Just in time for our March cover story on climate change and the meetings industry comes highly relevant news: The Convention Industry Council (CIC) is merging with the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC), with GMIC becoming a council within CIC. Convene talked to Karen Kotowski, CAE, CMP, the CEO of CIC, about what the merger means for CIC, GMIC, and sustainable meetings in general.
Did CIC first approach GMIC about merging, or vice versa?
It was kind of mutual. We actually first talked to them a couple of years ago, after [former GMIC Executive Director] Tamara Kennedy-Hill left, and the timing just wasn’t right. When they were looking for some new management options, this time those discussions took on a little bit more structure.
Why was CIC interested in this merger?
Like CIC, GMIC has always strived to work in kind ofan agnostic way, with all stakeholders and players in the sustainability discussion in terms of meetings and events. The role that CIC has is as an umbrella organization; its members are made up of all of the major meetings and events organizations. It made sense that we could accomplish more together than apart.
CIC has always been involved in the sustainability conversation and movement within meetings and events. Through the APEX initiative, we put out the first white paper on green meetings. Many of the people on that task force were members of GMIC. Back in 2008, GMIC came to CIC and asked if we would consider developing a sustainable meeting standard through the APEX process, which later then became the [APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Meeting Standards]. So we’ve been involved in the whole sustainability discussion for quite a while.
How will GMIC operate moving forward?
It will be operating as a council in CIC — just like the CMP [credentialing] program and APEX, like more of a program area — but we’re keeping the name GMIC, just because of that name recognition and all of that good will that they’ve built up over the years. It might change in the future. CIC is undergoing its own branding study right now, so it makes sense to leave it as is for now and, as we roll out our own branding later this year, discuss that and roll it all in at the same time.
What are GMIC’s priorities now that it’s part of CIC?
Right now — [GMIC’s] volunteers have been managing this over the last several months — a major research study is going on in conjunction with [the University of Nevada, Las Vegas] about corporations and how they incorporate sustainability in their events. That’s a priority, to get that finished. We’re looking at probably a July time frame for that research to be complete.
Obviously, we want to take a look at all the GMIC programs and prioritize how we bring them back online and strengthen them and get them up and running and out into the community. The [GMIC] Sustainable Meetings Conference, we’re going to co-locate with the CMP Conclave in September. We’re taking a look at [GMIC’s] Sustainable Event Professional Certificate program and seeing how we can strengthen that and what those needs might be, to get that back into the community and get people through that course, getting them trained on sustainable practices.
How important is sustainability as an issue for the convention industry?
I think it’s going to continue to be an important one. I think that we’ve incorporated a lot of things that we do just in our everyday practices and we may not call them out as sustainable. For instance, most meetings now have apps and they load presentations and handouts and things on there, so there’s a lot less paper generated at meetings and events. Some of the things we do around food-and-beverage — I think it’s just become part of our DNA and we’re maybe not necessarily calling them out as sustainable practices.
Obviously there’s a lot more that we can do. What I would like to see is for us to have a real impact on the meetings industry, to try to give ourselves credit for those things, to measure and to do more. See what else we can do that we can incorporate into our everyday meeting practices, help us become less impactful on the environment and more sustainable, and then really talk about it.