Focus on sustainability - The International Supply Chain Conference of the BVL
The International Supply Chain Conference was held in Berlin (20 – 22 October 2021) for the 38th time – this year as a hybrid event with a special focus on sustainability. From carbon emissions to the congress programme or catering, the BVL (Bundesvereinigung Logistik) has intensively engaged with the issue of sustainability and applied many aspects of sustainable event planning in practice. In this interview, organisers Christoph Meyer (Managing Director BVL) and Marius Roy (Project Manager) explain their approach and their motivations, obstacles and goals.
To set the scene – what exactly is the International Supply Chain Conference?
Meyer: The International Supply Chain Conference is one of leading events in the logistics sector. First of all, it serves as a forum for networking, supporting an exchange of views between people working in logistics in industry, trade and services, as well as academia. Moreover, the conference also opens up new social, economic and political perspectives for the entire logistics sector. This year’s conference was especially dedicated to the topic of “adapting to lead” and transformation in diverse areas – from digitalisation to sustainability.
How far is the conference itself as an event in a sustainable transformation process?
Meyer: Over the years, the topic of sustainability has become increasingly important. Working together with Sustainable Meetings Berlin, we discovered that we already met many of the requirements in the Sustainable Event Scorecard. This year, though, we have spotlighted this issue even more and also included it in the content of the conference.
In which way?
Roy: In 2019, we were approached by the spokesperson of a regional student group in our association. She pointed out that the issue of sustainability was only implicitly addressed in our programme. Her feedback was particularly important – and something we took very seriously. As a result, we worked together to draft a workshop concept and founded Logistics4Future, a service for young professionals and students to encourage an exchange of views and formulate ideas for action in the logistics sector.
How has the conference put such calls into practice concretely in 2021?
Meyer: Not solely but in part due to the Berlin Senate funding for the conference, we decided to make sustainability more of a general theme than just an issue in individual items on the programme. So together with the Zukunftswerk association and those involved in Logistics4Future, we have spotlighted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at our conference. In a dedicated area, we presented the SDGs for all those conference visitors wanting to know more about them.
Does the conference see itself as a driver of sustainability?
Meyer: As just a glance at the Paris Agreement and its commitment to climate action shows, we obviously have to do much, much more. With our conference’s motto this year and the content on offer, we want to clearly indicate just how much leverage logistics can have in sustainability and, in this way, how this sector could be in the forefront of a movement – and in particular, we wanted to highlight that possibility.
How is sustainability reflected in the conference itself?
MEYER: When we discuss the offers available from our event service providers, we also talk about sustainability. As early as 2019, we had a shuttle service with e-cars. Moreover, where possible, we try to recycle as much as we can. For instance, in terms of the material used and its recycling, sustainability has been a core requirement in the design of a new stage. And that means much of it can be stored and reused next year. Here, the Sustainable Event Scorecard and support from Berlin’s Congress Fund have been an amazing help.
Was it easy to reach 300 points on the Sustainable Event Scorecard?
ROY: Yes and no. It wouldn’t have been so easy just with what we’ve done before, but it gave us a tool to show where we could still make improvements. It’s not rocket science to avoid using cut flowers, for instance, but you first need to realise this can be a pressure point for change.
The crucial thing is simply to make a start – and stop worrying about tackling sustainability on a grand scale.
Where are the major challenges at present?
Meyer: First of all, in the well-established processes. When you’ve held a conference 38 times, you need to break open specific encrusted processes – and then it’s good to have someone from outside come along and ask the right questions. The systemically determined structures are another challenge. The business of constructing exhibition stands is precisely about building up stands and then dismantling and removing them. You can do things differently, of course, but then it costs a lot more.
In other words, a sustainably-designed conference is inevitably more expensive?
Meyer: It depends – first of all, on how you define your goals for sustainability. For instance, regional catering services do not inevitably cost more – but they will if I only use products meeting Demeter biodynamic standards.
The conference is a hybrid event. What role does that play?
Roy: Most obviously, when international guests no longer need to fly here to attend, the event’s air miles are radically reduced. In this respect, corona has been a game-changer. Now, it’s far more normal and far more accepted for international visitors to attend a ten-minute keynote digitally. Moreover, online technologies have also developed in that direction. But one crucial factor here is enabling more people to access the event.
Why is that particularly sustainable?
Roy: Digital access is free. In previous years, you needed to pay 2000 euros for a ticket – which naturally restricted access to the event’s content to a defined circle of attendees. But this year, everyone can register and benefit from networking and the further training on offer. From this perspective, the social dimensions of the conference are far more sustainable.
How do you communicate these sustainable aspects – and how important is it to get that message out?
Meyer: We convey this message, for example, in our mailings to attendees – but only, as it were, in passing. We don’t demonstratively point it out, since it’s not our main business activity. After all, we see ourselves more as a neutral platform where this topic can be discussed – and by providing food for thought and an exchange of controversial and diverse views, people can make up their own minds.
Which idea would you personally favour to get people thinking?
Meyer: I’d say the crucial thing is simply to make a start – and stop worrying about tackling sustainability on a grand scale. Many people simply don’t realise how much they could do on a practical level. So even though they recognise the need for action and want to be involved, they never find a way to start – often due to a fear of doing the wrong thing.
Roy: That’s precisely why an exchange of views is so vitally important. The logistics sector is a very heterogeneous group – some are just taking their first steps to address sustainability, others are nothing short of pioneers in this area. So it is a real help to find a partner such as Sustainable Meetings Berlin to help you get going, identify possibilities, and begin introducing changes.