Sustainability month: Glasgow gears up for green events legacy

With COP26 just one year away, Glasgow’s ‘Dear Green Place’ nickname has never been more apt, finds Paul Harvey.

In November 2021, Glasgow will be the UK host city for COP26, the UN Conference on Climate Change. Postponed from 2020, the 2021 conference is anticipated to be one of the most significant in recent years.  

“An example, if there ever was one required that conferences really are drivers of change and arenas for collaboration, making decisions that change the world,” says Aileen Crawford, head of conventions at Glasgow Convention Bureau.   

Aileen Crawford

Glasgow’s credentials as a leading sustainable city make it a natural fit as UK host city for COP26. In 2016, Glasgow was the first UK city to join the Global Destination Sustainability Index of conference cities – and this year saw the city placed fourth in the rankings. 

The ranking is a reflection of the successful strategies and actions that have moved the city from steam to green.  

“Glasgow, the Dear Green Place, the literal translation of the city’s name, is now a centre of renewable energy, with Europe’s largest wind farm on its doorstep,” says Crawford. “Glasgow Convention Bureau were the first in Europe to gain a Green Tourism Award and the team launched the People Make Glasgow Greener campaign to co-ordinate the business events industry in the city to work together to support sustainable activities for conference delegates, looking to be as sustainable at conference as they are at home.”  

Glasgow also has a firm commitment and ambition to be a leading circular city – with the business community in the city leading the way.  

The circular economy, which we believe is instrumental in meeting some of the ambitious climate targets and stop the global temperature rising by more than 1.5 degrees, provides a real opportunity for the events and tourism sector in Glasgow as we shift to a more sustainable economy,” says Alison McRae, senior director of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. 

Showcase event 

Through innovative business models and strategic intervention in the city, we are delighted that COP 26 is coming to Glasgow in 2021 putting Glasgow on an international platform to showcase some of the fantastic work already underway in this sector. 

Glasgow’s story is, in many ways, the world’s story, charting a course from the carbon-intensive industries of the past to the low carbon and sustainable development of the present.     

More than half the world’s population now live in cities, so the solutions to our global climate emergency will have to be delivered through its cities,” says Dr Duncan Booker, COP26 stakeholder manager at Glasgow City Council. “Glasgow is, therefore, an ideal location for COP26 and, at the same time, the event will help to add momentum to the city’s ambitions in the race to net zero. 

The Sustainable Glasgow partnership is working to maximise the legacy benefits for the city from hosting COP26 and to play its part on the world stage in leading the way to a greener, cleaner future.   

Glasgow will look to attract many more green events to the city after it welcomes COP26 and to continue progressing its green print for a more sustainable city,” adds Dr Booker. 

If Glasgow is to attract these green events to the city following COP26 it needs its hotels to be on board – and they are. 

“The Greater Glasgow Hoteliers Association (GGHA) are aware that delegates expect to be as sustainable at the conference as they are at home, which is why the city’s hotel sector understand the importance of supporting sustainable business practices,” says Janice Fisher and Jamie Stevens, co-chairs, Greater Glasgow Hoteliers Association (GGHA). 

The GGHA has worked hard to implement sustainable best-practice initiatives; being involved in the establishment of the Convention Bureau’s People Make Glasgow Greener initiative and promoting the importance of accreditation and awards such as Green Tourism. Hosting COP26 in Glasgow will further encourage our hotels to promote their green credentials.” 

The academic view 

Gordon Hodge, head of conferencing and events, University of Strathclyde 

“Sustainability is increasingly important to organisers looking for a conference venue – particularly amongst government and the public sector – and we recognised that Green Tourism accreditation would help us communicate our commitment to people, places and the planet.  Our Gold award required a thorough review of our business practices, and has had a genuine impact on both our revenue and reputation – we were delighted to be named Green Champion at last year’s Glasgow Business Awards, for example. 

The work of our Sustainability group continues to inform the development of our product and processes. We’ve visited other UK universities to share best practice in sustainability, and are active members of the EAUC network.  Our Green Visitor Charter highlights how organisers can minimise the impact of their event – for example by encouraging public transport and active travel, and by reducing, reusing and recycling consumables.  We look for opportunities to work in partnership with our clients to deliver events more sustainably, and regularly host events with an environmental focus, such the International Healthy Streets Summit in October 2019, and EAUC’s Scottish Conference in February 2021. 

Covid-19 has accelerated shifts in technology and mindsets that were already underway.  Virtual and hybrid events will undoubtedly help us to meet and communicate wherever we are, and they have little to no negative impact on our environment.  Nevertheless, many people are eager to get back to meeting face-to-face, once it’s safe to do so.  The challenge for venues and organisers alike is to minimise the impact of the single-use items and chemicals essential to creating a safe meeting environment, by seriously exploring greener alternatives.  Safety and sustainability are going to be equally important to delegates in a post-Covid world.” 

The venue view 

Kathleen Warden, director of conference sales, SEC Glasgow  

“The past six months have shone a spotlight on venues as a critical part of society, the economy and, indeed, the event industry. 

As time goes on, there’s a definitive shift from seeing venues as simple event spaces towards seeing them as hugely valuable organisations which can help drive societal and economic progress through helping organisers deliver their event objectives.  

As the industry emerges from one of the most challenging periods it’s ever faced, venues are more important than ever. At a fundamental level, we’ll play a significant part in keeping our delegates, organisers and teams safe as events return. But deeper than that, venues will provide the platform for humanity to continue to overcome global challenges.  

COP26 is the epitome of this. Whilst we saw promising pictures of clear skies, less traffic on the road and a sharp decline in air travel, the issue of climate change has not disappeared despite the Covid-19 outbreak. Perhaps Covid-19 gave us a glimpse of a cleaner, greener world, but we are still in the midst of the climate change crisis. COP26 will bring the international community together – including 150 heads of state – with the aim of tackling this challenge head-on.  

How does a venue play a part in that? Well, aside from the obvious provision of space, catering and services, a venue can and should align itself with the values of its clients. In this way, COP26 has been a catalyst in the SEC’s sustainability strategy. Like most businesses, we were well on our way with our sustainability journey before COP26 was coming to Glasgow, but it has been accelerated – and rightly so.  

From here, it is a ripple effect. Organisers are increasingly looking for venues to be more ethical (74 per cent of venues are already putting CSR and ethical considerations at the top of their priority lists, according to IACC) and by working together they can create a much more climate-conscious event. In time, the industry can reduce its footprint and play a significant part in the fight against climate change. COP26 will be the ignition for this seismic shift toward a greener industry.  

But, if the venue is not aligned, then this won’t happen – it is a critical component of the industry’s success. I hope that we find further positives to come from the last few months – we have witnessed incredible acts of kindness, recognition for our key workers and an undeniable feeling of we are all in this together. With this kind of mentality we, as venues, can help to harness challenges to create long-lasting societal and economic progress with our clients.” 

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