The UN Is Now Crowdsourcing Ideas from the Events Industry

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The UN Is Now Crowdsourcing Ideas from the Events Industry

By Johnalee Johnston | Sep 16, 2019

The wheel of global sustainability is slow-turning, prompting the United Nations to ask for help from an industry that is both part of the problem and solution.    

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) address the inseparability of poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation and justice as they relate to long-term human and planet preservation. Each touch point—social, economic and environmental—has a measurable, collective impact on our ability to sustain life on earth. With a 2030 goal for bringing these currently discordant notes of humanity back into harmony, and thus, humanity back from the prophesized brink, the UN has launched a plan so crazy it may very well save us all.

Crowdsourcing has been around for nearly 15 years, which is consequently the same amount of time that Fiona Pelham, CEO of Positive Impact Events, has been combining her passion for sustainability and events. Fiona was the youngest female in history to chair an ISO standard in 2012, which happened to be a management system for event sustainability inspired by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. In 2016, she became the first European female to chair Meeting Professionals International (MPI). And as the UN crowdsources actionable ideas across industries for speeding up progress toward its 2030 SDG agenda for the first time ever, Pelham can now add proponent of the UN’s Acceleration Action plan to her resume.

Events & the Canary in the Coalmine

Pelham and her team at Positive Impact Events have submitted an acceleration action to the UN SDG Summit, to be held this September 24-25 at the UN Headquarters in New York. The meeting of minds, which is the first UN summit since the adoption of the 2030 SDGs agenda in 2015, will formerly take stock of SDGs progress. Pelham’s acceleration action includes more than 7,000 industry commitments made during an August survey, that in her words, essentially says, “Hey, look at the events industry as a way to get toward the goals more quickly. Look, this is the impact that our industry can have.”

Pelham’s acceleration action to the UN Sustainable Development Goals includes more than 7,000 industry commitments.

The survey allowed those in the events industry to rank their individual sustainability concerns based on SDGs and then offered two actionable steps for mitigating the issue. For example, on the issue of climate change, the primary concern of all surveyed, the pivot toward sustainability included offering more plant-based meals and incentives for using public transportation. These steps were followed up with an analysis on what carbon emissions could be saved if everyone in the events industry who attended events—an estimated 1.5 billion people annually, according to the Events Industry Council—used public transportation during an event.

The sheer size of the events industry, equivalent to the automobile industry in the US, according to research by MPI, makes it a catalyst for social change. Pelham thinks the backbone of the events industry—that of face-to-face meetings—could be its saving grace when it comes to sustainability.  

“Sustainable development goal No. 17—more partnerships—is often described as the goal that makes all the other goals possible,” she says, adding that the action or “magical potential” that makes partnerships possible is meeting or “collaborating, connecting, engaging, inspiring and educating.”

Part of this collaboration includes recognizing the “canary in the coalmine,” Pelham says, when it comes to the integration of legacy industries like energy sectors beyond the periphery of the sustainability conversation. The shining beacon of hope in the equation is education, however, or providing more information on how to live and work sustainably at the university level. This would lead to a change in the narrative that ultimately places the events industry in a creative vs. reactive state. “The events industry is vital in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals,” Pelham adds. “And we have a huge opportunity to change our industry.” 

Take Action

Between funding partners and ambassadors, the outreach of Positive Impact is close to 2 million people worldwide. Pelham is rallying the troops during the summit on social media with #Act4SDGs and the question: How are your events making a positive difference and positive impact?

To rank your sustainability challenges and join the movement, take the Positive Impact Events survey here.



Johnalee Johnston
Johnalee Johnston

Johnalee Johnston is a wildly creative and curious disruptor of the status quo and the former digital editor for MPI.