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Sustainable Events are ‘win-win’ for organisers, expert scientist says

Organisers need to recognise that sustainable events are a “win-win-win” by boosting income, improving brand image and protecting the environment, according to an expert scientist.

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

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

But first he believes event planners need to recognise this model is more than just about being greener.

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

“That puts them in a much better footing than just purely looking at environmental issues, because one of the complaints or criticisms or objections that some people put in about environmental initiatives is that it costs more.

“But sustainability looks at the economic impacts or considerations of those initiatives as well – you can do it at the same price or even save money.”

The Australian-based sustainability consultant added: “Recognise that events are really important and that humans are a social animal.

“The key is to have events with low negative impacts and identify positive impacts that we can build into the events so that the overall legacy of the event is one of positivity and benefit to the environment and to society, then that’s a win-win.

“That automatically will bring in financial benefits as well – so that’s a win-win-win.

“If there are expenses that are higher than they need to be, that’s taking money out of your pocket.

“Enjoy the challenges of a more sustainable future –  and feel better when you’re doing it.

“Keep money in your pocket, spend it on things you’d rather spend it on than wasted resources.”

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 adequate system in place.

He said: “Waste is very expensive – if a lot of materials go into general waste that’s a very expensive way to dispose of materials.

“A good waste programme with good product selections, supply chain management, operations management and management at the end of the process saves a lot of money – as well as saves big environmental impacts.

“I find that one of the best things you can do is to have your event in a green venue – it’s already sustainable –  then you can utilise their waste systems.

“But for other places, people just often just don’t know the difference that we can make and they don’t prioritise it.”

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.

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

Research 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 – I’m also very in favour of face-to-face live events, that’s where we get so much of the buzz and excitement.

“But I’ve always felt that events would have a more rich, greater longevity and lower environmental impacts if many of them were run virtually – or in an ideal world, hybrid.

“You get a mix of the excitement in the people and also reduce the impacts.”

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.

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.

Cameron said: “You can make money – making money means a difference between how much comes in and how much goes out.

“So much less goes out when you’re working in the digital domain.

“One of the benefits comes back to the longevity of an digital event, if it’s recorded and able to be shared.

“If the platform that is used is able to give recognition to sponsors or funders then that exposure keeps going into the future, while that digital event has a life online and people are accessing it.”

Download our free Monetisation Blueprint for an in-depth guide on driving digital revenue growth.

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

Findings from the Statistica 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.

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 becoming an even stronger message.

“Because they’ve grown up with that messaging and they’re more aware of the realities on the ground – it comes through from their education.

“Plus, I think the generations up to Boomers have always been fairly aware.

“All I’ve been doing battle with is people in the industry who are not necessarily older, but more conservative and more doubtful.

“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 its 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.

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

“Do it from the start for the right reasons and get the PR benefits out of doing it right as well – rather than being dragged behind the ship on a tie rope, just getting washed away and drown where there’s no benefits.

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