangle region. Thanks to the Udall alumni network especially for their input.
At the next nexus gathering for water, food, climate and energy, let’s support sustainability to a fuller extent throughout the conference supply chain and through conscious patronage during the afterhours.