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‘The time for talking is done’ – global event industry pledge at Cop26

“The time for talking is done and the time for action is now” was the message as global event industry leaders spoke at Cop26.

A range of high-profile figures in our sector spoke in Glasgow on Wednesday to deliver a pledge towards a net zero future by 2050 “at the latest”.

The Net Zero Carbon Events initiative has already brought more than 200 organisations together to tackle the issue.

It is the first-ever collaboration in the meetings, conferences, exhibitions industry working towards this goal.

Mike Seaman, CEO of Raccoon Events, was among the speakers on the panel and issued a call to action for our industry.

He said: “As a CEO of a business, as a human being, as a dad, I think we have a moral responsibility to act on this issue and the time to do that is now.

“The time for talking is done and the time for action is now – and that’s what we’ve challenged ourselves to do as a business.”

Download our free sustainable events checklist to help you futureproof your business in this model.

Kai Hattendorf, CEO of UFI, presented the commitment at the UN conference while representing the Joint Meetings Industry Council.

Signatories to the pledge 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 greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030.
  • Collaborate with partners, suppliers, and customers to drive change across the value chain.
  • Measure and track Scope1, 2, and 3 greenhouse gas emissions according to industry best practice.
  • Report on progress at least every two years.

However, he is confident our industry will be able to meet the aims of this pledge long before the target date.

Kai said: “I personally believe we’ll get their way before 2050, as we will learn, as we’re collaborating.

“If mankind can find a vaccine that works against Covid-19 in a few months, we can find ways to get to zero carbon before 2050 if we just put our brains to it – but we need all the brains.”

He added: “We’ve spoken with many government officials over the last 12 months, with many policymakers, with many leaders around the world.

“They see the critical role the event sector has to play economically of course, but even more relevant maybe nowadays.

“Events are critical in so many ways – as trust builders, as invention drivers, as laboratories for public policies, as generators of talent and investment and so many more.

“Events are essential to the way we live and work.

“We’ve always played this role, but it’s never been more critical than now as we recover from the pandemic.”

He added: “What we are launching here today is the beginning of this journey, but we are not starting from zero.

“Across our industry we have excellent good practices and sustainability champions.

“We can build on their work with them all as an industry collaborating, not competing.”

The Cop26 summit brings parties together with the aim of accelerating action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Governments around the world are creating targets to hit net zero emissions – which our industry will play a part in meeting.

That is why MICE representatives have been meeting with policy makers around the world over the last 12 months to discuss the role it can play in future.

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.

Thankfully much of this waste can be cut back or done in a different way – which means less money spent on unneeded outgoings.

The pledge has been developed through a cross industry collaboration ranging from small to multinational businesses.

Its delivery at the conference included a panel of global leaders from the across our sector ranging from organisers and venues to the supply chain.

Charlie McCurdy, CEO of Informa Markets, set out three key areas that organisers can contribute to tackling climate change:

  • Reducing waste at the in-person show
  • Cutting emissions from business travel
  • Adopting more sustainable practices

He said: “We all know there’s a need for action in every walk of life and in every industry – and the exhibition industry is no different at all.

“Our customers, our colleagues and our investorsthey all want to work with, work for and invest in businesses that take sustainability seriously.

Exhibition organisers working now, we’re all in a unique position to help many markets and regions around the world to accelerate their own carbon reduction plans by highlighting the challenges they face and promoting potential solutions.”

Almost half of people in China, the US and the UK are doing their best to live sustainably, according to a poll.

Findings from the Statista survey show 46% of respondents in these countries were doing all they can, 48% believed they could do more while only 6% were not bothering.

This illustrates the weight of responsibility people are placing on themselves to secure a future for all by living sustainably.

Furthermore, another survey shows more than a quarter of Millennials and Gen Z rank environmental concerns as their top priority – and these are already the largest proportion of the workforce worldwide.

Findings from the Deloitte Global’s 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey show 26% of both generations ranked protecting the environment as their top personal concern.

This comes despite threats to health, family welfare and careers being closer to home and imminent in the current climate.

Stephanie Dubois, head of event operations at SAP, told how it was time for businesses to “walk the talk” and that aiming for a sustainable future was a “no-brainer”.

However, she urged event professionals to come together so that the issue can be tackled collectively.

She added: “We need the entire industry to work together to achieve those goals.

“Sustainability is a massive challenge with establish that the number of times, and is not one that can be tackled in isolation.”

Meanwhile, Robert Priest-Heck told how in-person events are crucial for driving innovation and change.

But the CEO of Freeman highlighted about how environmental challenges presented a challenge for these meetings in future.

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.

Event professionals are also less willing to spend on international travel to attend a show when they can expect virtual options to be made available to them.

This can be done through on-demand content, streaming or virtual networking opportunities and many more avenues.

Furthermore, 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%.

Robert added: “The impact of climate change on our industry has the potential to stifle innovation for decades.

“We have a responsibility to not let that happen – millions of workers and thousands of companies around the world rely on business events and its suppliers.”

Barbara Weizsäcker, secretary general of the European Major Exhibition Centres Association, said: “We are convinced that leading by example is the best way we can educate partners and clients and help behaviour changes among the visitors and exhibitors too.

“Another very important element is our employees – they do support and even push and if we want to attract new talent, it goes without saying that operating in sustainable way also said socially sustainable is crucial.”

In our industry, we know events have immense potential for driving innovation and building success.

But we can also be certain the digital transformation our industry has witnessed will be crucial in helping us to create a more sustainable future.

That’s why we’ve been exploring this model in more detail – we’ve spoken to industry leaders and experts on sustainability about the best ways to do this.

You  can read our complete guide to sustainable events here.