10 ways to reduce your event’s carbon footprint
Climate change is happening and it’s happening fast. As an event planner, you may be thinking how can you possibly help. You may not know what aspects of events have a high carbon footprint or you may not know about any alternatives. To help achieve our vision of a sustainable events industry by 2020, we have researched the 10 best ways you can reduce your event’s carbon footprint. Read this piece to understand the main sources of carbon emissions in the events industry and what you can do about it!
We’d like to thank Project Drawdown for kindly supporting us and allowing us to use their data for this research.
Category CO2 Reduced (gigatons)
+ Renewable Energy 152.2
Think about what uses electricity at your event. Lights, screens, music… now imagine the harm you would avoid if you power these with renewable energy instead. There are many different forms of renewable energy; wind, solar and hydro for example are commonly used all over the world, geothermal is popular in countries with volcanic activity and biomass is seen as a popular complement to variable renewable power. On average, Project Drawdown estimated that if wind, solar and geothermal electricity generation increased from 4.16% to 22.9% by 2050 globally, CO2 would drop by a huge 152.2 gigatons! 1 gigaton is equal to 1 billion tons and to put this in perspective, using 1200 litres of petrol on average releases about 3 tons of CO2.
By choosing clean, renewable power or biomass generators, you can make a real difference to the sustainability of your event. You can do this by using a ‘green’ electricity supplier. In the UK, only 35% of the biggest energy suppliers are 100% renewable, including well-known companies like Bulb and Co-operative. In the USA, this percentage is even lower. Although fossil fuels still provide 80% of global electricity, the public is becoming more environmentally conscious as climate change becomes an increasingly urgent issue. Because of this, conventional energy companies have begun to invest in renewable energy. For example, EDF have a subsidiary dedicated to wind, solar and hydropower generation and storage.
Tokyo 2020 has stated that they intend to be the first zero carbon mega-event and renewable energy plays a big part in this. It is aiming to make maximum use of renewable energy sources, so all energy used at competition venues and in the athletes’ village will be generated by renewables. This means everything from billboards to heating, speakers to lighting, stoves to TVs will be powered by environmentally friendly sources that don’t produce warming CO2 emissions. Event planners can really take inspiration from Tokyo 2020’s ambitious goals. Think about anything that needs to be turned on or plugged in. Now power it with renewables instead. A real, tangible difference can be made.
+ Food Waste 70.53
A third of food raised or prepared doesn’t make it from farms and factories to consumption. This wastes many resources, including water, seeds, energy, land, fertiliser, financial capital, and greenhouse gas is generated at every stage, including methane when organic matter is thrown in global rubbish bins. This food waste is responsible for roughly 8% of global emissions. This is an issue in both high-income countries (through retailers and consumers rejecting food based in colouring, shape or simply buying too much), and in low-income countries (food wastage is generally unintentional and occurs on farms or during storage). There are several ways to address key waste points – improving infrastructure for storage, processing and transportation is essential for low-income countries; and major interventions are needed at retail and consumer level by using targets and policies to encourage widespread change. These efforts can help meet future food demand and reduce carbon emissions by 26.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. One example of reducing food waste is at the Annual Meeting for the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) in Ottawa in 2017, 2,195kg or 80% of waste was diverted through composting and donation programmes. This is done by making a proactive plan by working with caterers from the start; by paying attention to food packaging before the event; ensuring that reusable tableware is used; and request caterers to measure cost impact, organic waste and food donation. At IMEX Frankfurt on the 21st May 2019, 6 destinations and their politicians are invited to discuss changes to food waste policy.
+ Plant-Rich Diet 39.3
‘Vegan’ was the word on everyone’s tongue in 2018, and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon! With the number of vegans in Britain having risen by 360% in 10 years and UK plant-based food sales up 1500% in 2016, it’s clear that meat-centric diets are on the decline in the West. This may be for a number of reasons; health, ethics or environmental. Animal agriculture is disastrous for the planet and has a significant effect on climate change and our natural resources. Animal agriculture produces 1/5 of global emissions and if the cattle industry was a country, it would be the world’s 1/3 largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Cows produce roughly 150 billion gallons of methane, which has a warming potential about 100 times greater than carbon dioxide, per day, which almost matches the methane production from natural gases in the USA. It is estimated 26.7 gigatons of emissions could be avoided by dietary changes by 2050 alone, but factoring the cost of deforestation, an 39.3 gigatons can be avoided overall!
So how can events help with this solution? Well one of the easiest ways is to offer a fully plant-based menu. With veganism continually growing, companies are beginning to bring out new and exciting vegan products. The ‘Impossible Burger’ has been created to mimic beef as closely as possible, in taste and texture, it even ‘bleeds’! There is a wide variety of plant-based milks; hemp, oat, coconut to name a few, which can easily take the place of dairy milk and there are tons of brands of vegan cheese. A lot of Asian cuisines can be easily veganised, like Chinese, Indian and Thai, and Middle Eastern cuisines, like Israeli and Lebanese, are historically free from a lot of animal products.
The events industry has started to realise the popularity of veganism. Many well-known festivals such as Bestival, Latitude and Wireless, now cater to vegans with multiple stalls and many cities host vegan festivals, there’s even a Vegtoberfest! This June, New York is hosting the largest vegan festival so far, the first plant-based World Conference & Expo. It’s clear that providing a plant-based menu for your event is quickly becoming the norm, so why don’t you offer an earth-friendly menu too.
+ Transport 22.21
A quarter of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions and the main cause of air pollution in cities is caused by transport. The European Commission’s strategy is to shift to low-emission mobility in order to improve air quality, lower congestion and improve safety, with three areas for priority – increasing the efficiency of the transport system, speed up deployment of low-emission alternative energy for transport, and zero-emissions vehicles. An example of companies that are using low emissions or zero emission transport is Formula E, whose racing cars use specialised glycerine generators, and Switzerland, whose trains all run using 100% hydro-powered.
The events industry creates a significant amount of emissions from transporting attendees to events or between venues. Ways you can reduce your transport emissions is to encourage attendees to travel to your event by public transport, i.e. by using trains, buses, as well as providing facilitates for attendees travelling by bike. Other ways to reduce an event's emissions is by ensuring that your event is accessible public transport; have the attendees stay near the venue to reduce travel emissions; if attendees have to fly, ensure that direct flights are taken; and use car-sharing apps, such as liftshare and Whova app.
One example calculated the carbon emissions from one baseball game, and found that 73% of all carbon emissions is from transport. If the planners chose to focus on encouraging attendees to take alternative modes of transportation, such as buses and trains, the events' overall carbon footprint could be greatly reduced. Another example is the London Olympics, in which only 30% of the Games Lanes were needed each day, while road traffic reduced about 15% about 90% of the time. Meanwhile, the number of passengers on the tube increased by 30% over the Olympics, carrying over 60 million passengers.
+ LED lighting 12.85
LEDs work like solar panels in reverse, use 90% less energy than incandescent bulbs for the same amount of light without the toxic mercury, and last much longer than incandescent bulbs. LEDs transfer 80% of their energy use into creating light, rather than heat for other technologies, reduces electricity consumption and air-conditioning loads. LEDs are more expensive that incandescent lightbulbs but their cost are falling rapidly.
LED lighting, according to the Telegraph, could save household £240 a year (and could save more money in a commercial building) and pays for itself within 5 months, even though LEDs are considerably more expensive to buy. This is because they are 10 times as efficient as incandescent bulbs, and therefore consume much less electricity and emissions. Using LED lighting also has other benefits, such as lasting up to 20 years, 100% recyclable, free of toxic chemicals, operates in extremely cold or hot temperatures, and can be turned on and off without affecting the lifespan of the light bulb. Why not ask the event you are hosting to use LED light bulb in order to save a significant amount of money while hosting the event?
+ Bioplastic 4.3
The environmental impacts of plastic is becoming clearer by the day. Plastic is made from fossil fuels and doesn’t biodegrade. Instead it breaks up into tiny microplastics, which has polluted the earth, found in the Mariana Trench, Himalayas and even in human faeces. Plastic harms marine life and is estimated to kill 100,000 sea creatures and 1 million seabirds every year. Globally, we produce about 310 million tons of plastic each year, however, experts estimate that 90% of current plastic could come from plants instead, biodegradable, with much lower carbon emissions. If bioplastic were to capture 49% of the estimated 792 million tons of plastic production by 2050, 4.3 gigatons of carbon could be avoided!
Choosing to limit plastic usage or replace plastics with a biodegradable alternative is an efficient way to make your event more sustainable. Water bottles are the main source of plastic, so it’s a great initiative to have refill taps instead. Another large source of plastic waste is serveware and straws. Luckily, there are many brands, such as Vegware, who make their products out renewable polymers from compostable biomass. It is also important that you are able to measure and identify the role of plastic in you events. Our EventSustainability app allows you to report on the use of plastic, so that we can gather global data to understand the role of plastic and how it can be addressed.
The Croyde Ocean Triathlon is an example of a large scale event, working to reduce plastic waste. They have banned all single-use plastics, from caterers to signage to plastic bags. Even energy gel sachets are being replaced with locally made & plastic free protein balls. Plastics sneak in to everything, so think where may you find plastics and how can you replace them. It’s easier than you think! Your event doesn’t need to cost the environment.
+ Recycling 5.54
Recycling is an effective approach to manage waste while addressing emissions, as well as reducing resource extraction, minimising other pollutants and creating jobs. Waste production has increased 10 times over the last century and will likely double again by 2025, with half of that waste from households and half from industrial and commercial buildings. By recycling materials, such as plastic, paper, glass and metal, this significantly reduces the amount of energy and emissions used to create a new product from recycled materials, as well as addressing the challenge of resource scarcity. It is estimated that 5.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide could be avoided by 2050 if recycling rates of industrial, commercial and household waste increased to 65%.
Some effective strategies include paying fees for landfill waste while recycling and composting is free; programmes to gather funds from manufacturers to cover recycling costs; extending producer responsibility laws to make companies responsible for managing products post-use; and transforming the dominant linear business model to a circular business model, in order to see waste materials as a valuable resource.
One of example of recycling is at the Body and Soul Festival in Ireland, which won a highly commended award in the Greener Festival Awards in 2018, where they recycled 50.46 tonnes, achieving a 60.6% recycling rate, with plans to reach 70% for 2019. Another example is at St Louis Community College in America which holds a recycling event every year, in which they collected 38 tonnes of recycling, from electronics and carpeting to clothes.
+ Composting 2.3
Composting is an important process which can have a significant effect on climate change. Nearly half of all solid waste produced is organic or biodegradable, but unfortunately, a lot of it ends up in landfill where it decomposes without oxygen and produces incredibly warming methane gas. Whilst it is important to manage methane production, it is far more effective and efficient to divert organic waste to composting facilities instead. In 2015, 38% of food waste was composted in the USA, 57% in EU, and if all low-income countries reach the EU level, 2.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide could be reduced by 2050.
It is important to think about what happens to the waste your event produces. The easiest way to help this solution is by having a compost collection bin for the event. Composting only works if the organic matter is kept completely separate from other waste, otherwise it is sent to landfill. Therefore, clear labelling and signage is vital. Many local councils accept food waste, but if they don’t, there are industrial compost facilities you can take it to. There are even companies which will come and collect your compost waste for you!
The Greenbelt Festival is a great example of a large scale event using composting. All of their caterers used 100% compostable packaging and cutlery and they set up clear organic waste binning facilities, so the packaging and the food waste were thrown away in the same bins. The contents of these bins were then taken to a local composting facility, turning into rich materials to help other plants grow! So when planning your event, why don’t you include composting facilities. Composting is easy!
+ Telepresence 2
In 2013, UBC undertook a comprehensive study of a large-scale sporting event’s carbon footprint and found 73% of emissions were due to travel alone. It is not surprising that the largest contribution to an event’s carbon footprint is travel. Large events often have thousands of attendees, many of them flying in from all parts of the world. With technology developing at an impressive rate, it is increasingly possible to exist and function remotely, while the need for travel-related emissions becomes less necessary. Telepresence is estimated to reduce business-related air travel by 2 gigatons over 30 years, while saving $1.3 trillion and 82 billion fewer unproductive travel hours. Cutting business travel is not only beneficial for the environment, but your company and employees too!
So how can you be a part of the solution and not the problem? Businesses should think about whether it is completely necessary to send their employees to certain events and event planners should ensure their events can be accessible by telepresence. This can be in a number of forms, including webcasts, live streaming and social media. Not only does this reduce emissions via travel, but also means your event is available to a much wider audience. If a business needs an in-person presence at an event, they should try and send their employees by more sustainable modes of transport than flying. It is important when planning an event that you hold it in a venue accessible to all modes of transport, so flying doesn’t become a necessity.
Aviation technology is improving, but unfortunately not fast enough. The best way to help with this solution is to not travel at all. Utilisation of telepresence is not only on the rise, but its technology is improving too, meaning that would-be attendees longer feel that they are missing out on the experience if they do not attend in-person. Large events have successfully used telepresence, including Ted Talks, government press conferences and academia. Telepresence makes your event more sustainable, not only in the environmental sense, but the economic and social sense too. So why the wait?!
+ Recycled paper 0.9
Only roughly half of all paper globally is recovered and repurposed, and if that recovery rate increases to 75%, the paper industry could reduce its emissions by up to 7%. Making the paper industry circular, by recycling and repurposing, can reduce the amount of methane produced from paper in landfill, reduce reliance on fresh timber, reduce water use and paper can be reprocessed about 5 to 7 times. Over 30 years, recycling paper can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 0.9 gigatons.
One example of an event using recycled paper is the Big Paper Airplane Tournament, run by the Residence Hall Association, who organised the tournament only using recycled paper to promote sustainability on campus amongst students. Another example is the Buxton Fringe, who printed programmes on 100% recycled FSC paper every year.