If the past two years have taught the events industry anything, it's that we have the power to pivot and innovate when it's really needed. As we look to the major challenge of the next decades - the climate crisis - we need to be channelling our efforts and creativity into developing technology to help us to decarbonise.
In this panel from the inaugural Reset Connect event, four panellists from the events industry shared their insights on how event tech can drive forward the move to sustainability across the sector. We were joined by Adam Parry, Director of Event Tech Live, Mike Piddock, CEO of Glisser, Toni Griggs, Growth Lead at isla, and Kris Justice, Senior Manager for Enterprise Customer Success at Cvent Europe. Read on for their insights on how event tech is paving the way for a greener future.
How sustainable have events been up to now?
Most of us in the events industry are aware that all of the components that make up an event have an impact on the environment, from catering and food waste, to travel, graphics and signage. In the past, our industry has had somewhat of a throwaway culture, with a build-and-burn approach to events, but there's a growing awareness of the need to turn this around. It can be daunting to consider the scale of the work that needs to be done, but finding opportunities for reducing emissions within the event mix is essential.
On the flip side, events can also be powerful forces for good, and provide opportunities for education and inspiration. There are multiple touch points at events that can drive positive change, from educating delegates and clients with pre-event comms, to sharing lower-impact menus that might influence delegates’ own behaviour. Making a difference to the sector and beyond is all about optimism and opportunity, and events have an exciting role to play in driving change.
Are virtual events the answer?
Virtual events have been lauded as a solution to emissions produced by delegate and exhibitor travel, but there are drawbacks to a purely virtual experience. In some cases, you simply can’t substitute the experience of networking and meeting people face to face, so there will always be a place for physical events in the world.
The key to striking the right balance is being critical with the events that we put in our portfolio. Event organisers and companies need to be asking whether the event objectives could be met without the necessity of bringing people together in a physical environment. If a virtual event format works for one event, it won't necessarily translate to the rest of your portfolio, so it has to be decided on an event-by-event basis.
Hybrid events provide a good middle-ground, with new technology and platforms making it easier to bring together remote and in-person attendees. Whatever format you choose, make sure the tech stack is up to scratch for making the experience engaging.
What’s a starting point for addressing sustainability challenges in events?
The first step to cutting down your event emissions is setting targets of where you want to get to within a certain amount of time, whether that's in a specific area, such as plastic waste, or across the whole scope of your emissions. Think of your journey to decarbonisation like a diet analogy: you have to look at where you are and where you want to be, and only then can you start planning what you can do to achieve your goals.
The pandemic also forced our industry to use creativity to reevaluate what could be done with events. Likewise with the climate crisis, it's important that we don't get complacent, but think about how we can keep pushing for change.
"We've seen what's possible over the past two years. We're a creative and innovative industry and it's all about finding ways that we can continue to disrupt what we're doing." Toni Griggs
What technology is out there to help?
There are any number of tech solutions and supporting software for reducing your carbon emissions, but first and foremost, there’s a lot to be said for making changes at a base level. Adding a virtual option to events is a small change but offers huge potential for cutting down on event impacts. Reset Connect, for instance, used Zoom to bring international speakers to the conference, rather than flying them in, which saved a considerable amount of emissions and was commended by attendees.
Beyond this, measuring and reporting on the impact of your events is becoming increasingly important in the sector. Back in April, the sustainability body for the events industry, isla, launched TRACE. This new tool is a measurement system that helps organisers bring all involved stakeholders under one umbrella to make it easy to measure the impact associated with an event or event programme. As it gives more visibility across different sectors, it makes it easier to know where to make cuts throughout the supply chain. TRACE also helps on a macro level, as it collects data anonymously from its users to create an impact report that’s representative of the industry to see where we can cut down as a whole.
Often individual industries have their own set tools for measuring emissions, which creates a disjointed model for unifying the data. The next step for the industry and wider market is to centralise these tools and make them straightforward to use and integrate, to help drive behaviour at scale.
"The interconnectedness of platforms is fundamental now. It's about groups like us working together, sharing the data, and coming up with a unified opinion." Mike Piddock
- Think about sourcing and where your event takes place. Your venue partners are key to making good on your sustainability commitments, so make sure they’re on board and able to do their bit.
- Be open to talking about your challenges with others in the industry. You stand to learn a lot from engaging with the successes and shortcomings of your peers and colleagues, and to transition to sustainability requires a huge amount of community collaboration.
- Ultimately, technology and sustainability will give you the edge in this industry, as both are becoming more and more in demand from clients. Make the investment in learning and finding the right tools now so that you're well-placed to meet client demand in coming years.
If you'd like to learn more about using event tech for hybrid events, check out our complete guide to nailing your hybrid event strategy. For more content on greening the industry, have a read of our write-ups from Reset Connect and our other sustainability content below. We hope it helps on your own journey!
Jessamy channels her passion for sustainability and cultural events into shining a spotlight on innovation and inspiration in the events world, and heading up Hire Space's sustainability committee.