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Conferences and events are integral parts of doing business in today's world. Even with the rise of technologies that make virtual gatherings possible, we all feel a longing for a good, old-fashioned face-to-face get-together where we can connect with our peers, enjoy great content.

But every in-person event has an inherent impact on the local communities: some good, some less so. A boost to the local economy is welcomed, for example, but can simultaneously overwhelm the local infrastructure or leave the community with a significant amount of waste produced. The larger the event, the larger also its carbon footprint, especially when long-distance travel is involved. Reports claim that travel accounts for 70%-90% of an event's total carbon emissions.

Consumers and businesses are increasingly aware of the need to reduce their carbon emissions in the fight against climate change. According to a recent survey by AMEX GBT, a whopping 83% of event organisers say their organisations take sustainability into account when planning meetings and events.

For event organisers and event agencies, this represents an opportunity to lead by example.

How to measure your event carbon footprint

When trying to understand the carbon impact of your event, it's important to look at energy use, attendee lodging, travel before, during and after the event, as well as event waste and meals. Measuring and understanding the impact of all these areas can reveal opportunities for lower-carbon alternatives.

Let's break them down into the biggest six impact segments: 

  • Travel - Staff, attendees, suppliers and more: Travelling to the event venue, especially when flights are involved, can lead to huge carbon emissions.
  • Catering - Sourcing, production and delivery of food and beverages consumed throughout the event.
  • Accommodation - length of stay and property type
  • Materials - printed, plastic, recyclable, carpets, booths, the list goes on
  • Waste - residual and recycling
  • Energy - power consumption and type of energy

The first thing you can do is look at measurement and evaluation. You’ll need to know what the carbon emissions profile of your event is so that you can evaluate your environmental impact and carbon emission savings. It will also help you to identify where you can make the biggest impact, which is likely to be within the travel and lodging categories. 

Once you've established, which areas have the biggest impact, you can look into where you can avoid emitting at all. Of course, some emissions stemming from some of these categories may be unavoidable. But there are steps you can take to significantly reduce your event’s carbon footprint. This may also require looking more closely at your suppliers — do they have an environmentally conscious track record? For example, can you ensure the power consumed is generated by green energy? Are your food suppliers focused on sustainability and are they sourcing local produce? 

If you’re willing to go the extra mile, once you have your figures you can look at how to offset your unavoidable carbon emissions. There are numerous schemes through which you can do this, and many governments across the world offer tax incentives for those organisations that offset their events. 

How does RSI impact your event's carbon emissions?

Of the categories mentioned above, travel is by far the biggest culprit when it comes to carbon emissions. For example, an economy-class return flight from London to New York emits an estimated 0.62 tonnes of CO2 per passenger, according to the calculator from the UN's civil aviation body ICAO.

To put this figure into perspective: that is the equivalent of what an average passenger car emits when driving a 2,500 km distance. So be sure to look at how attendees are going to travel to the venue. Do all of them need to be onsite, or could you allow a portion of them to attend remotely?

Going hybrid can reduce the event carbon footprint drastically

Making an event a hybrid experience can already have a big impact. A new study by Cornell University reveals that "Moving a professional conference completely online reduces its carbon footprint by 94%, and shifting it to a hybrid model, with no more than half of conventioneers online, curtails the footprint to 67%".

Allowing attendees to join without a need for travel not only impacts your carbon footprint positively but makes your event more accessible and inclusive for those unable to travel.

Remote interpreting is another powerful way to reduce your event's carbon footprint, enabling conference interpreters to be connected from their offices or homes. Meaning travel, interpreter booths, hardware equipment and lodging are one less thing to worry about. RSI platforms like Interprefy are also ready to plug-and-play for online and hybrid event setups. 

At Interprefy, we've helped save an average of 58.2 tonnes of CO2 emissions per event in 2018 alone - the equivalent of seven homes' energy use for one year. 

If you want to start decreasing your carbon emissions one event at a time, get in touch with us and we'll be more than happy to help: 

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Patricia Magaz

Written by Patricia Magaz

Learn about the latest developments at Interprefy by Patricia Magaz, Content Strategist at Interprefy.