Sustainability in the Events Industry?
Addressing “Sustainability” in the Events Industry
“You influence the world just by being a part of it”
- Lucas Fraser, President of CEP
To begin, it is important to note that sustainability is considered a “blanket” term as it encompasses multiple groups of related things. The term includes concepts such as Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) and Environment, Social & Governance Factors (“ESG’’). Sustainability is often perceived as a term associated only with environmental factors. However, if we refer to the United Nation’s sustainability definition, the concept is comprised of three pillars: (1) social, (2) governance, and (3) environment. Therefore, sustainability concerns the whole system: the environment, the organizations, and the people who live and work in it. We at Deal Room Events have envisioned the importance of addressing the above in broad general terms and have tried to understand our impact on our ecosystem in terms of carbon emissions.
Being aware of our impact as an industry
To get an idea of how much we influence the ecosystem, it is important to acknowledge how big the industry is and how much it is expected to grow or decrease. According to Research and Markets, the events industry size is expected to grow from $1,135.4 billion in 2019 up to $1,552.9 billion in 2028. The industry provides events in three broad formats: in-person, virtual, and hybrid. Events that give an offline experience such as in-person or hybrid, include the production of many single-use materials such as roll-ups, batches, menus, flyers, water cups, catering, posters, and so on. Plus, in some cases, a lack of waste management practices and policies leads to improper waste disposal.
Due to the pandemic, there was a surge of virtual events; 1000% since Covid-19 ( Forbes, 2020). The rise of virtual events led to the depletion of previous barriers faced by the Events Industry by offering options such as more affordable venues( virtual events) that bypassed long-distance travel for online attendees.
Yet, the nature of the events industry is human connection, therefore, it is only natural that we have evidence of a higher preference towards in-person events (PromoLeaf, 2020). Furthermore, there is evidence of optimism within the event market for a resurgence of in-person events - As an example, a Forbes article published that the stock price of Live Nation Entertainment (LYV), was $29.50 in March 2020 and has been up since then - $76.99 in July 2021. Some reasonable factors could be postponed events and vaccination roll-outs.
However, regardless of people's preferences and predictions, part of the event's industry impact on sustainability is tied to the format of the events. For instance, the amount of C02 emissions produced by the industry varies on whether the event is held in-person, virtual, or hybrid. Thus, a good way to start addressing our impact is by identifying the factors that produce CO2 emissions in each of the formats.
CO2 emissions: In-person & virtual
According to research by MeetGreen, an in-person event that holds an average of 1000 attendees produces approximately 530 metric tons one CO2. The calculation includes emissions from factors such as single-use plastics, food, air, car & train travel, guest room, and venue energy.
Nonetheless, uncertainty hovers over whether live events will indeed increase. Therefore, it is equally important to realize how much CO2 is produced in virtual events. As reasonably stated by Sarah DeWeerdt, author of “New study quantifies the carbon emissions of virtual conferences” article at Anthropocene Magazine:
“ The carbon footprint of an online conference is vastly smaller than its in-person counterpart—but it is not zero.”
The article mentions Grant Faber, a graduate student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and his research on quantifying how much carbon emissions are produced at virtual conferences. Study shows that a one-day virtual conference with around 200 participants results in carbon emissions that are equivalent to driving 3,300 miles or burning around 1,500 pounds of coal.
“But it is virtual … where do the carbon emissions come from?”
As Faber wisely highlighted “It is all too easy to ignore the materiality and energy consumption of the Internet … energy”. Hence, consider factors such as type of devices used, length of use, desk lights ( if any), and so on.
A journey towards accountability: Move from awareness to action.
By growing more aware of our impacts and where the impacts come from, only then can we take adequate action and be accountable. We, industry professionals, need to be more aware of suppliers, materials, venues we utilize, and their impacts. The events industry is already acting towards decreasing waste and increase efficiency such as reducing food and energy waste and increase energy efficiency. These are done by choosing to partner up with greener venues and green energy service providers, offer preselected meals, and so on. However, being accountable requires continuous improvement, for instance, continuously seeking the adoption of greener technologies as they become more accessible without compromising the quality of service. The aforementioned is not something that is accomplished individually - collaboration is key.
Avoid traps like Greenwashing
In the journey of addressing sustainability, it is important to avoid falling under a trap known as "Greenwashing".
Greenwashing according to Cambridge Dictionary is "to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.”
An example of this behavior in the event industry involves making exaggerated or deceptive statements that promote unsustainable practices such as ‘mislabelling’ at events. As a result, Greenwashing opens the door for several damaging effects such as improper waste disposal and, therefore, treatment - or as Al Gore quoted in Bloomberg, 2021, greenwashing can even derail "hard-won progress" in companies' efforts towards reaching sustainability.
We ought to be patient in the process of building more sustainable supply chains. This is why collaboration is important - to work as a community ( internally and externally with partners) to shift towards further sustainable practices without disregarding our core competencies - building and managing events.