The importance of event solutions in the push for net-zero carbon emissions

Sustainability is more important now than perhaps ever before. At the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, the UK pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 68% by 2030 (compared to levels in 1990). An even more ambitious target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 was also set.

Whilst the UK is currently on course to reach its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) – its target for reducing emissions – meaningful sustainable change must happen in our personal and professional lives for meaningful developments to occur.

The events sector has been guilty of unsustainable consumption for decades. Traditional events can be very wasteful, requiring a lot of energy to run and producing large quantities of paper, plastic and food waste. However, event organisers can greatly improve sustainability, reduce emissions and help the country on its way to net-zero with a few simple innovations.
The UK throws away 12.5 million tons of paper each year.

Paper and Printing

According to storage solutions company, Flexible Storage Solutions, the UK throws away 12.5 million tons of paper each year. The trees needed to produce this amount could cover 21,000 square km – an area roughly the size of Wales. The events industry is especially guilty in this regard, with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality claiming “a typical tradeshow can generate the equivalent of 170 trees worth of paper waste”.

Additionally, the ink and cartridges used to print on paper can be especially harmful to the environment. According to the office equipment retailer, Capital Business Systems, “The volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy metals in ink can lead to soil and even water pollution… while plastic can take thousands of years to degrade and even then, they will continue to pollute the soil”.

Producing, transporting and printing on paper are all processes requiring the combustion of fossil fuels at some stage, affording them a considerable carbon footprint. Fortunately, there is a way for event organisers can cut out this waste, as well as the associated emissions. Running virtual events obviously removes the need for paper, as all resources appear in an online platform, but organisers can also make hybrid and in-person events more sustainable with a mobile event app.

A dedicated mobile event app can replace tickets, agendas, presentation resources and even business cards at a physical event, removing any and all need for paper documents and handouts. Furthermore, mobile event apps are more convenient and versatile than using paper. For example, if a speaker overruns and the agenda changes, the app can be updated instantly with the new timings. Furthermore, attendees don’t have to carry multiple pages of information around all day if the necessary information is on their phones.

Food

Food waste in an epidemic in the events industry. According to sustainable event expert Ecosystem Events, if 500 attendees each eat three meals during a one-day event, they can comfortably produce 1500lbs of food waste; that’s 200lbs more than the weight of a manatee. 1kg of food waste releases 2.5kg of CO2 as it decomposes, according to the food waste reduction service Too Good To Go, so 1500lbs (680kg) would release around 3750lbs (1700kg) of CO2. This staggering figure doesn’t even take into account the carbon emitted from harvesting, producing and transporting the wasted food.

To reduce food waste from events, organisers may wish to seek sponsorship from a food donation service, or even partner with a food donation charity. For example, UK Harvest is a non-profit which will collect excess food from events for free, then redistribute it to the needy.

With a mobile event app or virtual platform, sponsors and partners involved in the reduction of food waste can be clearly displayed on rolling banners, home pages or even splash screens while the app or platform loads. This can provide exposure for the sponsors/partners, advertise the sustainable credentials of the event and encourage others to adopt less wasteful practices.

Fuel & Electricity

Hosting or attending an in-person event can require a lot of power. From lighting the venue to burning fuel to get there, the whole process can be incredibly inefficient and costly, both financially and environmentally.

According to software developer Iota Communications, the average commercial building for the purpose of “public assembly” consumes 15 kWh/square foot. Leeds United Football Club is a large conference venue, according to Conferences UK, boasting 2000 square metres of floor space (just over 21,500 square feet). By these calculations, the venue must consume around 322,500kwh of energy, more than 86 times the requirements of the average UK household (3,731 kWh according to OVO Energy).

Likewise, accommodating event attendees requires a considerable amount of electricity. According to National Hotels, the average hotel room uses 50 kWh per day.

Therefore, 2000 attendees staying one night in a hotel will require 100,000 kwh of energy. This demand will require the burning of fossil fuels to produce enough electricity, greatly increase the carbon footprint of the event.

Furthermore, many attendees may have to drive or even fly to attend a conference, releasing CO2 and other emissions into the atmosphere. The COP26 summit produced 102,500 tons of carbon dioxide according to CNBC (more than 8,000 UK residents produce in a year) with most emissions coming from international flights.

Hybrid events can eliminate the need to accommodate and transport attendees, as those who would normally require transport and lodgings can instead attend remotely. Virtual events even remove the need for a physical event setting, vastly reducing the carbon footprint of any event. Hybrid and virtual formats both eliminate the need for certain unsustainable physical aspects of events. This benefits the planet, as well as saving organisers capital and hours of work booking a venue, accommodation and transport.

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