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Environmental Impact: Planning a Carbon Neutral Event

Whether your event is going to be in person, virtual, or hybrid, there are many important things to consider. From the date of your event to who your speakers will be, it can become overwhelming. Through this series, we hope to lighten your event organizing stress by providing the information you need to strive for a carbon-neutral impact. 

As reinforcement to our series devoted to event carbon reduction, IDC just published its Digital Transformation Predictions for 2022 and one of the top 10 predictions is:

Decarbonization initiatives will be a key goal of digital transformations; fewer than 10% of organizations say they are not applicable or not implementing objectives to reduce carbon by the end of 2023.

The decision to move towards holding a carbon-neutral event will first require asking yourself and your team questions about your goals, along with assessing your current position. As with any attempt to reduce carbon emissions, any small step taken is better than doing nothing. Initially, you may decide whether you will carbon offset the entirety of your event or just a section of it – such as catering, the number of virtual segments, etc. 

  • Where are you now?

Once your initial goals are defined, the next step in reducing your event’s carbon emissions is benchmarking your current status. Knowing where you stand now will help you plan a future carbon-neutral event, or at least can aid you in transforming your event from being carbon-intensive to carbon-neutral through changes in the program and offsetting your emissions. 

At an event in the physical world, the main sources of carbon include participant travel; hospitality; catering; and the powering of the event space. While travel makes up a major portion of the emissions from an event, it is often outside of the control and influence of the event organizers. Focus on what you can control and be transparent with attendees, partners, and providers in what you are doing.

Once your initial goals are defined, the next step in reducing your event’s carbon emissions is benchmarking your current status. Knowing where you stand now will help you plan a future carbon-neutral event, or at least can aid you in transforming your event from being carbon-intensive to carbon-neutral through changes in the program and offsetting your emissions. 

At an event in the physical world, the main sources of carbon include participant travel; hospitality; catering; and the powering of the event space. While travel makes up a major portion of the emissions from an event, it is often outside of the control and influence of the event organizers. Focus on what you can control and be transparent with attendees, partners, and providers in what you are doing.

  • Toolkits are available!

There are a number of tools available that can be used as carbon calculators when planning your event and – after the event is over – to be updated with actual numbers for future reference. Some of these include:

 

  • BP Target Neutral – has developed a toolkit to help event organizers take control of their carbon emissions. It offers a guidebook and complete spreadsheet and provides feedback
  • Atmosfair – offers help with the calculation and reduction of emissions, along with the option of using the company to offset your event-related CO₂ emissions at no cost you
  • Check with carbon offset providers, such as those listed below. Many offer carbon emission calculators at no cost
  • Work with your venue provider

The main source of information regarding your carbon emissions is your venue provider. Many convention centers are now providing information regarding emissions per square meter of venue space, catering, recycling, etc. Most venues will also advertise their sustainability certifications as well – such as Green Key Global certified – helping you to choose a venue that incorporates sustainability into their infrastructure. Areas in which venues can be more sustainable include recycling programs, using locally-sourced materials; rainwater harvesting; blackwater treatment; using renewable energy; having automated building management systems, and supporting or donating to nonprofits.

  • Choose green whenever possible

Regardless of what the venue offers, there are several small – yet significant – choices you can make while running your event.

 

  • In the past, reducing the amount of physical space to be used for the event would have been an automatic step. However, in these times, the need for social distancing makes this unfeasible. Using outdoor spaces – when the climate allows – could be an option
  • Water bottles are a major source of waste, so choose to remind attendees to bring refillable water bottles or offer them as part of your swag bag
  • Include your sponsors and exhibitors in the process by being transparent about your actions and encouraging them to do their part 
  • Catering can be a big source of carbon emissions, so do what you can to reduce food waste by polling attendees ahead of time as to their dietary restrictions and preferences, and see if your venue can help with donating extra food to a local food bank or program;
  • Go virtual within your event whenever possible!

The increasing popularity of hybrid events has shown event organizers that there are different ways of conducting and managing events, conferences, and workshops. Some examples include:

 

  • Rather than holding a single global hybrid conference, the event can be decentralized into different hubs that are linked virtually. This allows attendees the options of traveling to their nearest hub location or attending virtually
  • To reduce the emissions generated, you can offer platforms for both low- and high-bandwidth internet
  • You can upload recordings instead of holding live sessions which usually require high bandwidth 
  • Decrease the file sizes of your graphics, photos, and videos, as transmitting large files generally consumes more energy 
  • Encourage participants to turn off their cameras during a videoconference, which can reduce their environmental footprint in the meeting by 96%
  • Digitizing your signage and marketing materials will greatly reduce paper costs and waste. Digital signage and/or kiosks have the added advantages of providing directions, space designations, making real-time announcements, and more. The latest kiosk technology can take advantage of facial recognition, beacons, or QR codes to offer attendees personalized itineraries and directions
  • How to offset your carbon emissions

Once you’ve calculated your carbon footprint to the best of your ability, consider what actions you can take to offset the environmental impact of your event. As climate change is a global problem, it doesn’t matter where actions are taken to reduce emissions, so it makes sense to choose to offset your emissions where it’s cheapest and easiest to do so. There are a number of climate action projects that help to reduce emissions or absorb them from the atmosphere, some working in forestry and conservation, with renewable energy, community projects, and in the waste-to-energy industry. A quick search online will find organizations that can help you offset your emissions. The impact of a carbon offset program depends on how reputable the program is. Look for programs that adhere to strict standards and offer complete transparency.

 Just a few of these programs include:

 

  • Native Energy – established in 2000, the company is third-party verified, transparent, and committed to rigorous standards of social and environmental performance. It offers a wide range of project options for both businesses and individuals
  • 3Degrees – has carbon offset projects that are specifically targeted at helping businesses and utilities decarbonize their operations
  • Terrapass – makes carbon offsetting easy for individuals and businesses with its monthly subscription model
  • Cool Effect – states that their projects are 100% scientifically validated, with over 90% of every dollar going directly to their project partners
  • Carbon Footprint – offers carbon footprinting, carbon calculators, CO2 reduction, and carbon offsetting 

Engagez is committed to being carbon neutral by 2023, though a digital event is a fraction of the carbon footprint of a physical event, we are still committed to getting to zero and applaud physical event producers that are trying to do the same. 

However, going green is not the only reason to go digital. An earlier report, again by IDC, in their 2020 IT Buyer Experience Survey, they reported that customers preferred digital, marketing-led information sources are predominately preferred at every stage of the customer’s decision journey. The range was over a 2:1 ratio in the exploration and evaluation stages and almost 45% higher in the purchase stage. 

The title of the report says it all…Event Marketing’s Next Normal: The Future is Digital. 

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