COP15: The Bright Side

In one sense at least, the Copenhagen conference on climate change was a big success. The 13-day gathering in the Danish capital in December 2009 ended with an international accord that arguably fell well short of expectations in terms of a new global climate deal. In terms of event management, however, the meeting set a new level of sustainability. Massive though it was, with 33,526 participants descending on the city from all round the world and an attendant whirl of reporters, campaigners and commentators, the event still achieved its target of climate neutrality, offsetting 100% of its carbon emissions. What's more, with its whole raft of green measures from lighting to catering, using sophisticated videoconferencing and promoting public transport, it became the first international political meeting ever to achieve BS8901 certification, the British Standard for Sustainable Event Management.

The Copenhagen summit, officially known as the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, is now setting the benchmark for future international standards for all such gatherings. Drawing on the lessons learned at the conference, a six-member task force has been working on a new Copenhagen Sustainable Meetings Protocol (CSMP). It will include three main elements: a sustainability case study of the Copenhagen meeting, an outline of procedures for attaining BS8901 status (and other relevant certifications), and an overview of best practice. The task force was originally set up by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to train teams of people to implement the BS8901 standard, and brought together both public and private sector partners. Thanks to its follow-up work, the organizers of future COP sessions and indeed of any large-scale multi-stakeholder international conferences will be able to follow the CSMP. Not only will this help them achieve greater efficiencies, it will also help them save money in the long term. A future international standard, to be known as ISO20121, will be based on the CSMP and on BS8901.

Achieving climate neutrality was a highly ambitious objective for COP15, requiring a combination of strategies to achieve it. On the transport front, special free passes were given to accredited delegates on Copenhagen's existing and comprehensive local network of metro, bus and train services – helping to achieve an impressive 93% usage of public transport by all participants. Low-emission vehicles were used for all VIP transport – and 200 rental bicycles were provided free of charge. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), the Danish as well as Norwegian and Swedish national airline, was also keen to display its green credentials. The greenhouse gas emissions arising from delegates' travel to and from Copenhagen, came to over 66,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent, representing 92% of the event's total carbon footprint, the vast majority of it from long-haul flights. All of this, and the smaller quantity of locally-generated emissions from hotel accommodation, running the conference centre and travel between the two, was offset by the purchase of carbon emission reductions. The project selected as the source of these offsets  is a Gold Standard Clean Development Mechanism project in Bangladesh which is dramatically improving the energy efficiency and viability of a brickworks.

To promote the efforts by Copenhagen hotels to improve their sustainability standards, the conference booking site gave particular prominence to those with a 'green' certification under schemes such as the Green Key, Green Globe Certification, or Nordic Swan Label. The proportion of the city's hotel rooms with green certification rose from only 12% in June 2008 to 53%, or more than 7200 'green' rooms, by December 2009.

The Bella Centre, the largest conference venue in Scandinavia, was extensively refurbished for COP15. Much of the USD 5.5 million spent on this refurbishment is expected to be recoverable within eight years through efficiency savings. The Centre's state of the art lighting, ventilation, and insulation and security systems have helped achieve its target of cutting its carbon dioxide emissions by 20% since 2007 and obtain eco-certification under the Green Key scheme. An on-site wind turbine provides both a symbolic focal point and a supply of renewable electricity equivalent to some 4% of the centre's consumption.

An enormous catering effort was necessary to feed those attending the conference – a total of over 200,000 meals were produced for the 11,000-15,000 people per day who came to the meetings over the course of 13 days. Many of the supply contracts had been placed up to 12 months beforehand, and menus had to accommodate tastes from around the world, including religious and vegetarian requirements; 40 % of the food and drink was locally sourced within 160 km (100 miles) of Copenhagen and 75% of it was certified organic. The centre had two large permanent kitchens and ten more were installed temporarily, where a total of 100 chefs and 450 other catering staff cooked 10,000 organic chickens, 50 tonnes of potatoes, two tonnes of couscous and five tonnes of fish over the conference period, producing around 15 tonnes of meals each day. Instead of bottled water, tap water was freely available from a large number of water coolers, while soft drinks were organic and the tea and coffee was all fair trade produce. In another symbolic move, the traditional ‘goody bags’ presented to delegates at previous conferences were ditched in favour of a scheme to fund an all expenses paid MA programme for eleven students from around the world to study climate change at Danish universities.

“We worked hard to be architects of an effective, flexible sustainability management system which engaged stakeholders throughout the community. The result is not only the hard won certification of our event management system, but a more sustainable Copenhagen, a city which can now claim 53% of all hotel rooms as third party eco-certified, a state of the art public transportation system and affordable access to organic and sustainable foods.”- Jan-Christoph Napierski, Head of Sustainability for COP15, Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The achievements of the sustainability initiatives at COP15 included:

•    First United Nations event to achieve BS8901 certification of its management system
•    A new benchmark standard, the Copenhagen Sustainable Meetings Protocol, soon to be ISO20121
•    100% of carbon emissions were offset
•    93% of the 33,000 participants used public transport
•    53% of hotels in the greater Copenhagen Area eco-certified
•    20% reduction in CO2 emissions at the Bella Centre
•    4% of the venue's energy consumption generated by an on-site wind turbine
•    The Bella Centre eco-certified and established as an examplar of a sustainable conference venue
•    11-15,000 people a day fed in a sustainable manner for 2 weeks
•    75% of the food and drink certified organic and 40% of the food locally sourced
•    €600,000 saved by not giving gifts and used instead for scholarships