From the ground up: how urgency fuels sustainable event innovations

From the ground up: how urgency fuels sustainable event innovations

There is nothing new in saying transforming the events industry requires fast, widespread action from all of us. Most corporates have ambitious goals to reduce carbon emissions by 80-90% come 2030, some even by 2025. With only 18 months left, fast and widespread action is needed. The urgency with which we need to act brings with it a clear focus, which has its own benefits: a focus on having the largest impact possible in the shortest period of time.

Whilst the dream of a magic bullet solution proves an alluring concept to time-poor and quota-pushed procurement professionals, the reality is necessarily a more nuanced affair. The question, though, remains the same: how can event professionals make smarter choices that reduce their per-event carbon footprint?  

Over the past year, we’ve sought to improve our answers again and again. 

Here’s a frank look at what we’ve learned, and how we got there. 

Taking stock

It is a hard truth that sustainability dropped down the priority list during the most challenging periods of the pandemic. For many companies, the primary focus was mere survival, with effective progress on sustainability taking a hiatus.

This shift in focus was compounded by the abnormally low emissions produced during the pandemic. Reduced travel and the difficulty of in-person events, domestic and abroad, allowed companies to make huge cuts with very little effort. 

The situation, though, has changed. Despite improvements being made, emissions are on the rise again due to the return of in-person meetings and the removal of travel restrictions. Urgency has always underpinned corporate action on reducing emissions, but the post-Covid landscape clearly makes the need for action all the more potent. 

This was made abundantly clear to us when we caught up with a number of leaders helming their companies’ procurement and sustainability push. From the start, it was a case of listening and responding to the lived experiences of professionals tasked with making the right daily decisions. 

We organised an in-person meetup; after feedback, it was moved to an online event – we learned. 

This first session was a goldmine of insights. Through organisational introductions, Sailboat exercises, and a refreshingly candid roundtable discussion, several crucial realities emerged.

  • Apathetic gestures towards ‘offsetting’ are no longer viable options – they don’t work. 
  • Similarly, carbon neutrality is not good enough. Companies understand that and have set targets accordingly.
  • These Net Zero targets are coming very soon. Many have announced 2030, with others opting for 2050. Regardless of the timeline, the same truth holds: The era of complacency is over.
  • The key ask is for information to be available at the point of decision, not after. This will have an immediate impact on reducing emissions, not just retrospective reporting. 
  • There is a clear overlap between those who are responsible for events and those responsible for travel. Understanding and reducing travel (particularly air) has rightly received lots of attention. Yet this has not expanded to the final stage of travel  – what we call the ‘last mile’ of the journey. 

Acting on the findings

We now had a north star for what was at the top of the agenda for our clients. In a word: action. A long-term roadmap is, of course, essential but this must be broken down into segments, and each segment must have an outcome. That is the nature of urgency, and it underpins everything we do when it comes to providing sustainably-led solutions.  

Armed with these insights, we entered a cycle of constant refinement and adaptation. We did the research and identified the last mile of travel as a key point of potential disruption. Travel makes up 60-80% of an event’s emissions, and is ripe for implementing reduction. Whilst pre-existing travel programmes exist, the last mile is sorely underrepresented in both measuring and reducing the carbon footprint. 

The findings were clear, then. There was demand for a tool that could sit alongside the practices around travel, but expand towards the final stage of a journey to an event. The key, though, was the urgency with which we can provide these real and actionable insights around travel. 

This is where Journeys comes in.

Journeys is our first major product of this cycle, a tool aimed at tackling the fact that travel makes up 60-80% of an event's emissions. Journeys lets bookers input travel details for their attendees so that we can tell them which of their venue options will have the lowest carbon emissions for travel. 

Journeys was designed with action in mind.

Only the beginning 

The process of learning, adapting, and refining is cyclical. Every iteration and release is followed by more feedback sessions and more discovery. It’s a crucial element in bringing a genuinely effective means of reducing the impact of events across every channel.

We have already had our second session, after presenting our initial findings. Again, it was incredibly fruitful. Unforeseen questions were raised about quantifying carbon costs and balancing them with financial goals – allowing decision-makers to put the best course forward, backed up by actionable data.

Today, we've submitted our science-based targets for approval and continue to integrate the feedback received into our operations and future meetings. It's a case of building the bridge as you cross it - because the only way to truly transform the events industry is to move with urgency.

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