"Our aim is to be a model inspiring others"
The visitBerlin Convention Partner association have taken a landmark step. After the independent and transparent Sustainable Meetings Berlin audit at the start of the year, it has been successfully certified as a Sustainable Partner in Berlin’s MICE sector. In this interview, we meet Bastian Ulrich, Head of the Association Office, to discuss the process, criteria, and advantages of Sustainable Partner certification.
Why was it so important for the association to become a Sustainable Partner?
Sustainability is one of the key issues in our sector’s future development. As an association, our task is to support the visitBerlin Convention Office in marketing Berlin globally as a MICE destination – which is why we are also promoting, first and foremost among our members, projects such as the Sustainable Partner scheme. In that sense, it was just a logical step for the visitBerlin Convention Partner association to seek Sustainable Partner certification. This reflects our willingness to embrace future trends and become a model to follow, both to attract new certified members and inspire current members to become Sustainable Partners as well.
Was Covid-19 crisis an impetus to seek certification?
Among association members, the pandemic has fuelled a growing awareness of just how far sustainability is necessary and essential to ensure future viability. This is also a lesson we took away from the process – it is crucial to drive forwards sustainable business practices across all areas, not just at points of environmental concern.
What other positive takeaways were there?
The process began with a status quo review so we can know where we stand – and it was very positive to find we were already working more sustainably than we realised.
... the audit also focuses on the soft social criteria in a business, kick-starting a process which offers enormous potential for improvement. And it throws a light on those aspects of your own work which can be optimised. That’s something I’d like everyone to benefit from.
So before certification, how far did you have green working practices?
Here, we need to distinguish between visitBerlin Convention Partner as an organisation and as an association with all its members. Of course, the members belong to us as stakeholders, yet they are not part of the organisation in the same way, for example, as employees. As an organisation, we were already meeting many aspects of the sustainable criteria – though in some cases the requisite textualisation or communication was lacking. As for our members, around ten per cent of them already have Sustainable Partner certification. If all our members had been through this auditing process, we would be even more sustainable as an association – so for us and our work, that is an important goal in the medium term.
. To be audited successfully, do you have to fulfil the entire catalogue of criteria?
That would actually be impossible for us as an association. The catalogue is divided into core and elective criteria. In some areas, you can be awarded all the points available. But as a small company, we are simply unable to meet some criteria – so sometimes we had fewer points or even none. For example, our main office is working from home – so we can’t meet the criteria of providing gender-neutral toilet facilities.
How did you approach the various sustainability criteria?
We began by looking at which criteria we already meet, fully or partially, and where we still need to improve during the auditing process. For example, one criterion is knowing our members and communicating with them – so that’s one which we fulfil easily. But we also had to provide a visual overview of the stakeholder architecture, and so added a graphic on our website to supplement our information. And there were also a few things quite new for us.
At that point the association did not yet have a Compliance Officer, but now we have appointed a voting member as a neutral third party. Moreover, we have drafted compliance guidelines – and they too can be accessed on our website.
Looking back, how complex was the certification process?
It is certainly demanding, but quite doable. You have to be ready to invest some work in preparing for the audit and implementing the criteria – and of course it takes time. But I would happily recommend taking this step to everyone.
Because it has given us a lot of insights about ourselves and green working practices. Rather than just ‘doing something for the environment’, the audit also focuses on the soft social criteria in a business, kick-starting a process which offers enormous potential for improvement. And it throws a light on those aspects of your own work which can be optimised. That’s something I’d like everyone to benefit from.
What advantages does certification have for the association?
Now we can be a model showing the way forward, and play our part in making Berlin even more attractive for event planners as a sustainable destination. In future, many of Germany’s large DAX companies will be increasingly pursuing a policy of only organising events with sustainably certified service providers. So if we do not have the certification provided by a sustainable audit, many customers could no longer book us. We need to get that message out there, encouraging as many members as possible to follow our example and show their business meets the criteria for sustainable practices.
In terms of sustainability, what are the association’s next steps?
We will be audited again every year to check we are still meeting the planned criteria. And, for example, this year we will be holding two events exclusively with Sustainable Partners. We’ve also set the target of encouraging at least five other members to be audited – and to do that by the end of the year. In this way, we hope to play our part in making Berlin’s MICE sector even more sustainable in future.
Thank you for the interview!
About the visitBerlin Convention Partner association
- In spring 2021, visitBerlin Convention Partner e.V. was audited as a high performer as part of the Sustainable Meetings Berlin Audit.
- In 2015, the leading Berlin agencies for meetings, incentives, conventions, and events founded visitBerlin Convention Partner as the successor to the previous Berlin Preferred Agencies.
- Working together with the Berlin Convention Office of visitBerlin (BCO), the association’s main task is to market Berlin globally as a MICE destination.
- As a professional service provider network, visitBerlin Convention Partner also supports the BCO in the acquisition of major events and advises other members.
- The association has eight voluntary executive board members and one full-time employee running the Association Office.