Events often generate large amounts of unnecessary waste, adding to an already concerning amount produced each year in most parts of the world. But the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our industry has forced many organisers to move their events online. And this in turn has resulted in many reassessing their event planning and management processes to create more sustainable in-person events in the future.
The opportunity for change has never been so significant. We don’t have to go back to the same level of travel and energy consumption as before. Do we really need to waste paper for our conference programmes? Do we need delegate badges if we can do contactless check-in and networking? Probably not.
Before we take a look at some of our sledgehammer ideas to reduce the impact events can have, it’s worth taking a look at how much Covid-19 has created change and with it, the events landscape. Let’s take a look.
Catalyst for Change
What has happened with the outbreak of Covid-19 is that the public and business world have been able to take a step back and see first-hand what blue skies, clear waters and new wildlife look like. How much difference that will make in the longer term when the virus is something that we live with (outside of lockdown) remains to be seen.
Having said that, this period has certainly put a spotlight on how we can damage the planet. And for planners this is a big concern. Have the days of moving hundreds (or thousands) of people across the globe gone forever?
And even if planners go local with their events, there are new challenges to be addressed.
Events in a Post-Covid 19 World: New Challenges
When it comes to in-person events, planners need to expect some challenges which then lead to new opportunities for the savvy minded sustainable planner.
More space for social (physical) distancing means more energy use. And increased sanitation measures mean more pollution from cleaning chemicals and more water use. So while we may see fewer people coming to events (smaller total impacts), the impact per person will be much higher, due to the necessary safety protocols. That means if we return to pre-pandemic levels of attendance, we have the potential for events to rebound to use more resources than ever- if protocols remain.
Events will generate more solid waste too. Unfortunately, it is often the waste that is made of petroleum-based plastics, including masks, gloves and face shields. Whilst we see emissions from travel are down, emissions from plastics production could increase, which is a worry.
The impact will climb and the costs to manage them will as well.
Events in a Post-Covid 19 World: New Opportunities
The challenges highlight the opportunity for us to focus on new things. Anything that planners can do to increase their sustainability impact is of benefit. Incremental change is important but it is time to look at bigger and bolder measures.
It’s time to get away from smaller measures like eliminating paper and water bottles and really focus on using the sledgehammers that make a bigger difference. Here we highlight five of the best:
1) Adopt Hybrid and Virtual Events
Virtual events have been the saviour when in-person events were put on hold. They have been growing in usefulness and production quality. They are here to stay and they help with sustainability goals.
In addition, hybrid hub events are growing in popularity too. A hybrid hub event brings together in-person and virtual delegates. The beauty of such hubs is that they are usually regionally based and therefore do not require people to travel long distances. And if the food and drink are locally sourced so much the better.
On-Demand Webinar: How to choose a virtual event platform
2) Choose Clean Energy Destinations
One of the key decisions that helps in improving sustainability of events is the obvious issue of location. In fact, it’s a highly under-rated sustainable event decision that gives more control to planners. Event planners can think and research where the host city power comes from and opt for low-carbon destinations. It makes a significant difference to meet in a clean energy city, instead of a fossil fuel powered one.
CDP keeps a list of cities that report at least 70% of their electricity from renewable sources such as hydro, geothermal, solar and wind. CDP is a not-for-profit charity that runs a global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities, states and regions to help them manage their environmental impacts. The list is a good resource to have at hand. Find out more at their website.
3) Make Sustainable Venue Choices
Having chosen a destination, the next step is to decide on which venue(s) to use to hold your event. It’s time to look for venues that have good sustainability credentials. Buildings and construction account for 11% of emissions. If you want to help reduce the impact, you should put your money into supporting those venues that are aspiring to be net-zero buildings. And venues that do not require fossil fuel generators.
4) Expand Electrical Transport
Event planners can also make a difference with their choices when it comes to transport options. From rail to electric buses, planners can help to decarbonise travel. Whilst this is a long term aim especially as it takes time to transition tech to support electrification, it has to start somewhere. Events can be a market catalyst when planners express a preference. If you support a policy or region working on this, you will have more of an immediate impact.
Events can benefit from local, provincial and national policies that promote electric vehicle adoption. So asking destination management companies about options to source zero-emissions vehicles, whether they are coaches or sedans for airport transfers will help.
5) Drive Plant-Based Catering
The key tip here is in following Michael Pollan’s three simple rules when planning catering for events: “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.” And if you must eat meat, the meat you can switch away from is beef. Even one meatless meal matters. How much can you switch to plant-based meals? Maybe you need to make gradual changes but as Michael states, it all helps.
Conclusion – Wrong Assumptions
We need to challenge the assumption that we need to get “back” to the old models. If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic it is that sustainability is not just about “green meeting” practices, it’s about our fundamental ability to be resilient as a society, including our role as a sector that supports it.
Being sustainable once events are “back” means never going “back” to how it was before, and permanently adopting online and hybrid models into our event plans going forward.
But more than that it means accepting that things have changed and moved on. It means being mindful of what attendees and the C-Suite are expecting from planners. People have been reflecting on all sorts of issues during the months of lockdown. Be sure that you understand where their thinking is and whether it aligns with your plans and your event sustainability measures.
Enjoyed reading this post? We have plenty of COVID-19 related resources on our blog which event planners may find useful right now. You can also sign up to our weekly newsletter for tips, updates and research reports on all the latest event trends.