Until recently, the events industry had been slow to adopt virtual events, but in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, event planners are increasingly recognizing the benefits and potential of virtual formats–including improving sustainability.
Consider, for example, one of most visible impacts of in-person trade shows and industry events on the environment: waste generation. Anyone who has seen an exhibit hall following a large-scale event can attest to the large volumes of packing materials, excess publications, residual swag, flooring, and booths and structures left behind as trash. And during the event, it’s hard not to notice trash bins filled with single-use plastic bottles and service ware.
The latest statistics certainly validate these observations, suggesting tradeshows generate an incredible 600,000 tons of trash, making the trade show industry the second largest industry to produce the most amount of waste. And this is before CO2 emissions are considered. If you’re ready for more advanced math, now account for the impact of shipping, flights, and road transportation on the environment. According to MeetGreen, a sustainable events consultancy and event management company, the average three-day, 1,000-person national conference generates 584 tons of CO2 emissions, 70% of which are the result of air travel.
Then there’s water usage, the energy costs associated with air conditioning, food and beverage waste…
Are you looking for greener pastures?
The experts have long agreed that one way to radically reduce the waste and air-travel emissions produced by trade shows and industry events is to use virtual or hybrid meetings. Historically, these models were gaining traction but were far from the norm–until COVID-19 upended event calendars globally.
In the first three to four weeks following the COVID-19 outbreak, many companies scrambled to take their business events virtual. Admittedly in panic mode, these organizations were simply looking to implement tools and technology to quickly enable a global employee base to successfully work on a remote basis. Fast forward a few weeks, however, and the majority of organizations acknowledged that social distancing and other precautions weren’t a temporary state of being, but really a new normal. As a result, event planners, marketers, and business leaders re-thought their entire events strategy. It was a much longer-term discussion, and one with huge environmental benefits.
According to recent statistics, the typical virtual event with 2,300 participants reduces carbon emissions by some 3,300 tons; an estimated 17,000 trees would be needed to have a similar effect. In addition, the average number of pieces of paper saved by the use of digital documents at virtual events is 36,000 per show.
These benefits aren’t lost on event planners, exhibitors, and attendees. COVID-19 and climate change are giving stakeholders wider pause for thought and prompting questions, such as, “What is the carbon footprint of a mega trade event, with 100,000+ people travelling from all over the world to converge on one place?” and “Can this really be justified in the face of the huge challenges around global warming?”
While the health emergency is forcing companies and individuals to break barriers in order to continue to work with some semblance of normality, other factors, such as the growing awareness of the ecological impact of air travel, should hasten global adoption and further the case for remote communication and collaboration technologies long after the pandemic subsides. States 6Connex CEO Ruben Castaño, “Virtual events are not a one-time byproduct of the pandemic. With greater frequency, organizations are pivoting to virtual conferences to reduce travel costs, increase audience reach, and decrease carbon footprints.”
And the good news is that virtual events aren’t a tradeoff. Organizations don’t have to sacrifice event results for the environment. With a little planning and the right technology, virtual events can be run effectively and even increase attendee engagement rates beyond those of a physical event. Recalls 6Connex customer Glassdoor of their first virtual event, “Throughout it all, people were blown away by the environment, the branding, the colors, and the rooms. The event’s professional aesthetic was a big hit, and we received nothing but positive feedback from the attendees as well as the management team.”
Today’s pandemic is forcing industries to re-think B2B communication in ways that will long outlast the COVID-19 outbreak. Specifically, trade show cancellations and decisions to forego attendance at international exhibitions has focused attention on the long-term sustainability of such events and whether there isn’t a way to do them more efficiently and with less of an environmental impact.