According to a recent report published on Conference News, the UK events industry emits 1.2bn kg of CO2e every year, with delegate travel to conferences and diesel use at festivals being the biggest contributors.
Jose Tejedor, CEO of Virtway1 says the average conference delegate emits approximately 145KG of CO2 emissions per day, but when there is extensive travel involved, this can soar to almost two tonnes per attendee.
Karen Sutton, founder of the UK-based sustainability awards programme, the Global Good Awards, is calling the events industry to account and urging it to pull the plug on increasing emissions as well as take responsibility for its impact on the environment.
From global travel and water consumption through to single-use items such as plastics and event programmes, the events industry is one of the biggest sectors for waste.
“It’s no longer good enough to say being sustainable is too expensive,” says Karen. “There are 1.3m events in the UK each year alone and the industry is worth £39bn2. Many of these events are run by big industry publications and advertising agencies so they can afford to make positive changes.
“The Global Good Awards is a small independent awards scheme, reporting only a small profit in comparison, but we’ve been doing everything sustainably since we launched in 2015. Yes, organic, ethically sourced cotton tote bags are five times more costly than plastic bags, but we use them because it’s the right thing to do and hopefully encourages others to follow.”
Karen believes you can run events sustainably without blowing budgets sky high: you just need to think outside the box, plan ahead and ensure that ‘sustainability’ is on the meeting agenda from the get-go when planning your event.
“I’m amazed that other sustainability awards programmes, and events where climate change is being debated, still aren’t being run sustainably. Climate Action Week in London this summer, for example, boasted 150 events with thousands of delegates flying in from all over the world! How off message is that?”
Karen is calling for events organisers to set themselves urgent goals. She says the biggest actions to address are:
Delegate travel must be carbon balanced but ideally, events venues and/or organisers must offer options for delegates to stream the events live from overseas. Money can still be made – the venue can charge for the tech and the delegates can pay a fee to login and still save money and time.
Be demanding and vigilant in your research. Don’t be fooled with ‘pledges’. Anyone can pledge something – it’s the doing that’s important.
Going vegan or vegetarian is the most obvious choice, but not if it’s made up of exotic vegetables flown half-way round the world. You’d be better serving chicken breast from the local organic farmer 10 miles from the venue.
Karen warns of the hazards of greenwashing: “Don’t hide behind the fact you’ve avoided tonnes of plastic by serving water in glass bottles either. Reducing your single-use plastic is an easy win and you must do it, but in reality, it’s low down on the emissions generated by events.”
Of course, what sustainability challenge to address depends on the type of event you are running. Saying ‘you must carbon offset or carbon balance’ isn’t as straightforward as it sounds when it comes to deciding where to put that offset funding. That’s why, in a bid to support the industry meet these targets, Karen has written a guide on to how to run events more sustainably.
Her Top 17 Sustainable Event Hacks is not just a list of tips but gives real life examples and ideas on how to make real changes as well as offering supplier recommendations. You can get the first three hacks for free here.
1 Virtway is a global virtual events agency
2 According to BVAP, 2014.
Anyone purchasing the full document (RRP £99) will automatically get free updates as the reference document expands. All proceeds are being pumped back into the Global Good Awards programme to ensure it continues to lead the events industry in reducing its impact on the planet.