In response to an increasing focus on responsible and sustainable practices in the events industry, leading MICE (Meeting, Incentive, Conference and Event) destinations are working to make their locations more competitive and attractive to event planners and stakeholders.

An integral part of what cities and venues are doing to improve the desirability of their destinations is measuring, benchmarking and reporting on their sustainability performance. Why is this important? Benchmarking is crucial to driving sustainability performance because it serves as an objective measuring stick – allowing stakeholders, event planners and clients to compare, make informed decisions and enhance performance. In addition to helping event planners, it also helps destinations to identify which areas need improvement, and where gaps or inefficiencies exist. By encouraging collaboration and healthy competition, the practice allows cities to share knowledge, import best practices and drive innovation. Essentially, through comparing one’s performance and practices in reference to others, cities and venues can help each other improve future sustainability standards in business tourism.

Today, one can find various indexes that rank cities according to living standards, tourism or environmental initiatives. For example, the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index ranks cities according to the three indicators “people, planet, profit” while the Economist Intelligence Unit has a Global Liveability Ranking.

However, while these indexes give an indication of sustainability, they do not include criteria that take into account MICE industry-specific considerations such as venue accessibility, industry supplier support or Convention Bureau strategy. Thus an event industry professional will find that these rankings and reports may complicate the destination search process instead of making it easier.

To simplify this task, the Global Destination Sustainability Index (GDS-Index) was launched in March 2016 by IMEX, ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association) and MCI. Originally initiated by ICCA’s Scandinavian Chapter and MCI, the Index aims to drive the adoption, promotion and recognition of sustainable practices in business tourism in our cities. In addition to measuring and benchmarking a city’s environmental strategy and social sustainability performance, the GDS-Index includes criteria that are event industry-specific: industry supplier support (restaurants, hotels and convention centers) and convention bureau strategy and initiatives. Participants are then provided with feedback and information to help them develop and improve their destination’s event sustainability strategy.

The GDS-index is the first-ever sustainability ranking for event destinations worldwide, created specifically to help destinations, event planners and suppliers to evaluate the sustainability strategies of destinations and their events industry. Since March, over 35 cities including Barcelona, Copenhagen, the Hague, Helsinki, Houston, Geneva, Gothenburg, Frankfurt, Nantes, Oslo, Reykjavik, Stockholm, Stuttgart, Sydney have started the process of benchmarking and assessment.

The Kyoto Convention & Visitors Bureau, having joined the Index this year, states: “Kyoto has a long history of social stability and environmental awareness, but the GDS-Index has given us a wonderful opportunity to incorporate sustainability into meetings in a much more concrete way.  We are proud to show leadership in Asia as the first city to join the index, and it has helped to open our eyes as to how we can improve.” 

“We are extremely pleased that Houston is the first North American destination to be included on the GDS Index,” says Dawn Ullrich, President and CEO of Houston First Corporation (HFC). “In joining this community, HFC seeks to exchange sustainability practices with its global counterparts to improve performance, competitiveness and continuously meet higher standards. That reflects our commitment to embrace stronger sustainability programs that benefit clients, suppliers and the local industry.”

Lyn Lewis-Smith - CEO of Business Events Sydney adds: "Sustainability is a challenge I’m passionate about, and so is Business Events Sydney (BESydney). We joined the Global Destination Sustainability Index to demonstrate our commitment to this challenge, and to broaden the conversation and commitment of our stakeholders to better environmental and social performance within Sydney. To date, our work with the index has helped us to identify areas of excellence in our city and industry, while also identifying opportunities for improvement. Participating in the index has provided us with practical ideas and an action list on how as a city and industry we can continue to progress with further sustainability initiatives."

How do we know this global initiative will drive results? Ask the Scandinavians, where their initial regionally-based Index stimulated a large volume of sustainability initiatives across the Nordic region that continues to this day. From 2012 - 2013, nearly half of convention bureaux in the region developed a sustainability strategy (originally 20%), sustainability communication improved by 50%, and eco-certifications across the region rose to include 60% of event industry suppliers, more than any other region in the world. In a more recent assessment, the percentage of eco-certifications increased yet again by 17% between 2013 and 2016. Now that this initiative is being taken global, and we can’t wait to see the results!

Check out where some of your favourite destinations rank on the GDS-Index here.