Events are heating up……………well actually they’ve been heating things up for a while!
The industry by its very nature is not green. Just look at it from the attendee’s point of view alone. Thanks to the lanyards, plastic bottles, catering waste, merchandise and freebies AKA plastic tat galore, flights, petrol, the carbon footprint grows and grows.
According to MeetGreen, a three day event of 1,000 attendees can generate a total of up to 5,670kg of waste, of which 3,480kg goes directly to landfill.
The most sustainable events are of course virtual ones, and funnily enough two fascinating conversations I moderated this year were for UN virtual events, about Sustainable Development Goals, and whether we’ll achieve them by 2030.
Scary stuff to be honest and many goals are in danger of not being realised.
But we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater and lose all live events. Although the Net Zero issue is another reason why I love hybrid events, because, by THEIR very nature, they reduce in person attendees and mean a decrease in the carbon footprint of an event.
As well as the UN events I emceed this year, I hosted stages at the in person trade event, The Meetings Show, which also witnessed a few great conversations about the environmental impact of the industry.
One discussed the lessons to be learnt from Cop26, and another posed the question, Is The Events Industry Greenwashing? Many fascinating points were considered, and even though it was happening at a very traditional trade show with all the issues over a lack of sustainability clear for all to see, it’s worth noting that that The Meetings Show has partnered with isla on a course to teach event organisers how they can make the change to greener events.
This will hopefully give meetings planners the knowledge and confidence to get their events on the right sustainable track. And the right answers too for when clients and others pooh pooh changes with “Well this (old fashioned wasteful way) is how we’ve always done it. This is what attendees expect.”
The events industry: organisers, suppliers, emcees, anyone who works with clients, all of us, must fight that response, and not just blame the expectations of the attendees for our failure to step up and show clients that events can be sustainable and wow their prospects too.
If you have ever been to an event with serious green credentials you’ll know your experience is not jeopardised. I’m a long time visitor, with my kids, to the Shambala Festival with its compost loos, zero tolerance of plastic and money back for your recycled waste.
While you might assume all young people are super green, trust me, your average sleep deprived and partied out Kevin The Teenager couldn’t care less about saving the planet. But if you can get them engaged and enjoying a green event, I can’t see why we can’t get educated and enlightened corporate attendees to do it too. Compost loos at The Excel may be a step too far though!
So what’s holding us back? Well I think a lot of clients think, like Kermit, that it’s not going to be easy being green. Sorry, if you follow me you’ll know I love the Muppets! What I mean is that the two things I believe are holding people back from embracing sustainability are a lack of imagination and a fear over cost. These are the two things also preventing many from going big into hybrid events but that’s for another blog.
The question, 'If Cop26 can ensure all the carpets at their event get reused, why can’t other trade shows?' demonstrates the cost issue perfectly. Yes Cop26 is held up as an example of best practice in event sustainability, but that’s easy to achieve when it’s the main KPI and there’s money galore to spend on that goal. Certainly for an industry almost destroyed by the pandemic, hamstrung by budget constraints, supply chain limitations, a staffing crisis etc., it’s hard to be imaginative and forward thinking about anything else. And a consensus appears to be growing in all forums that the pandemic has ensured we will not reach most of the UN’s SDGs by 2030.
I’m not talking UN goals in this blog. I’m talking sustainability in events and it’s pretty clear we are way off achieving net zero in all events by 2030. While I’m heartened that there are amazing people in the space making impressive changes, we’ve got to seriously scale up those changes and fast.