Straight-talking broadcaster and journalist Declan Curry warned the business meetings and events industry that ‘standing still is not an option’, at yesterday’s mia Future Fit conference. Drawing upon his 25 years of experience writing about business, politics and the economy, in his opening address where he examined the prospects, challenges and opportunities for the UK’s economy as we enter a post-Brexit era, Declan claimed the sector should be scanning the horizon and looking further beyond the immediate challenges of today. He said: “You need to keep watching the horizon because the stand out danger is doing business the way it has always been done. We have an economy that is vigorous and attractive to the rest of the world. Even in the toughest of times, there are still opportunities for those that are nimble enough to get them. We should be optimistic as we have an immense thirst for business. Our skills, talent and creativity will make us more adaptable in a globalised economy driven by knowledge.” Billed to reveal the exciting opportunities being presented by technological evolution against the backdrop of the economic landscape, the full day Future Fit event at America Square, London, had an impressive line-up of speakers who collectively challenged current thinking and took delegates out of their comfort zones. mia chair Kay England revealed how it is calling upon the industry to reduce its reliance on single-use plastics by officially launching the trade association’s #20PercentLess campaign and is championing best practice by publishing an initial paper, which is featured on the association’s new membership portal alongside a range of support materials on its website. The Zoological Society of London’s project officer Rachel Shairp, who is a leader of #OneLess and is supporting the mia’s campaign, highlighted why it is important to act now and the necessary steps the industry should be taking to change its behaviour and safeguard our future. While she admitted plastic is an extremely valuable material and has arguably changed the way we live, we do not use it in a clever way, which has led to the current plastic crisis in the ocean. She said: “Eight million tons of plastic are entering the ocean every year and once in the ocean it poses a major threat and starts to poison food chains including our own. Every part of the ocean is now affected, and once in, it stays there for a very long time.” Food and beverage futurist, Professor David Russell, explained why sustainability should be at the heart of creating effective event strategies. He discussed the importance of ecological consciousness amid cleaning and waste, food procurement, food logistics and guest services while highlighting the work being implemented ahead of the largest food and beverage operation in the world, when Expo 2020 Dubai opens next year. Before joining the other sustainability speakers on stage to be put under the spotlight by conference chair Peter Hancock, Giraffe Innovation’s Rob Holdway examined the circular economy and why it mattered. He said: “Sustainability doesn’t have to mean downgrading or making a product worse, it can actually make it better.” Adding another perspective in his ‘Making your business Future-Fit’ session, Dr Geoff Kendall challenged delegates to rethink how they do and value things. Drawing upon over 30 years of scientific research to chart a path to future success in today’s climate, the session explored new ways for organisations to create value and highlighted exactly how organisations need to evolve to succeed in the face of today’s biggest challenges. Richard Lewis presented a new simple way to talk about location. Having divided the world into a grid of 3mx3m squares and assigning each one a unique three-word address, Richard highlighted how adopting what3words can enhance delegate experience, improve traveller safety and deliver conference efficiencies. Meanwhile, Atsushi Ishii revealed the exciting opportunities being presented by using technology to enhance human capabilities and how artificial intelligence can be a money-saving tool, emitting human error and possibly delivering superior service. He explored the significance of the next generation agent which connects human beings and technology and how his company, Connectome, is developing a ‘Virtual Human Agent’ interface that mediates communication with people. Closing the conference, commercial innovation expert Kate Ancketill inspired delegates with insights and innovations that will change the face of the industry over the next five years. After highlighting best practice from the product brand world, delegates discovered a five-step plan for building a world-class digitally native brand, which they can benchmark themselves against. Jane Longhurst, chief executive of the Meetings Industry Association, said: “We were thrilled with the Future Fit programme that was specifically designed to engage, educate and take delegates out of their comfort zone. “What is clear, and what was reinforced and demonstrated by every speaker, is we have a huge opportunity to be both bold and innovative to drive business growth. We can’t just stand still. Instead, we need to embrace and take advantage of both the technological advances set to occur over the coming years and the opportunities presented by Brexit. “At the same time, we have a huge duty to ensure that the sector takes its social responsibility seriously. Collectively we need to reduce our reliance on single-use plastic so are calling upon the industry to sign our pledge to reduce their organisation’s reliance by at least 20 percent.” For more information, visit www.mia-uk.org.