The green way forward

Associations need to form partnerships and encourage their members 
to develop ESGs in order to create a tipping point in sustainability

Associations are taking their sustainability commitment further up a notch, and are taking collective action to form partnerships with other organisations, while ensuring that their members are also practicing it in their chosen professions.

ESGs are equally important
Antonio Ongsiako, liaison officer and director, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX) reiterated at the 10th Associations Summit of the Philippine Council for Associations and Association Executives (PCAAE) that sustainability is not just a byword, but a practice.

Ongsiako added that these days, lenders also evaluate the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards of a borrowing company, and investors tend to avoid putting their money in companies that do not have ESG rating.

As sustainability practices are increasingly being demanded by the market and required by regulatory agencies, ESG is the way to go, said Ramon Isberto, auditor of the board of trustees of International Association of Business Communicators Philippines.

“If you are not yet on sustainability goals, you are already behind,” Isberto warned, adding that sustainability is “already a market thing, and not just an advocacy”.

Combining resources
As for the Association of Development Financing Institutions in Asia and the Pacific (ADFIAP), the association is ahead of its time, having published a sustainability report back in 2008. Currently, ADFIAP has several UN SDGs in place, one of which is number 17, Partnership For The Goals.

ADFIAP secretary-general Enrique Florencio explained that sometimes associations do not have the resources to pursue sustainability hence, it is important to forge partnerships, be it bilateral, multilateral or talks with like-minded institutions and associations.

Ongsiako further asserted that sustainability is a whole ecosystem, where people and organisations are all working together for the greater good.

PCAAE founder and CEO, Octavio Peralta, agreed: “Associations and other membership organisations wield an influence on their industry sectors, professions, communities and stakeholder groups. They are conduits for addressing sustainability issues via a whole sector and profession approach rather than acting individually”.

Associations that have been active in the sustainability sphere include the UN Global Compact (UNGC), the world’s largest sustainability initiative with more than 12,000 companies and 3,000 non-business signatories in over 160 countries and with 69 local networks around the world.

UNGC’s local networks are association-like entities that help members align their strategies and operations with the UNGC Ten Principles including those on human rights, and the environment. The association also takes strategic actions to advance broader societal gaols such as the SDGs.

Peralta, who is also the executive director of Global Compact Network Philippines, shared that another example of associations banding together for sustainability is the UK-based Climate Action for Associations, which is aligned to the SDGs, the Paris Agreement and a global accelerator for the UN-backed Race to Zero.

Another collective initiative is Pacific Asia Travel Association’s (PATA) efforts through its various chapters. It is an influencer “because the World Tourism Organization pays attention to PATA’s advocacies,” said Bob Zozobrado, chairman of PATA Philippines Chapter.

A new lens
Overall, there is still need to drive home the message that associations are key drivers to sustainability action.

Jane Vong Holmes, GainingEdge senior manager Asia, advised that associations “can, and should, include clauses that will address these sustainability issues in their RFPs for their conventions”.

The first step is for the associations to review their existing RFPs and see if there are gaps that require attention.

“Besides climate change and environmental issues, DEI – Diversity, Equality and Inclusion – are also important goals that associations, as communities, can push through their meetings and conventions,” Holmes pointed out.

She said every organisation and community has the power to make changes, including destinations, host venues, and business events suppliers.

“Associations should also factor in anticipated impacts from their conventions that will contribute SDG goals. If they do not, then savvy destinations should offer convention legacies leading to the achievement of SDGs as part of their bidding strategy,” she noted.

Vong Holmes pointed out that the Covid-19 crisis has helped “hit the reset button”, hence there is no better time for associations to look at how they can contribute to the achievement of SDGs.

She further encouraged associations to think about the new “definition of success” of a conference, instead of focusing on the traditional measurement of success through attendee numbers.