By Hanne Dalmut, Senior Director of Partnerships at Concordia
As the world looks to New York City for the 77th UN General Assembly (UNGA) and Climate Week, Concordia is looking inward. Each fall we host the largest and most inclusive convening alongside UNGA and we are proud to gather industry and political leaders, frontline change makers, innovators, academics, and rising voices to explore and advance cross-sector collaboration across all of the Sustainable Development Goals. With this opportunity to create change, however, comes a significant climate cost. The message from our stage has always been in support of urgent and meaningful action to address the climate crisis. The footprint of our stage has, unfortunately, never aligned with that.
As Senior Director of Partnerships, that has never sat right with me. I work daily with companies and organizations alike interested in reducing their carbon footprint and identifying strong projects that can be part of the solution. Why can’t we do the same at our own events, and isn’t there a level of irony about this given the Climate Week backdrop and the mission of Concordia?
This year, Concordia has identified strategic sustainable partners that allow us to approach the Annual Summit differently, offering guidance, support, and action as we embark on a net-zero journey. Because we know transparency is essential to any public message we might have about this, I wanted to share a bit about how we’re approaching this massive challenge and what I’ve learned along the way.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
When considering an event as complex as Concordia, there are a million places to start for a strategy like this. We started with an internal review of some of the bigger contributors to waste, and asked ourselves what we can cut. What is practical, what is affordable, and what is meaningful? This was a very honest conversation.
This year’s Annual Summit will have reduced printed materials, including everything from signage to note cards. We are investing in digital information portals throughout to ensure a smooth guest experience, as well as using recycled material for our printed signage and 80% of our staging. We know this will impact what our guests see and the visibility of our Partners and Sponsors, who are so critical to this event. We are hoping we struck the right balance for immediate benefit and longer-term sustainability.
We are working with the Sheraton New York Times Square, our venue, to pivot to sustainably-sourced single-use materials as well as increased multi-use products across our catering. We are strictly adhering to the Sheraton’s own practices pertaining to recycling to ensure the greatest amount of waste possible is redirected from landfills.
Finally, we’re making our event accessible — for free — via our website to minimize excess travel. While we know our community flies in from around the world for UNGA-related activities, and would likely continue to do so with or without the Annual Summit, we are aware that the carbon footprint of travel is a major contributor to our own accounting process.
Speaking of accounting process…this is where one of our first Sustainability Partners comes in.
Winrock International, a long-time Concordia Global Patron Member, has for decades been involved in the carbon accounting and reduction space. Indeed, they’ve been a major player behind both the American Carbon Registry and the Architecture for REDD+ Transactions. They’ve offered valuable consultations to Concordia to better understand how to go about carbon accounting as well as designing a strategy for the 2022 Annual Summit that helps us reduce and offset our own footprint. Through their advice, our team is learning what is doable for this year’s Summit, and what we need to be doing down the road to continue to improve in this space.
After making adjustments to some of our internal planning to reduce our carbon footprint, we also internally discussed what could be done to help offset this. First, we are continuing our practice — initiated in 2020 — of planting a tree for every guest registered. This is made possible through a second Sustainability Partner, Rubicon Technologies. Rubicon has a longstanding partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation and through this has helped reforest large parts of Georgia and Kentucky, and throughout the U.S. Rubicon joins a number of our Concordia Members as a signatory of The Climate Pledge.
But, we wanted to go further and faster.
Given our regional programming in both Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, our team was drawn to nature-based solutions that also include ecosystem investments that we might directly support through carbon credits. An ongoing series of roundtables that Concordia has co-hosted with Futures Agribusiness over the past year that center on the Great Green Wall Initiative in Africa made this an initially appealing project to support. Concordia is currently evaluating GGWI-related projects and, with careful consideration, plans to support this initiative with $20,000 worth of carbon credits. We will be able to share more about this final commitment and what our support actually contributes to in terms of fixed impact following the Summit.
As important as these steps are, this process would not have happened in earnest without McDonald’s direct financial support and — equally important — active participation in the sustainability decisions being made possible through their sponsorship. The ongoing engagement of their team, and the questions they posed to ensure this is thoughtfully approached, are positive proof of the company’s own commitment to their climate pledges. McDonald’s was Concordia’s first-ever sustainability partner at this magnitude, and the creative and collaborative experience this has opened makes it a personally favorite project set of mine.
For the first time ever, we are literally putting our money where our mouth is. But we know it’s not enough to just purchase credits or to attempt to buy our way out of our obligations. Each carbon capture scheme must be carefully evaluated and the most impactful project must be selected. Further, we as an organization must continue to make changes to our practices and procedures. Money will not save our environment: behavioral change is key. Concordia is well positioned to take this commitment on in a meaningful way moving forward and invites others in our community to work with us in the future.
To attend the 2022 Annual Summit, sign up here.