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How to reduce an event’s carbon footprint

If you have an upcoming conference, meeting or event, a central consideration should be its environmental impact.

Consumers and business are increasingly aware of the need to reduce their carbon emissions in the fight against climate change. If you’re in an event agency, this represents an opportunity to stand out from the competition and lead by example. If you’re part of a corporate, NGO or international organization, it is likely that sustainability is high on your agenda. Thinking about ways to run an environmentally-friendly event should be top-of-mind!

A conference’s environmental impact can be broken down into four broad segments.

These are:

  • energy requirements for running your event’s infrastructure (eg lighting and heating);
  • food and beverages;
  • lodging;
  • travel.

Of course, some components within each of these categories will be unavoidable. But there are steps you can take to significantly reduce your environmental impact.

The primary activity is to look at where you can avoid emitting at all. This requires looking more closely at your suppliers — do they have an environmentally conscious track-record? For example, can you ensure the power consumed is generated by green energy? Are your food suppliers focused on sustainability and are they sourcing local produce?

Of the four categories mentioned above, travel is by far the biggest culprit when it comes to carbon emissions. For example, a return flight in economy from London – New York City emits 986 kg CO2. There are 56 countries where the average person emits less carbon dioxide in an entire year than that. So be sure to look at how attendees are going to travel to the venue. Do all of them need to be onsite, or could you allow a portion of them to attend by webcast?

In the age of cloud computing, attendees and suppliers are often able to join your event remotely. We've more about this in a separate blog post.

Carbon footprint of conferences

Next, you need to look measurement and evaluation. You’ll need to know what the carbon emissions profile of your event is so that you can evaluate your environmental savings. It will also help you to identify where you can make the biggest impact, which is likely to be in within the travel and lodging categories.

If you’re willing to go the extra mile, once you have your figures you can look at how to offset your unavoidable carbon emissions. There are numerous schemes through which you can do this, and many governments across the world offer tax incentives for those organisations that offset their events.

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