According to Fengqi Yo, a professor of systems engineering at Cornell University, the global events industry contributed to annual greenhouse emissions equal to that of the entire United States before the pandemic. As the global economy continues booming while the environment suffers, it's become extremely important to look for ways to protect our environment while collaborating for industrial and professional growth. One way to do this is by harnessing virtual and hybrid events.
A study published in Nature shows that transitioning from an in-person event to virtual conferencing can reduce the carbon footprint of an event by 94%. Virtual events eliminate or reduce several of the environmental costs, such as fuel burned on travels and international flights, paper, and plastics for event badges, et cetera. Likewise, hybrid events can potentially reduce carbon emissions at an event by up to 67%. With these event formats presenting new opportunities for improving the quality of our environment, we must explore and understand how we can harness them for sustainability.
So, in this article, we'll explore the relationship between virtual and hybrid events and sustainability, and how event organizers can utilize these opportunities to optimize future events for greater sustainability.
So, how has the events industry contributed to carbon emissions around the world? We explore how below:
Travel is probably the biggest way the events industry contributes to carbon emissions. Event attendees living or working in distant locations must come from their home countries or states, spending several hours on flights to reach the event venue. Statistics show that, at a cruising speed of 780 km/h, a passenger contributes 90 kg of CO2 emissions per hour. Multiply that thousands of persons, multiple days, and several hours, and the impact becomes astronomical! Studies show that travel can cause up to 75% of all emissions from an event.
Apart from the CO2 emissions released during the transportation to the venue, there is still more emission when the attendees are checked into their hotel rooms or suites. From the extra heating required to lighting and electricity use by the attendees, hospitality contributes to the total gas emissions at in-person events, further contributing to the footprint.
Waste contributes to carbon emissions, either directly or indirectly. At large events, a large number of waste is generated. According to a study by MeetGreen, a 3-day event generated 5670 kg of waste. At least 50% of this waste goes to landfills, where they are often degraded by methane-producing bacteria, contributing to greenhouse emissions.
The energy used to power the event venue is another source of emissions from in-person events. Most electricity grids are powered by non-sustainable fuels such as coal and gas, so the extra demand for electricity necessitated by an event also contributes to carbon emissions.
The food and drink industry is already a major contributor to greenhouse emissions, with beef contributing 300 kilograms of CO2 equivalents per kilogram of meat produced. Considering how essential food and drink is to events, it's easy to see why this is a major way that events contribute to carbon emissions.
Virtual and hybrid events are changing the event industry into a greener one. According to research conducted by WSP in 2021, when seven virtual events were converted from an in-person event format to a virtual format, the carbon emission avoidance was equivalent to saving a forest 48 times the size of New York.
Virtual and hybrid events do not exactly mean zero emission events, though. A few factors must be considered, such as the power source, materials and equipment used, and more. However, because of how effective virtual and hybrid events are at cutting carbon emissions, it's important to study them. Here's how they drastically reduce carbon emissions for industry events:
Virtual events require significantly less travel than in-person events, as most attendees can simply attend from their homes. Virtual and hybrid events reduce the need for an attendee to spend several hours on international flights and transportation, which are the biggest contributors to the carbon footprint of industry events.
Also, with hybrid events, there is less need for a large crowd of physical attendees. Today, more professionals are saying they want to attend more virtual events than in-person ones. With hybrid events becoming more popular, these formats are set to take over the market for a greener revolution.
Catering is reserved for in-person events, both as part of the experience and as a way for attendees to experience the local culture at the event location. With virtual and hybrid events, catering needs are significantly reduced. There's no need for catering at a virtual event, and hybrid events also require no catering for the in-person audience. Because they eliminate catering needs, virtual events help to reduce the global carbon footprint of virtual events.
According to MeetGreen, power demands at in-person events can contribute up to 4% of the total emissions of the event. Electric power is essential to in-person events, from powering heavy equipment to lighting and other electrical components. And while 4% may not seem like much, when multiplied by thousands of events worldwide, energy usage is an important component of greenhouse emissions by the industry.
Virtual and hybrid events reduce the need for power-intensive equipment, as speakers and sponsors can easily work from home or their offices with regular equipment. This helps to drive down energy usage needs.
Digital technologies are changing the world in various ways, including reducing CO2 emissions. According to the Wuppertal Institute, digital technology has the potential to "reduce greenhouse emissions and resource consumption." From eliminating paper or plastic event badges to optimizing event energy usage, digital solutions allow businesses to decrease their contributions to global carbon emissions further.
So, how can we harness virtual and hybrid events to reduce carbon emissions? We give some tips below:
One of the most effective ways to reduce carbon emissions is by changing how you use power. To do this, it's important to be environmentally conscious. You can ask your event energy provider to switch your energy source from the general grid to a carbon-neutral or less carbon-heavy solution. And even if that's not possible, you can reduce the event's demand for electricity by switching to energy-efficient solutions such as LED bulbs.
The smaller the size of an in-person event, the lesser its footprint in greenhouse emissions. Remember that in-person events can impact the environment from several points in the chain. From transportation to catering to energy usage, larger events can significantly impact the environment. So, it's always a great idea to go for smaller events with less impact on the environment. Ensure that they're fewer, too, as holding multiple small events might nullify the advantages of smaller events.
Papers, disposable items, and single-use plastics form a large percentage of the waste generated at events. While they may not seem significant individually, the impact can quickly add up. With 91% of plastic produced destined for landfills or incinerators after their life cycles, it's obvious where most plastic produced at in-person events goes after the event. By reducing your own use of plastics, you can significantly reduce your carbon emissions. Opt instead for sustainable, reusable, and digital solutions, such as virtual event badges, QR codes, virtual brochures, and virtual IDs.
We've already seen how virtual events drastically reduce your emissions, so why not just make your event a virtual one? With this format, you can make your event more accessible, get more speakers from around the world, consume fewer resources and energy, and produce less waste. Plus, you can derive good ROI for your sponsors and increase your global visibility, helping to drive business growth for your company and sponsors.
When hosting an in-person event, take the event location into your consideration. Is it a location that most of your attendees can access without needing to take a cross-country or international flight? Is it a central location that attendees can access by public transport, reducing the need for participants to use their cars? Are there sustainable measures that the host city is taking to reduce its emissions? Taking these factors into consideration helps you make the choice that meets attendee needs and helps protect the environment.
The menu is one of the most important aspects of an event where you can influence change. Go for food options with a low impact on the environment. For example, you can opt for plant-based foods rather than animal proteins. Plant foods produce fewer carbon emissions on average than animal products like beef. Also, you can source locally-produced foods to reduce the food miles on your event catering. You can also work with your caterers to look for ways to prevent food waste, such as serving smaller portions.
As an event organizer, helping your audience see reason with your green initiatives can maximize the impact that you'd make alone. Today, more people are becoming aware of how they can improve their environment through sustainable practices. Communicating with your audience can show them that your event is another opportunity to give back to the environment and how they can do so. Additionally, you can encourage your event attendees to use sustainable transportation, reduce their food waste, and adopt other sustainable practices at your event. This way, you can amplify impact and lessen environmental damage at your events.
Working with a virtual or hybrid events provider like Performedia can help you significantly reduce your carbon footprint. Here's how:
A great event solutions provider works with you to define problems and objectives and offers practical, tested ways to meet your event goals. At Performedia, our total boutique approach means that we're with you every step of the way – from planning to execution. We help with marketing, video streaming, event engagement, and analytics, supporting you with sustainable solutions at every step.
With digital solutions for registering and checking in event attendees, a digital event solutions provider can help reduce your need for paper and plastics. You can go greener and digital with NFC tags, QR codes, digital lead generation tools, and digital check-in tools.
With a virtual event platform, you can give your virtual attendees a first-class experience, regardless of where they're attending your event. A virtual event platform harmonizes all aspects of your event, from registration to event streaming and attendee networking. This allows you to cut expenses, stay efficient, and use less energy than you would work with multiple, separate solutions and tools.
One of the most significant advantages of working with a digital events provider is the ability to stay consistent. An event provider provides solutions to stay green and environmentally conscious every step of the way. From helping you plan events sustainably to providing expert advice when needed, you can have a smooth experience planning sustainable events.
Because of their experience and expertise in the events industry, a virtual events provider can provide tailored suggestions to improve the sustainability of your event based on specific features unique to it. They can help you assess your needs and objectives and define efficient, greener ways to achieve them.
In this article, we've explored how virtual and hybrid events provide an opportunity to improve the sustainability of your events. With virtual and hybrid events, you can reduce your carbon emissions, deliver an amazing experience to all your attendees, and open up growth opportunities.
Want to get tailored solutions for your event and deliver amazing events to your attendees? Give us a call at Performedia today!