Event professionals are at a pivotal moment to drive their focus towards “people, planet and prosperity”, according to an industry representative.
Mariela McIlwraith, Events Industry Council (EIC) vice president of sustainability, believes there needs to be a “holistic” approach to creating live shows where digital components work as an enhancement.
It comes as global leaders have gathered in Glasgow, UK for Cop26 to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
High-profile figures from our industry will be there presenting at a session to deliver a commitment to a net zero future.
Download our free sustainable events checklist to help you to futureproof your business in this model.
This pledge already has more than 150 businesses who are registered supporters.
Challenges for sustainable events
EIC has carried out its own research among members which highlighted three main challenges for professionals in our industry: cost, education and difficulty in measuring.
This federation has more than 30 member organisations and represents over 103,500 individuals and 19,500 firms and properties.
Mariela told ExpoPlatform how sustainability should not be seen only as a challenge, but also an opportunity which is “good business”.
She said: “This is a key moment for our industry to focus on driving results for people, planet and prosperity.
“We need to ensure that events are designed as exceptional experiences and that we continually improve our impact for those that attend, as well as for our workforce and for the communities and natural environments where we meet.
“Sustainability is also good business.
“Our survey also showed that event organisers want to see information about sustainability in proposals, and that often suppliers are waiting to be asked, resulting in a gap of expectations.
“If you’re a supplier, promoting your sustainable practices up front is a great way to help improve your proposals.
“For event organisers, sustainability and social impact practices can also help you financially.
“In addition to the cost savings that come from the more efficient use of resources, designing your events to be more inclusive and accessible can help you grow your audience and improve the quality of your events.”Signatories to the Net Zero Carbon Events initiative pledge – to be deliver on November 10 – commit to:
Before the end of 2023, publish their organisation’s pathway to achieve net zero by 2050 at the latest, with an interim target in line with the Paris Agreement’s requirement to reduce global GHG emissions by 50% by 2030
Collaborate with partners, suppliers and customers to drive change across the value chain
Measure and track Scope 1, 2 and 3 GHG emissions according to industry best practice
Report on progress at least every two years
Findings from the EIC research shows the main hurdles for professionals who responded to the survey were in terms of economic impact.Mariela said: “For most organisations, the survey showed that sustainability practices need to be either cost saving only or cost neutral.
“Fortunately, many sustainable practices fit this description.
“Everything from reusing signage, to opting for vegetarian meals, to cutting back on waste hauls can improve the financial bottom line.”
Cutting waste, cutting carbon
A typical in-person show creates a massive amount of excess and tonnes of emissions over the course of a few days.
This can be through leftover food, goody bags, single-use plastics, transportation, energy used at the venue, resources to build the event, magazines and many more.
Research from MeetGreen shows the average conference attendee produces 1.89kg of waste per day – that’s 5,670kg created by a 1,000-person event over three days.
However, the biggest contributor to the carbon footprint of events by far is through international travel.
Findings by MeetGreen estimate air transport makes up about 70% of the emissions created by a largescale professional gathering.
A further 10% is through car journeys, 8% on guest room energy, 4% on venue energy, 4% by train travel, 3% on food and 1% on freight.
The organisation estimates one two-day event avoided producing almost 1.8 million kg of CO2 emission to just over 8,420kg by switching to fully virtual format.
That’s less than one percentage of the original figure.
Switching to some kind of hybrid format – which includes in-person and virtual elements – could be a more attractive option for organisers wishing to go greener.
It is estimated that by moving 10% of attendees online – made up of those who travel the furthest – emissions could be cut by almost 90%.
This overseas portion could still engage with sessions virtually or consume content on-demand after the show has taken place.
Communities are sustainable
Mariela sees a year-round engagement approach known as 365 community – as the future for event professionals who want to improve sustainability.
This model has flourished over the last 18 months, when businesses were forced to rethink how they connect and inform their audiences.
It now provides a way for organisers to create year-round revenue and heighten their brand awareness using digital tools.
Mariela added: “I can see us transitioning to a community engagement model that includes both digital and in-person touchpoints throughout the year to help us stay connected and better achieve an event’s learning and marketplace outcomes.”
Her comments come as the threat of the climate crisis, changing attitudes and an increasingly unstable political environment have all reaffirmed the need to limit risks.
Governments around the world are creating targets to hit net zero emissions – which our industry will play a part in meeting.
Digital to enhance live shows
The digital transformation our sector has witnessed will be crucial in helping us to create a more sustainable future.
Virtual components now offer great opportunities to drive revenue, increase engagement and improve the in-person experience.
Spending on pure trade show activities is predicted to decline, with exhibitors anticipated to increase investment in digital content, hybrid events and training of their own teams.
Research suggests planners will be shifting their budget model to place more emphasis on virtual event monetisation.
It is expected this digital component is going to rise from just 2% before the pandemic to 25% moving forward.
Mariela reaffirmed her belief that in-person shows will remain the highlight of an event professional’s calendar – with virtual features acting as an added benefit.
She said: “The future of events will include a digital component, but I see it as an enhancement and not as a substitute to the in-person experience.
“What is essential is that we consider a holistic approach to event sustainability that looks at all aspects of an event, including transportation, circularity and food choices as well as the delivery format to ensure that we are growing audiences and improving impact.”
Virtual components can open up accessibility which can further increase engagement opportunities.
Improving diversity and inclusion
More findings from EIC research show that 72% of organisations were working to create a better environment for diversity in terms of both gender and race.
A further 70% said they were focussing on disability, 61% on religion and spirituality, while 51% were putting effort into gender identity.
These are more components which are key to creating a more sustainable future for our industry – diversity and accessibility.
It is key for organisers to recognise this as these values are of growing importance to the workforce and business leaders.Millennials and Gen Zs – the largest proportion of employees – are reported to believe discrimination is widespread and is likely enabled by systemic racism in major institutions.
Six in 10 Gen Zs and 56% of Millennials told Deloitte Global’s 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey they see systemic racism as very or fairly widespread in general society.
Furthermore, a total of 44% of Millennials and 49% of Gen Zs said they have made choices in the last two years over where and the type of work they will do based on their personal ethics.
About 15% of those said they had left their jobs or started new careers after reflecting on the pandemic and their values.
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