I’m joined today by Carolina Vosátková, Sustainable Events and ISO20121 Events Consultant at Kuoni Destination Management.
I’ll be honest, before my call with Carolina, I wasn’t really sure what she does, as this is the first time I’ve really come across ISO20121, the international standard for sustainable event management.
However, after this call, as you’ll see, Carolina’s work is in a very interesting and varied field. Kuoni Destination Management’s main mission is the preparation, planning and realisation of large meetings, seminars, conferences, congresses, corporate parties, anniversaries, the introduction of new products, presentations and, last but not least, incentive programs. Carolina is based in Prague, but thanks to global coverage throughout Kuoni, she is also operating internationally.
Good morning Carolina, firstly, could you tell me about your professional background and the journey that led you here?
I have been interested in sustainability since high school and I even participated in the UN simulation games for students, where I was focused mostly on human rights and sustainable development. I wanted to work in developing countries in local communities and the changing world for a better future! But I quickly realised, sometimes it’s better to make small changes in order to realise a bigger impact. I studied Sustainable Development in Developing Countries, partially because I wanted to go to these countries, help them directly, and bring new values to their societies.
We have a proverb in Czech ‘Before we preach to the rest of the world, it is time we got our own house in order.’ I realised that I need to become first knowledgeable about European environmental affairs, which have also impact on the global scale and decided to study at Wageningen and Research University.
During the time when I was living with so many people passionate about sustainability, I was dreaming about working in the travel industry and close to the event sector. I love travelling, but I also see the huge impact of this trend. My current job, working on sustainability certification and with events was an opportunity I had been dreaming of.
Can you explain to the audience about what Kuoni Destination Management does, and what your role is?
The organisation is taking care of destination management, which is where a client chooses a city where they want to organise an event, conference, workshop, team building, or Congress. Based on their needs we can provide accommodation, travel, a venue, speakers, registration, after-parties, dinners, cocktails, entertainment and any other services they may require during their stay in the destination.
When you are asking me what is making our company sustainable. I believe in sustainable development, but I don’t perceive that any business is perfectly (100%) sustainable as because there is always room for improvement. If you feel that you’ve achieved ‘sustainable’ then you are likely to stop developing and would that be sustainable? In Kuoni Destination Management is the sustainability department, which is working on the sustainability of the company, and also it services but there is still a lot of work in front of us. The past two years the Kuoni Congress has been the main area where sustainability strategy has been implemented and evaluated. We were accredited with the ISO20121 for our services in selected events in three different destinations.
When did you become interested in sustainability events?
It was during my student life, during my Bachelor I was already organising events with my student association. We cannot compare it to the scale of the events which are organised by Kuoni Destination Management, but it gave me an idea of how much waste and impact just a single event can have on the environment.
During my MSc, I wanted to focus more on environmental policy and sustainable tourism. To have a job in destination management and the events sector was something I wanted a lot but didn’t think that there could be many job opportunities. Sustainability events, in particular, were what I wanted to get involved in, but I didn’t believe I would find something. Luckily, one day a job offer came through in my email to work in sustainable events for an international organization, they chose me, and now I’m here at Kuoni Destination Management!
When you’re planning a sustainable event, there must be a checklist of things. Where can you have the biggest impacts?
I wouldn’t say it’s about having a checklist. If it would be that simple, everybody could just create a simple one, tick the boxes and call their event sustainable. However, for each event, there is a complex document which is helping us to have an updated and ongoing overview of sustainability actions.
Definitely supply chain management is the biggest area for impact. Catering probably comes next, there’s a lot you can do regarding menus, waste prevention, recycling etc. We don’t own the venues that we use for the events, so we have a limited impact there, but we can advise them in some way. You can influence the energy but on a small scale. Really the best thing to do to help the venue is to help them assess their supply chain management, and this then effects them positively for the long run.
Can you tell me about some recent successful events?
Our most successful event was during our ISO 20121 certification audit, where our sustainable event management system was certified according to the ISO 20121 standard. TThe audit took place at the ESTRO Congress in Barcelona, and further Congresses were also certified using our ISO 20121 system; WCGIC Congress (Barcelona) ECSP Congress (Geneva), and ESA Congress (Copenhagen) (you can see case studies here).
Besides the certified events, we also organised some smaller green events this year too, where the ISO 20121 standards were also taken into consideration and we tried to take all the opportunities from this standards and experiences into consideration, in order to create a responsible event towards society and the environment.
For anyone planning an event, what things should they avoid in order to make it more sustainable?
Don’t get involved with chaos – always go into an event with a great strategy. Don’t be stubborn about communications, the key is to communicate well with suppliers. And avoid unnecessary, disposable or single-use items.
Does your work with Kuoni go beyond events? Do you consult on environmental policy and strategy?
To create a sustainable event doesn’t really mean to work only on the event itself. There is lots of work in the background. Whenever you are working on sustainability, we have to always consider our stakeholders, preventions, risks and our final impact with respect towards the business, environment and society. So yes, the job relates to project management, but it is definitely not the biggest part.
One of the most important tasks, when you are a support or consultant, is communication, which is always linked to awareness, education, training, sharing knowledge, providing best practice tools and strategy.
What can you tell me about your environmental reporting?
Kuoni Destination Management started with monitoring and measurement back in 2016 at a private level. Always when you do environmental reporting you need to measure certain things and use certain methodologies. Environmental reporting is vital for reliability and transparency, but you need time to build up a history of data.
Please tell me what you’re most proud of in your role
We’ve made a sustainable best practice guide which is a communication tool for our suppliers for when we are organising a sustainable event. Not everyone knows about sustainability or what the aims are, what we need to do and what we can avoid. We want to make sure that the suppliers and our partners understand us, but not that we are being bossy, telling them ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do this’, but instead to show the bad ideas and their solutions. People who are not environmentally conscious become more open to collaboration when they are given examples.
What the sustainability scene like in Prague?
Prague is quite focused on data and reporting for sustainability, but it’s in the infancy. From the business perspective, there are at least three CSR business groups trying to share best practices and cooperate. If you compare us to a city like Brno, maybe their focus on raising awareness, when it comes to sustainable food, is from my personal view, better developed. In Prague, every week there are some discussions and screenings related to environmental awareness. Right now, I would say that for Prague inhabitants the Zero Waste concept is becoming popular, and at the Governmental and Business level the topic of Circular Economy is led by Institut of Circular Economy (INCIEN).
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