Stockholm, Sweden

Though living green is a way of life in Scandinavian culture, the meetings industry in the region only recently began measuring its progress in promoting environmental stewardship. As the first step in creating the world’s first sustainable meetings region, the International Congress and Convention Association’s Scandinavian chapter worked with consulting group MCI to first commit to the Scandinavian Sustainable Meetings Accord, and then create the Scandinavian Destination Sustainability Index.

 “We had learned a lot, so we wanted to share, we wanted to tell our story for the marketing value, and we wanted to learn more,” said Guy Bigwood, MCI’s director of Sustainability.

Bigwood met with meetings industry leaders from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland to pin down 10 areas of action they can commit to in order to improve sustainability. 

“First we needed a common commitment, and that’s the Accord,” said Bigwood. The goals outlined by the Accord include increasing the use of environmentally friendly transport and resources, calculating the CO2 footprint of the industry and reducing it by 20 percent by 2020, and sharing Scandinavian best practices and solutions to help others learn and to learn from others.

Having worked on projects around the world, Bigwood said there are a couple of things that make Scandinavia unique. “They’re quite advanced in sustainability in terms of the city infrastructure and the culture. The governments believe in it so it moves in that direction naturally,” said Bigwood. “Another thing is that they’re very good at collaboration and can sit around with a group of competitors and just work through the bullshit and work on bigger issues.”

Convention Director at Wonderful Copenhagen (Denmark) Convention Bureau Steen Jakobsen said that the Scandinavian countries see sustainability as a competitive edge to offer to the meetings industry. 

“It’s very much a part of our DNA and the lives that we live and that, in many ways, connects the Scandinavian countries,” said Jakobsen.

Bigwood said the methodology of the index is simple on purpose, since one of the big motives of MCI was to get the venues used to reporting.

“The methodology is based on two sides, hardware and software,” said Bigwood. Hardware is comprised of things having to do with the city and government infrastructure, such as recycling availability, renewable energy supply and the amount of public transportation. “Software is made up of things they have more control over like their own sustainability policy, not just what they can influence from the hardware side.”

There was a maximum of 26 points assigned for both indicators, for a total of 52 points possible. Gothenburg, Sweden, scored highest in the benchmark study with a score of 43, followed by another Swedish city, Uppsala, with 40 points. Next comes the Danish capital of Copenhagen, followed by Stockholm and Oslo.

“It’s the first time we’ve done this, so we sent it out and there are people who are very happy and others who want to move up on the list,” said Bigwood. “In Stockholm, Henrik [von Arnold, director at Stockholm Convention Bureau] presented it to his board and said, ‘We’re not number one, and we should be,’ so they’ve started some projects.”

Denmark plans to add another six cities to the index and Iceland has kicked off some initiatives to boost its position on the chart.

“In March we’ll all come back together again in Denmark for the COP 15 and we’ll have a workshop where we can share some stories and learn from each other,” said Bigwood about an upcoming sustainability conference.

Bigwood said that he hopes the index will be updated annually and adventures in maintaining and promoting sustainability are chronicled in the blog 

“One of the goals of the project is to export the index to more countries,” added Bigwood. “Wouldn’t it be great if this becomes a global index?”

Interviewed for this story: Guy Bigwood, +34 93 445 9720; Steen Jakobsen, +45 33 55 7474