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Robyn Duda: sustainable events are a growth strategy – don’t lose ground

Organisers who don’t see sustainable events as a “growth strategy” risk being left behind by a “disruptor that comes in and turns things upside down”, according to an industry leader.

In this exclusive interview, Robyn Duda sets out why planners need to futureproof their business models with a strong value system and adoption of digital capabilities.

The founder of advisory agency RDC has worked with some of the most recognised brands in the world including Coca-Cola, Spotify and IBM.

Her focus is on advising brands, agencies and organisers on the foundations of successful offline experiences to maximise engagement and online reach both now and in the future.

She told ExpoPlatform: “Sustainability can mean different things. 

In events it should include three main areas of focus: society – diversity, equity and inclusion – economic growth and environmental protection. 

“By focusing on these areas the industry not only considers how people are impacted today, but how they are impacted tomorrow too.

“It’s not just because it’s 2021, or we’ve gone through #MeToo and Black Lives Matter and all of these social movements – it’s also a growth strategy.

“The newer faces and voices you have on stages create new voices and members and people in your audiences and in your community.”

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.

However, Robyn places sharp focus on the values of generations which are now dominant in the global workforce – and increasingly powerful.

More than half of the global workforce will be made up of these cohorts by 2025 before rising to around three-quarters by 2030, according to ExpoPlatform analysis of UN population projections.

They already make up the largest proportion of those in employment 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.

Furthermore, both these generations are reported to believe discrimination is widespread and is likely enabled by systemic racism in major institutions. 

Six in 10 Gen Zs and 56% of Millennials told the survey they see systemic racism as very or fairly widespread in general society. 

Robyn added: “They want to align with brands that share a vision and a mission with them and they’re willing to pay more for that – and that’s where sustainability comes into play. 

“When we design things we try and think of who that is for, what is important to them and what that looks like. 

“Making the content engaging and accessible and creating inclusive spaces are so important in what the future of this industry should look like.

“I hate that I’m saying that’s the future – because it’s right now, but I do think that we have a long way to go to get there as an industry.

“If we don’t start doing it now, there’ll be a disrupter that comes in and turns things upside down.”

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 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.

Robyn highlights another way in which consumer behaviour has changed is the switch to online and how this can impact events.

The long overdue digital transformation of shows was accelerated due to restrictions forced by the pandemic.

Traditional in-person events were halted, which saw organisers focus their energies on making a success of virtual alternatives.

But the habits of Millennials and Gen Z were already shaped by the world they grew up in: one of convenience, connectivity and quick content – all delivered online.

Robyn said: “The way we consume things has drastically changed over the last 10 years, but if you look at the tradeshow – historically, how it started and where it is now – it hasn’t changed that much.

“I hate to pick on the tradeshow industry, but I think that there’s a real disruption that needs to happen technologically with discovery.

“There is a place for a large gathering, but the purpose has changed and we need to catch up.”

The RDC founder uses an example of how some elements of a traditional in-person event can now be done virtually.

This has two benefits: it reduces the impact on the environment while also improving accessibility.

Offerings from a live show could also be later repackaged and refreshed where new elements can be added and viewed by the attendee and their colleagues – therefore extending the lifecycle of the in-person event.

It is predicted that spending on pure tradeshow activities will 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.

This is expected to include the digital component rising from just 2% before the pandemic to 25% moving forward.

Robyn said: “Design strategies with an emphasis on long term, sustainable business practices that lead to growth over short term profit gains so what you do is not only good for the world – it’s also good for business.”

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.

Furthemore, it’s estimated that by moving 10% of event attendees online – made up of those who travel the furthest – emissions could be cut by almost 90%.

Robyn said: “It may cost you more on paper right now but the long term effects of you having a clear value structure is going to align with your audience of the future.

“It will actually reap you growth benefits in the future, because you will have a very loyal community around you because you’ve done the right thing.

“Those who don’t do that I think will lose ground.”