Sustainable Development

3 ways the Annual Meeting in Davos is turning more sustainable

Pointing the way: Participants are encouraged to walk, not drive Image: World Economic Forum

Micol Lucchi
Lead, Swiss Public Affairs, World Economic Forum
Caroline Durand-Gasselin
Sustainability Lead, Swiss Government Relations, World Economic Forum Geneva
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Hosting an event constitutes a very specific challenge from a sustainability point of view, since events are by essence ephemeral: a whole world is created, animated and then dismantled in the course of a few weeks. Participants and employees at Davos include locals as well as globe-trotters, and this doesn’t come without impact.

Making its events more sustainable is a challenge that the World Economic Forum has committed to since 2015 with its sustainability policy. Sustainable event management implies ensuring the activities needed to organize it are not only respectful of the environment, but also of people.

So how is the Annual Meeting in Davos more sustainable this year?

1. Travelling and moving

The essence of the Annual Meeting is to bring people together, and many people are travelling to Davos. For logistical and security reasons, some leaders inevitably fly. But at least a part of the overall impact can be reduced. This year, the Forum financially supports young people, social entrepreneurs, civil society and journalists who decide to come to Switzerland by train instead of flying.

Once on the ground, the challenge is to ensure all participants, staff and local inhabitants can move around the city efficiently and with low environmental impact. Innovation can help, and fully electric vehicles have been included in the Forum’s fleet to transport public figures.

Finding synergies with local stakeholders is also key to leverage sustainability potential: following discussions led by the city, the train frequency between the two Davos stations has increased, and a new train stop has been created near the Congress Center. The objective is to make the train (which in the region runs almost exclusively on renewable energy) more attractive than cars.

Making transport more sustainable also means rethinking behaviours. Through clear maps and indicated paths and the distribution of shoe grips, the Forum wants to give a clear signal: walking around Davos is not only faster than driving, it is also easier, safer and healthier.

2. Reducing and choosing carefully materials used

The objective is to adopt a circular approach to design and consumption, and to avoid single-use items. Materials such as paper and plastics have been identified as requiring attention.

The objective is to ensure Forum’s printed publications are produced in small numbers by a Cradle to Cradle-certified printing company based in Switzerland. Cradle to Cradle ensures that 100% of substances can safely return into the biological cycle without harming the natural environment.

Moving away from single-use materials also takes the installation of water stations at the Annual Meeting venue, and collaborative work between the Forum and its partners to develop alternative solutions to plastic bottles.

3. Working together to make an impact

Sustainability is fully leveraged when all commit to it. Our experience shows that sustainability improvements implemented during the Annual Meeting duplicate their impact if they are adopted for the longer term. For instance, a cigarette butts collection and recycling system put in place by a local hotel will bring environmental benefits throughout the year. Small individual actions add up to collective achievements if they are taken up by enough people. There is a lot that an event host can and must do, but participants, employees, local stakeholders and suppliers all have a role to play.

Such efforts contribute to the sustainability actions that now form part of the Annual Meeting’s identity. Over the past years, these actions have focused on optimizing the materials used for temporary structures and decoration and reducing waste. In practice, the amount of waste was reduced by 5% between 2016 and 2017 and the amount of waste sent to recycling increased by 25% between 2017 and 2018. Energy consumption is another key aspect of event sustainability since it represents more than 20% of the meeting’s carbon footprint. The Forum’s strategy in that field is to limit energy consumption through efficient management and to source 100% renewable electricity. It goes without saying that the choice of food and beverage contributes to the event’s sustainability: 50% of the meals served in the Congress Center are vegetarian, and red meat represents 20% of animal fibres only. Seventy per cent of ingredients are locally sourced.

Because sustainability is not only about the environment, the Forum seeks to source goods and services in an equitable way and to ensure working conditions are fair and safe for all employees and subcontractors. Accessibility improvements have also been integrated with the objective to create a meeting environment that is inclusive and free from barriers. In addition, sustainability cannot happen without a meaningful engagement with the local communities. The Open Forum gives the local citizens of Davos an opportunity to be part of the Annual Meeting’s dialogues on critical global issues in an open environment. Finally, organisational values constitute the base for building sustainability, and the Code of Conduct aims to reinforce the Forum’s values.

As much as these sustainability actions are taken, by essence any event still consumes resources and brings its own impact. This is why the Forum chose to measure the Annual Meeting’s carbon footprint and to fully compensate it by buying carbon credits from South Pole, a Forum Social Entrepreneur.

2018 was the year when the Forum’s Annual Meeting was certified to ISO 20121 for sustainable event management, following independent audits. Since then, the Forum must demonstrate continual efforts in the field. This is part of the Forum’s wider sustainability strategy 2021, and efforts at the Annual Meeting are leading the way for all the Forum’s activities to reach the same standard.

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Related topics:
Sustainable DevelopmentStakeholder CapitalismNature and BiodiversityEnergy Transition
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