How to be an eco-friendly event planner

2022 is expected to become the eighth hottest year on record according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) - which really shouldn’t surprise anyone anymore. 

Humanity has been continually chipping away at the climate catastrophe for decades now, spurred on by record-breaking levels of atmospheric CO2 generated by the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of natural ecosystems. And while there have been small steps towards tackling the climate crisis - the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement, COP26 for instance - we can all agree that there’s a lot more that can be done. 

While most of this effort does need to come from governments around the world, businesses, NGOs and citizens can do their part as well - that includes the humble event organizer too. It may seem like a challenge to host an event that is sustainable while not compromising its quality. Right off the bat, you’re probably thinking you need to limit the number of attendees or even cut down the length of your event.  But there’s no need to do any of that. Instead, just follow these effective tips to host a more climate-conscious event post-pandemic.

1. Add a virtual component to reduce your event’s carbon footprint

Adding a virtual element to your event reduces the carbon footprint

If there’s one action you can take to make your event more sustainable, it’s adding a virtual component to your event. In fact, research by Cornell University shows that the carbon footprint of in-person conferences might be reduced by an incredible 94% if held entirely online instead. Here’s how:

  • No flights necessary: The EPA found that 29% of greenhouse gasses emitted in 2019 came from the burning of fossil fuels by cars, trains, ships, and planes. So the first and perhaps the most obvious outcome from hosting a virtual event or making virtual attendance to your event possible is the huge reduction in resource consumption in travel to the venue. As your attendees and speakers no longer need to take a flight, train or cab to your event, this drastically reduces the total carbon emissions created by your event. The University of Michigan found this to be the case when they compared their May 2020 AirMiners virtual conference to previous iterations, noting that their online conference “produced 66 times less greenhouse gas emissions than an in-person gathering in San Francisco would have.”
  • A reduction in accommodation and catering costs: Did you know that the famous music festival, Coachella, generates 107 tons of solid waste each day. To put that in perspective, that’s the weight of a space shuttle when it goes into orbit. And to make things worse, only 20% of the waste created at the event is recycled.Virtual attendance lets organizers cut down on or completely eschew accommodation and food for attendees, which means fewer or no electricity, heating, food and beverage emissions which can rack up depending on the length of an event. To illustrate, let’s assume that one attendee will use 6 single-use plates and cups over a 2 day period, and drink 2 bottles of water per day. Multiply this by 2000 attendees. This results in 12000 plates and cups and 8000 plastic bottles that will be thrown away. And this is just what would result from one conference in a million happening every year.
  • Going digital means less paper waste: By encouraging attendees to use a mobile app at an  event to check in, navigate the event schedule, interact with speakers and connect with other attendees - both those at a venue and those tuning in virtually - you can avoid a lot of paper waste. There’ll be no need to print out paper tickets, or put up a lot of signage.

2. Host small-scale hybrid events

If you’re intent on having some part of your event be in-person, consider hosting a hybrid event setup for a limited number of attendees. This means that instead of one large gathering, you can hold smaller regional events connected via technology. Remember that long distance travel is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Giving attendees the option to travel shorter distances helps to therefore offset this.

Vlad C. Coroamă and Friedemann Mattern, in this article, give the example of the 2009 World Resources Forum to illustrate this. Conference organizers successfully reduced intercontinental travel by hosting the event at connected hubs in Davos, Switzerland, and Nagoya, Japan. Attendees were able to make short trips within their own continent.

3. Offer carbon offsetting options for attendees

Carbon offset schemes can help

Carbon offsetting is a way for individuals and companies to compensate for their emissions by funding an equivalent carbon dioxide saving elsewhere; for instance, investing in the installation of wind turbines or in the planting of moringa trees (they absorb C02 at a 20x higher rate than any other tree). It’s important to keep in mind that carbon offsets are not a carte blanche to act as environmentally unsustainable as you’d like. Instead, it’s a way to help mitigate the harm you are causing when there’s no other way around it. 

So if you are hosting a hybrid event that involves your attendees flying in, you could give attendees the option to invest in an environmental project to cut down their footprint, and offer to match any donation they made as part of your initiative to go greener. For example, the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2020 decided to financially support the Jacundá project which helps protect 95,000 hectares of native Amazonian forest to offset the emissions caused by their event.

4. Choose eco-friendlier options for venue logistics

Reduce, reuse and recycle should be at the centre of logistics

When planning the logistics for your hybrid event venue, go as green as you can. Here are a couple of simple ways:

-  Choose green hotels (look for sustainability accreditation) for  attendee accommodation

-  Use reusable or biodegradable cutlery at the event instead of plastic utensils

-  Set up water drinking stations as an alternative to bottled water

-  Encourage attendees to recycle their waste by setting up recycling bins at the venue

-  Offer sustainable food options for consumption

But what about the emissions generated from virtual events?

In most cases, virtual events generate a smaller footprint than in-person events. 

Global CO2 Initiative researchers at the U-M College of Engineering found that 60% of emissions generated from a virtual event comes from network data transfers ie. uploading and downloading data such as video calls, and streaming. 

So to make your virtual event more sustainable, organizers can look for virtual event platforms or tools that do not require attendees to have their webcams on during event sessions (this can reduce the environmental footprint in that meeting by 96%), and which enable text-based communication. 

And this is where Zuddl can help.

  • Stages: Speakers take centerstage with their videos on so that they can talk directly to hundreds of virtual attendees. Attendees do not have their video on and can interact with speakers via our easy engagement tools. 
  • Live engagement tools: Text-based functionalities such as Chat, Q&A, Emojis & Polls let attendees ask questions to speakers, comment on the event proceedings, respond to Polls and interact with other attendees. You can effortlessly get your event buzzing with participation without making video mandatory.

To sum up…

With the climate clock counting ominously down, every little action we can take now can help. For event organizers, that means actively looking for ways to be more sustainable. Pivoting to virtual events is the first step. 

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