The coronavirus may have changed how people work in the office, but it has not changed how people go to conferences. Event planners want to go back to having meetings in person as soon as the pandemic is over, even though the environment should keep things online.
Many events can take a toll on the environment. Air miles, gas-guzzling shuttle buses, lake-sized amounts of plastic water, and piles of brochures are just a few of the things that happen.
According to an analysis by Cornell University and the American Center for Life Cycle Assessment, before COVID, the carbon footprint of the global event and convention industry was on par with that of the United States.
They say that moving a conference online would reduce its carbon footprint by 94%, while creating a hybrid model, with up to half of the participants online, would cut its carbon footprint by two-thirds as well.
There are many benefits to professional conferences when people meet: networking before and after presentations, real-life comparisons of rival products and rivals, and face-to-face interactions that can make or break deals, to name just a few.
Phillip Maggs, the innovation director for events agency Identity, which organized last year's COP26 United Nations climate change summit in Glasgow, said it is hard to make things happen by accident in the virtual world.
When people meet in person, organizers can charge more. In general, digital events make about half as much money as in-person conferences because they have lower ticket prices and less sponsorship, says Beth Surmont, the vice president of event strategy and design at 360 Live Media, which produces live events.
Principal conference organizers, including those who run the CES trade show for consumer technology and the MIPIM real estate conference, say they plan to hold in-person events on the same scale as before but will try to cut down on their carbon footprint as much as possible.
It looks like the events industry will bounce back from the coronavirus, with the overall market expected to grow from $887 billion in 2020 to $2.2 trillion in 2028 by Verified Market Research. This includes music events, exhibitions, festivals, and corporate conferences, and it consists of all of these things.
The COVID restrictions have existed for almost two years now, but people want to get back together. Even though cases of the highly transmissible variant are on the rise worldwide, more than 40,000 people came to the tech conference in Las Vegas. It was in 2019 that more than 175,000 people went.
Meeting in person is sometimes the best way to close a deal.
The COP26 Coalition, a group of UK-based civil society groups, said that holding the UN global climate talks in person last year was the only way to make sure that developing countries had a voice.
We want to ensure these conferences have the most negligible carbon footprint possible. Still, I think that, in terms of the global economy and other things, the alternative is even worse. COP26 Coalition representative Asad Rehman said this.
Around 40,000 people from various countries came to Glasgow for the talks. The two-week event took several steps to ensure it was carbon neutral, including giving away the 15,000 square meters of carpet is used and giving participants reusable aluminum water bottles and a primarily local menu.
Some private jets were hired to get some VIP delegates to and from the COP, but some were not happy.
Identity, COP's event organizer, said she could not tell people how to get to the event. However, Marco Rodzynek, CEO of the annual NOAH technology conference in Zurich, told people to take trains or other public transportation to get to the event.
It has been long since the corporate world has paid attention to executives going to conferences. However, the Global Business Travel Association surveyed worldwide in April 2021 and found that only 7% of companies reward employees for taking environmentally friendly trips.
Conference organizers, like Informa Plc and the K5 Future Retail conference host in Berlin, give attendees the chance to purchase carbon offsets when they book their spot at the event.
Carbon offsets let people who pollute buy into a project that reduces emissions, like planting trees. They can then use the credit they get to lessen the impact of their emissions.
Many climate scientists and environmental groups say that they can not make up for carbon emissions. They say they are not always practical or adequately supervised, and they do not deal with the real problem: activities that cause greenhouse gases.
Climate scientist Milan Kloewer: "The idea behind carbon offsetting is that I can do the same things I did before but feel better about it," he told the Daily Mail.
Some conference organizers do not like carbon offsets.
Rodzynek said it was better to make events more environmentally friendly by adding virtual attendance options and making other changes, like taking meat and fish off the menus and making plant-based food available.
"Out of 1,400 people who came, not one of them asked us about offsets," he told them. Instead, a lot of people are just using it for marketing.