What is the environmental cost of hosting an event in person? Are virtual and hybrid events minimizing those environmental impacts and saving costs overall? Increasing awareness of the overall impact of every activity humans perform provides valuable information to help us make better decisions regarding our actions. Last week, the Biden administration announced their commitment to making the federal government 100% carbon neutral by 2050. Though 30 years is a long time, the direction is clear and all businesses will have to change their carbon footprint starting now.
Join us as we launch our new blog series highlighting how we as event and meeting professionals, can participate in taking positive steps to engage our audiences with carbon-neutral events whether they are in person or a virtual or hybrid environment. As we take this journey, we’ll be addressing our commitment and efforts to make the Engagez platform 100% carbon neutral far sooner than 2050.
The Impact of Live Events
Over the last year, multiple studies have examined the environmental impact of live events versus virtual or hybrid versions. The MeetGreen organization, a sustainable-events consultancy, in an article in Convene magazine, put the average per attendee at about 4 pounds of trash per attendee resulting in 2,000 pounds for 500 physical events. That same event, according to the article’s math, would generate 200,000 pounds of carbon–per day though that was a report from 2016 and we are sure it has improved.
Another study conducted by WSP – an engineering and consulting firm – showed that in-person events generate an average of 400% more emissions than do virtual versions. Air travel is among the biggest sources of live event-related emissions as the high-altitude carbon emissions of jets pose far greater damage to the ozone. Other factors including venue and hotel building energy consumption, food, and the printing or manufacturing of single-use items such as conference booklets, lanyards, posters, and beverage containers all leave a large carbon footprint.
It should be noted that some in the airline travel industry are making strides in reducing the impact of air travel most notably United Airlines flew the first 100% renewable-fueled flight and has also committed to the government’s 2050 target for 100% green as well. Most airlines are also calculating each passenger’s carbon liability for their flights and are offering the ability to pay for the offset cost already. Some governments are also supporting this effort by not imposing an additional tax on that payment.
- Air Travel
- Tech & Lighting
- Food & Beverage
- Materials & Waste
Are virtual events net zero?
The University of Michigan looked at the carbon footprint of one online conference by gathering information on: emissions associated with the technology equipment used by conference attendees; video streaming during the conference; search engine queries and website usage made as a result of the conference; as well as online pre-conference planning meetings. The findings revealed that the conference generated the equivalent of 1324kg (about 2900 pounds) of carbon dioxide emissions.
These environmental costs are still greatly smaller than those that would be associated with a similar in-person conference. The same University of Michigan study calculated that if the conference had been held in person, flights alone would have generated 660% more carbon emissions as the entire virtual conference and air travel is just a portion of the overall carbon emissions calculations. Even more astonishing is that the findings also concluded that if the virtual conference it studied had been powered by renewable energy sources – such as solar panels – its carbon footprint would have fallen by three-quarters to just 344 kg of carbon dioxide produced.
What’s the plan for the future?
Inspired by the United Nations Climate Change Conference ( COP26), the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC) created an initiative called Net Zero Carbon Events. JMIC – which is made up of several thousand conferences and show organizers and convention and trade-fair venues worldwide – has developed a public pledge to work towards a 50-percent reduction in their carbon emissions by 2030, and also to produce net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2050.
Engagez is in the process of applying to the organization to join in that commitment and supporting the message as well as beating the timeline significantly. We rely significantly on AWS Cloud Services and they are committed to 100% carbon neutral service by 2023!
According to a statement from JMIC:
“In advance of the COP26 meeting, for-profit and nonprofit organizations across all sectors are setting forth their own pathways towards this  goal and the ultimate goal of net zero by 2050,”
“Through this initiative, we aim to link all stakeholders in the corporate, professional, academic, and destination communities worldwide that have also committed to engagement in what is one of the biggest collective challenges we all face today, and to invite those that have not done so yet to join.”
To learn more about the Net Zero Carbon Event Initiative and join the challenge visit https://netzerocarbonevents.org.
Each positive action taken to reduce carbon emissions – no matter how small – does add up.
It’s important that we all work to foster collaboration with suppliers and customers to reduce our environmental impact, while also establishing ways to share best practices amongst our community. Subscribe to our newsletter and continue following our newest series about how you can minimize your carbon footprint in your digital engagement and join us for the move to 100% carbon neutral Engagez events.