5 Ideas On How to Make Conferences More Sustainable
Conferences are inherently really unsustainable — even those that take place, in order to counteract climate change and foster sustainable innovation.
Bringing thousands or even tens of thousands of attendees together to a single location takes a colossal toll on the planet, comprised of carbon emission due to air travel, hotel stays, local transportation, waste at the event, increased energy usage and more. Exact numbers seem hard to come by, but take for example the United Nations Climate Change Conferences in Copenhagen in 2009 — it generated a carbon footprint of 42,000 tons of carbon solely due to air travel — and that doesn’t take into account the damage incurred from the actual event.
However, there are many things that event organisers of large conferences CAN DO, to make their events more sustainable. Here are five ideas.
1. Eliminate the paper trail by using an event app
Don’t give out any printed conference schedules or brochures. Instead, utilise an app for the event. It’s cleaner and zero-waste. There are many providers of event apps — start with guidebook.com, or crowdcompass.
2. Ban drinks in disposable packaging and use refill stations with durable containers
Instead of handing out countless little cans of soda, and water in plastic bottles, set up several water and soda fountain stations. If you have a bar, then serve beer from the tap, and wine from the barrel. Forego cheap paper and plastic cups and hand out a conference-branded stainless steel pitcher to each attendee that needs one. This will add a classier feel to your conference and significantly reduce the waste impact of your event.
3. Offset the impact of travel through a carbon offset service
Use a carbon offset service like Atmosfair or Terrapass to “neutralize” the carbon footprint caused by air travel for the conference. You can guesstimate your carbon footprint or reach a more accurate estimate by asking people for their location and intended method of transportation when signing up for ticket. This doesn’t address the root cause of the issue, but treating the symptom will help create awareness.
4. Offer shareable experiences instead of goodie bags
Instead of having exhibitors give away tons of goodie bags and leaflets, provide exhibitors with support from your organisation to create an attention-catching banner or oversized mascot for people to take pictures with. Let’s face it, people won’t do anything with the usual set up mini give-aways anyway. Providing attendees with branded photo stations instead will give your brands the exposure they need — and it’s more fun!
5. Zero emission shuttle service
I’m a huge fan of the Arcimoto. An Arcimoto is basically the electric 5.0 version of a TukTuk. They’re not yet available to purchase or rent without a pre-order, but they will be in 2018 — and these things make for a perfect shuttling vehicle for events like this. Depending on your budget, you can shuttle your VIPs around in rented Teslas, or hire a bunch of bicycle cabs for the event. Consider renting out hoverboards, bike, e-bikes, Arcimotos, and more to event attendees. If applicable, provide free public transportation passes with your tickets. Some hardliners might still take a gas car or Uber, but they’ll eventually come around. The opportunities to create a zero emission transportation culture around your event are pretty much boundless.
… Let’s be more conscious!
Conference organisers have the opportunity, and also the responsibility to promote sustainable practices to key influencers and business leaders.
None of these steps will turn a conference into a zero-impact event. Unfortunately, the only conferences that have ZERO impact are the ones that aren’t taking place. Even online conferences utilise some resources. However, as a society we need to take steps to proactively protect the environment in ALL AREAS OF BUSINESS. Conferences are not an exception. While it may be easier to just go on autopilot and let the plastic cups pile up at the event, we need to take charge and change our ways of conducting events. Being environmentally responsible will help raise awareness among conference attendees, which could contribute to greener practices for many businesses around the globe.