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Sustainable events ‘not rocket science’ and can boost income

Creating sustainable events is “not rocket science” but can actually boost income, improve brand image and protect the environment, according to an expert.

Cameron Little is an environmental scientist, sustainability consultant and educator with more than 20 years experience in our industry.

The vice president of the Sustainable Event Alliance sees the digital transformation our sector has witnessed as offering great opportunities to reduce waste and increase revenue.

But first he believes event planners need to recognise this model is “not rocket science” and is more than just about being greener.

Cameron told ExpoPlatform: “A lot of people don’t understand the differences between an environmental focus and a sustainability focus – that’s a key issue, because sustainability looks at economic and social considerations as well.

“That puts them on a much better footing than solely looking at environmental issues, because one of the complaints or criticisms or objections that some people put forward about environmental considerations is that they cost more.

“But sustainability looks at the economic impacts and social considerations of those initiatives as well – and factors that into the design or decision making process. 

“Inevitably I find that you can do it for the same costs or usually save money. 

“When you roll everything up, look at short, medium and long term benefits, you end up with more for less.”

The Australia-based event sustainability consultant added: “It’s important to recognise that humans are a social animal and that people getting together are an integral part of being human. 

“Done right they can help to bring physical communities and communities of interest together and we’re going to need more of that, not less, as we move forward to address the global challenges ahead of us.

“The key is to focus on having events that both minimise any negative environmental impacts and purposefully pursue events that can maximise the local social and economic benefits. 

“It’s not rocket science – it just requires us to build all of these considerations into our objectives from the start. 

“You don’t get the results by trying to bolt on ineffectual add-ons near the end of the planning process. 

“By using integrated systems thinking approaches and genuinely engaging all of the relevant stakeholders to pursue the agreed goals you’ll get the wins.

“Poor environmental performance by definition results in various forms of waste, whether it be physical waste, wasted energy, wasted water. 

“That represents wasted opportunities to do better and profits buried in the ground, up in smoke or down the drain – that’s money out of your pocket”.

“We have to do it anyway – so why not adopt the attitude that you’re going to rise to the challenge and enjoy your achievements along the way. 

“A more sustainable event is a higher quality event.” 

Waste not, want not

An average 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 typical 1000-person event over three days.

Cameron suggests that organisers should consider better ways to handle this excess material, firstly by trying to find venues which already have an excellent system in place.

He said: “Waste is very expensive – when materials go into general waste that’s a very expensive way to dispose of them when ideally you shouldn’t be creating that waste in the first place”.

“A good waste programme with deliberate product selections, optimised supply chain management, insightful operations management and then extremely well planned resource recovery at the end of the process saves a lot of money – as well as saves big environmental impacts.”

“The ideal way to start is with an already certified green venue. 

“It’s already sustainable so you can utilise their pre-existing waste systems instead of having to try to start from scratch with a venue who hasn’t already engaged. 

“Get everything into the contracts from the very beginning and that will make progress so much easier.”

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.

How technology can help sustainable events

The digital transformation of our industry has created new opportunities to drive revenue and engagement virtually.

But research also estimates that moving a portion of 10% of attendees online – made up of those who travel the furthest – emissions could be cut by almost 90%.

Hybrid events can accommodate both in-person attendees and a virtual audience of those who can’t travel to the venue or are still unsure about attending face-to-face meetups.

This format allows organisers to offer new avenues for content sharing, exhibiting, sponsorship, creating new revenue streams and lead generation opportunities.

Cameron added: “I’ve always been a fan of the idea of virtual and hybrid events – even before they became all the rage thanks to us having to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic world. 

“Of course you can’t beat the excitement and buzz of a face-to-face live event, so that’s where hybrid seems to tick so many boxes for me.”

It comes as spending on pure tradeshow 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.

Missing these new opportunities is not an option in today’s uncertain economy.

More weight can be given to this when we see corporate travel is predicted to be cut by around 20% of its pre-pandemic levels as the digital transformation of industries continues, according to research.

Cameron added: “An organiser should see a sustainable future as an opportunity by cutting down costs on in-person show waste and placing more emphasis on generating revenue online when the opportunities present, depending on the type of event of course.

“If you properly account for costs and benefits much less goes out when you’re working in the digital domain. 

“One of the benefits comes back to the potential longevity of a digital event, if it’s recorded and able to be shared and kept available for a long time. 

“That’s more exposure for partners and sponsors too. 

“You have to choose your digital platform carefully though to ensure that you get all the features you can use and then make sure that you take advantage of those features.”

Sustainable events to futureproof your brand

A poll shows almost half of people in China, the US and the UK are doing their best to live sustainably.

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.

Around 60% of this demographic told the Deloitte survey they fear that businesses are less concerned about making a commitment to reversing climate change while leaders deal with challenges from the pandemic.

It is important for organisers – especially those in senior positions – to pay attention to how this will impact the sustainability of their businesses in future if not handled carefully.

Cameron believes event planners are now beginning to recognise this and are placing more emphasis in this area – things are getting better “steadily” as demands from customers increase and knowledge and competency in the field of event sustainability expands across the whole event sector”.

He said: “I definitely find that our audience expectations are much higher around events being more sustainable.

“As we have younger generations coming through, that is building up an even stronger, unavoidable message.

“Because they’ve grown up with more sustainable literacy and expectations from their education, the increasingly urgent calls for action are really building momentum.

“Plus, I think the generations up to Boomers have always been fairly aware, even if they haven’t been doing everything they could, due to a lack of understanding of how easy and how good the benefits can be. Waiting for someone else to take the lead is a huge mistake.

“I think now that people have really shown how interested and engaged they are in having more sustainable events, then it provides a greater driver for event managers and event owners to deliver what the audience is expecting.”

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 in the Deloitte survey this year said they had left their jobs or started new careers after reflecting on the pandemic and their values.

But it’s not just in their professional lives that their values hold more weight than previous generations – it’s when buying too.

Figures from NeilsenIQ show 90% of Millennials are willing to pay more for a sustainable product, 53% would switch brands to go greener and 75% said they would change their habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

That compares to 61%, 34% and 34% respectively for Baby Boomers – which is still a large proportion for each.

Adapt and succeed

Cameron added: “For anyone who’s hesitant, I just think they need to realise that times are changing – you’re better off to ride the bow wave of change.

“Do it from the start for the right reasons and get the PR benefits. 

“The alternative is to find yourself being dragged behind the boat in the rough waters trying to catch up where you’ve lost your early adopter advantages.

“You’re still going to end up in the same place, but at the front end you’re surfing – at the back end, you’re drowning.”

We hope you enjoyed reading this article and found it useful. At ExpoPlatform, we want to help you build better events and communities. Please get in touch and ask for a demo here. Thank you.