The feel-good factor
Conferences are a huge industry. For instance, the UK industry body BVEP reports that conferences and trade fairs make up over £30bn of the British economy annually, and this figure continues to rise.
Part of the reason for the increased popularity of conferences is the feel-good factor. Good conferences reward active participation by offering learning, networking and collaborating opportunities. This social aspect gives conferences dynamic energy that cannot usually be reproduced over email or video conferencing.
However, it is important that participants realize that the social energy of a conference comes at a price. Unfortunately, there is a carbon cost to the unique atmosphere.
Conferences are doing it right
Conferences allow people to come together to share new ideas, or simply to share ideas that work well. For this reason, conferences could be an ideal place to spread the concept of voluntary carbon offsetting.
Offsetting doesn’t allow a polluter to pollute more. Conference organizers need to find the root causes of carbon emissions first and reduce this footprint where possible. Offsetting only comes after a reduction strategy is in place.
But by choosing an offsetting project like cookstoves in Uganda or wind farms in Mauritania the feel-good atmosphere of a conference can be enhanced. Participants in this sort of conference know it is supporting projects that have a positive impact on people’s lives, which also avoid or capture C02 emissions.
The carbon offsetting facilitated by ClimateSeed for conferences also helps participating companies to hit their SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) targets. Through helping local communities, preserving biodiversity, promoting the use of clean energy and other initiatives ClimateSeed projects allow all companies attending a conference to reach their Corporate Social Responsibility goals.
When organizing a conference there are different ways to judge how much carbon it will emit. One approach, which is more interactive, is usually questionnaire-based. It asks participants questions related to how they got there and where they are staying. There is another more systematic approach by which the organizers of the event send all related event information to an external carbon auditor to measure and calculate the carbon footprint.
Regardless of the method used, the results will reveal that the greatest carbon footprint for participants is travel (airplanes, trains, and taxis), which are usually unavoidable emissions. However, the results are also affected by details such as how much of the conference material was recycled or what food was served, for example, beef has a much higher carbon footprint than chicken or vegetables.
When a conference transparently outlines its carbon footprint, it can have a true impact by educating participants on how much carbon is produced during relatively normal business activities.
Forums for change
The greatest obstacle to tackling climate change is perhaps the belief that one person can’t make a difference. Conferences bring together a group of people and could lead the way in showing that they can have a positive impact on the environment.
Certainly the aim of most conferences is to discuss a particular sector or niche issue, not to discuss climate change. However, integrating sustainability in the events can have a positive impact on the conferences and participants. Being part of the solution can add to the feel-good factor and the participants can share their knowledge in their daily lives, including the workplace.
And the more and more this happens the greater the corporate culture of carbon awareness becomes. So in the not too distant future, carbon-neutral conferences will be the norm and the ‘feel-good factor’ will be absent without carbon offsetting.