Are Virtual Events the Key to a Sustainable future?
The pandemic has imparted on us numerous lessons, particularly regarding our adaptability. Technology has been an integral part of our adjustment process and has allowed us to preserve personal as well as professional connections throughout the restriction period. While we have achieved, seemingly, the limits of our social capabilities through months of isolation, we have also produced an unprecedented phenomenon- a reduction in carbon emissions.
According to Glen Peters of the International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway, the global pandemic has had the most significant environmental and economic impact since World War II.
Certainly, the lifestyle changes that the crisis imposed affected almost every aspect of how energy is globally produced, supplied and consumed. Compared to 2019, daily emissions have been reduced by an average of 17% due to restrictions, with CO2 levels dropping by 1048 million tonnes by April 2020.
Peters explains that “if emissions go down 5% this year overall, given that climate change is a cumulative problem, it basically makes no difference at all.” A 5% annual reduction equates to 0.001°C less warming, a relatively insignificant amount when considering a predicted 3°C temperature rise (IPCC).
While the environmental impacts are temporary, a UN 2020 emissions gap report urges world leaders to take advantage of this societal transformation. A green-focused COVID-19 economic recovery could crucially mitigate the effects of climate change.
How have these changes affected the events industry?
The biggest change to the events industry during the pandemic was undoubtedly the shift from in-person to online events. This caused a reduction of the industry’s carbon footprint as confirmed by Native. Certainly, to host a physical event, one must consider the impact of travelling to a single location, food waste, rubbish from banners and stands etc, water, lights, and heating. A study by Birmingham University found that a physical event that lasts one day can produce 5 tonnes of refuse waste and 170kg of CO2.
The media narrative regarding the supposedly high amounts of carbon emissions caused by online streaming has been categorically disproven by Carbon Brief. Virtual events have a far smaller carbon footprint and lower waste levels than in-person ones.
For instance, 19,000 employees attended Cisco’s Global Sales Experience, a virtual event, allowing them to avoid an estimated 84,400 tonnes of CO2 emission and a reduction in more than 200,000lbs of waste.
More and more companies place sustainability at the heart of their CSR initiatives. While this is positive, it is important for all organisations to navigate the issue of returning to in-person events whilst also capitalising on the sustainable opportunities that online events allow.
Environmental consciousness is an attractive selling point on which to build a brand. The companies that are willing to be creative in their delivery of virtual events to compensate for the significant reduction in virtual event interactivity will shift the trajectory for the achievement of a sustainable future.
IPCC (2007), Summary for Policymakers, in Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, p. 17.
Le Quéré, C., Peters, G.P., Friedlingstein, P. et al. Fossil CO2 emissions in the post-COVID-19 era. Nat. Clim. Chang. 11, 197–199 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-021-01001-0