Climate-friendly Solutions All Eventprofs Can Consider

Many “green” event approaches start and finish with going paperless and eliminating bottled water. But are these steps truly meaningful in addressing the carbon impact of events?

This blog post provides a smart, step-by-step way to design a climate-friendly event. Improving your odds of making smarter and more effective decisions to cut carbon emissions and costs, and reducing your risk of these green event marketing mistakes.

Climate-friendly Solutions All Eventprofs Can Consider

What Are Climate-friendly Events?

Climate-friendly events proactively embrace the fact events produce carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which contribute to climate change. Event managers who adopt climate-friendly strategies accept they have an opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and costs they can avoid, and take responsibility for those they cannot.


Why Climate-friendly Events?

Climate-friendly events make sense for the planet: they reduce the production of harmful greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. But do climate-friendly event strategies make sense for business too?

Energy use, cost and carbon impacts may be directly correlated. Where energy use drops, cost and CO2 tend to drop as well. For example:

  • by eliminating attendee shuttles in 2008, the Unitarian Universalist Association eliminated $80,000 in event costs (Source: UUA/MeetGreen).
  • Shambala Festival cut fuel consumption, cost and carbon by 20% between 2011 and 2012 by paying careful attention to onsite power management (Source: Powerful Thinking).
  • From a venue and hotel perspective: Green buildings reduce day-to-day costs year-over-year. LEED® buildings report almost 20 percent lower maintenance costs than typical commercial buildings, and green building retrofit projects typically decrease operation costs by almost 10 percent in just one year (Source: USGBC).

Opportunities for sponsorship. Climate-friendly event strategies can be a source of event sponsorship. In a high profile example Dow Chemical became the Official Carbon Partner of Rio 2016, supporting mitigation of 500,000 tons of carbon emissions through verified emissions reductions.

Participant goodwill. At a minimum carbon conscious efforts represents an investment in an event’s social and environmental licence to operate, acknowledging participants expect event organizers to be responsible. Communication of such efforts can make participants feel better about attending, knowing carbon impacts are being minimized and mitigated.

Four Steps to Climate-friendly Events

Step 1: Measure Your Event Carbon Footprint

Planning a climate-friendly event without measuring your carbon footprint is a bit like buying a pair of shoes without knowing your shoe size. You need to measure before finding the right fit.

Every event has a unique carbon footprint. This is because events use different sources of energy in different ways. The highest source of emissions for a conference typically come from participant air travel, for example. However, a community festival footprint is usually characterised by a greater portion of emissions from car trips, portable power generators and food preparation.

Emission reduction strategies for different events will vary depending on emissions sources, making it critical to know where your CO2 is coming from. Event planners can use online tools, carbon offset providers or consultants to measure their carbon footprint. Some organizations may have internal staff or travel agencies who calculate carbon.

When calculating the carbon emissions footprint of your event be aware:

  • It’s important to carefully scope measurement. This involves drawing clear boundaries around what sources of emissions will be included in your calculation. While there are no clear-cut standards about what to include for events specifically, it’s important to be as complete and transparent as possible by including relevant and significant sources of emissions.

It can help to brainstorm emissions sources that are:

    1. Directly controlled and/or are owned by the event organizer, including freight, participant shuttles, portable generators and staff travel.
    2. Not directly controlled or owned by the organizer, but are seen to be part of the event, such as guest rooms, participant travel to and from the event, and emissions from the production of products used by the event (such as food or giveaways).
  • Added resources may be needed for accurate and complete calculations. While helpful in estimating your footprint, one-size-fits-all free online calculators can generalize impacts and miss important sources of emissions. For example, few include portable generators or allow detailed consideration of attendee air or car trips. So if you are planning to make important decisions or statements about your climate-friendly event it can help to hire a professional for a small fee.

Step 2: Reduce Your Emissions Through Well-targeted Strategies

Most effective actions to reduce emissions will become evident once your carbon footprint has been measured. Large sources of emissions at events can be reduced through some common strategies.

Air travel:

  • Design an option to enable remote participation, such as a hybrid event, live stream or virtual tradeshow.
  • Hold the event in a city that is central to your attendee base, reducing distance traveled.
  • Choose a city that has direct flight access for participants. Fewer connections means fewer emissions.

Association conferences that are held closer to where the majority of members live can reduce air emissions by 20-40% (Source: MeetGreen).

Venue and guest room energy:

  • Select a green building for guest rooms and event space. Look for designations such as LEED®.
  • Choose a region that uses low-emissions energy sources. Siting your event in a country, state or province that uses renewable energy (such as hydro, wind or solar) will automatically reduce your carbon footprint.

LEED-certified buildings have 34 percent lower CO2 emissions (Source: US General Services Administration).

Attendee ground shuttle fuel

Encouraging transit use for local event commuters can save approximately 5 kilograms of carbon per trip. For a 10,000 attendee festival that adds up to 100 metric tons of carbon avoided (Source: BART).

Freight fuel

  • Prioritize use of local rental equipment and supplies, especially for heavy items.
  • Schedule freight so shipments can be consolidated. Avoid last-minute, single shipments.

Eliminating 10 metric tons of shipments travelling 1,000 km cuts approximately 1 MT of CO2 (Source: MeetGreen).

Portable generator fuel

  • Know your power needs and talk to your generator provider about the proper size and set-up of generators to promote efficient energy use.
  • Reduce power demand by using equipment that is more efficient and working with staff and contractors to eliminate unnecessary consumption.

If the UK’s summer festivals cut their diesel generator consumption by 10%, over 1 million litres of diesel and more than 3,000 tonnes of C02 would be saved in one year alone (Source: Powerful Thinking).

Step 3: Be Accountable for Unavoidable Emissions Impacts

While reducing emissions is a top priority, it is also possible to take responsibility for carbon emissions that cannot be avoided through carbon offsetting.

Carbon offset: A credit for greenhouse gas reductions by one party that can be sold in order to compensate for emissions produced by another party (Source: David Suzuki Foundation).

Finding a provider and a project

Event planners can tender for carbon offsets much like they do for other event services. When selecting a provider look for someone who understands your event-related needs and is able to source offset projects that are a good fit for your event.

Including a few key questions in your RFP can help you find the best provider and project for your event:

  • Is your provider able to help you measure your carbon impacts accurately and specifically?
  • Can they be present at your event to talk about the offset project?
  • Can they provide communication support to prepare messaging for participants?
  • Are they able to provide references for event-related client projects?
  • What type of offset projects do they offer? Where are they located and how are emissions reductions achieved, measured and monitored?
  • Can you pick the project you want to support?
  • Are the projects verified, certified, permanent and/or additional?

The last question is particularly important. Higher quality offset projects will be checked by a third-party according to recognized standard. These standards assess permanence to ensure the project has a long lifecycle. For example, a carbon offset project that planted trees with a high risk of being cut down would have little permanence, and less carbon benefit. Additional projects are projects that would not have happened without offset funding.

Funding an offset

Offsets are typically sold per metric ton. An offset provider might quote you a price of $5 to $25 per metric ton. Why the variance? Project quality is a big factor: better projects that meet stringent criteria can cost more. The amount of emissions you want to offset can also affect pricing where bulk discounts are available.

Possible funding models for offsets might include:

  • Adding the cost to your event budget and paying for it outright
  • Securing a sponsor to cover the cost
  • Including the cost in the ticket price or registration cost for attendees, either as a mandatory or optional fee
  • Requiring suppliers to cover the cost to offset emissions associated with their services
  • Any combination of the above

Step 4: Communicate Your Climate-friendly Strategies

Climate-friendly event efforts present a brand-building opportunity for your event. So don’t forget to weave messaging into your experience. Your carbon offset provider may provide logos or brand assets to assist.

Methods to consider may include:

  • Climate-friendly information added to your event website, registration system, mobile applications or participant confirmations.
  • Social media messaging, including inspiring fun facts that show the difference individuals can make when acting together to cut carbon.
  • Onsite digital signage stating commitments, sponsor support and positive impacts.
  • Ambassadors or green team hubs onsite.

In Conclusion

Until event professionals measure their carbon impacts it is difficult to know what management steps are most effective to take and what communications claims are credible when it comes to saying an event is “climate-friendly” or “carbon neutral”. Following these steps will help you become more knowledgeable about the carbon impact of your event, and where opportunities exist to reduce and offset.

About The Author
Shawna McKinley
Shawna McKinley is a sustainability specialist who believes in the power of events to make the world a better place. She helps eventprofs take practical, smart steps through zero waste and carbon-conscious choices that generate social good, business value, and happy event participants.She is an accomplished sustainability consultant, event planner, author, and instructor. Read more on her blog, Eventcellany.
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