Corporate lingo for “mind the planet” is constantly changing. Start feeling comfortable talking about “sustainability” and “CSR”, and suddenly it’s all about “carbon neutral” and “net zero.” As challenging as it can be to keep up, it is important for event professionals to stay on top of what these terms mean if they are to deliver value and avoid liabilities in the corporate event space.
So what do you need to know to speak confidently about net zero?
To begin, it’s important to cover a few basics about climate change from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the global body that provides scientific assessments about climate to inform policy-makers:
- First, the planet is warming. The average global temperature today is about 1.1°C higher than it was prior to industrialization.
- Science shows it is humans who are causing it, through the burning of fossil fuels like oil and gas and the destruction of natural carbon sinks, like forests and peatlands.
- Lastly, and most importantly: We can fix it! But only if we use our collective power to act quickly.
When it comes to corporations acting on the climate crisis, most – including key Canadian banks, retailers and oil and gas companies – are focused on what is called net zero. Net zero typically implies a goal of reducing emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 on a path to zero emissions by 2050. This is what is necessary in order to reach international targets under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and keep average temperature rise to well below 2°C.
Progress is being made, however, the IPCC projects current commitments are falling short and could result in 2.4°C to 3.5°C warming by 2100. This is concerning because as temperature rises, even by a tenth of a degree, so do risks to human health and well-being.
But how is all of this connected to events?
Simply put, net zero commits businesses to measure, reduce and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from their operations. Action on this commitment is important for companies to demonstrate for a variety of reasons, beyond just acting on climate change. For example, 65 per cent of Canadians indicate they consider environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors when investing and 51 per cent of jobseekers consider a company’s sustainability measures when choosing a new job.
Because all aspects of a company’s operations can contribute to or detract from the net zero goal, it is critical for event organizers to understand how they can be part of the solution, and not the problem.
How is an event a problem for a company’s net zero commitment?
Events cause emissions through venue and hotel energy use, catering, transportation, and waste, as well as the materials we use.
The amount of emissions generated by each event can vary widely. An international business meeting requiring air travel might emit one to three tons of carbon per participant. An event that involves local commuting might cause much less than that. The point is: it is critical to learn the unique carbon footprint of your event in order to know the source and quantity of emissions generated, and how you and your events can be part of the solution.
What can I do to make sure I’m part of the solution?
Best solutions will vary based on the nature of your event. Here are five steps that commonly deliver notable emission reductions:
- Meet digitally whenever it is a good match with desired outcomes. A six-hour online event for 4,000 people causes roughly the same carbon impact as a return flight for one person across the Atlantic. So if your meeting could have been a Zoom, stick with Zoom. Check out the digital event carbon calculator to learn about how much carbon is saved when you meet online.
- When face-to-face is essential to event outcomes, pick closest destinations. Shaving a few hundred or a few thousand kilometers off the average travel distance for your participants goes a long way to reduce emissions, especially if it is possible to use regional rail networks. Calculate the carbon impact of flights between different destinations, and use flight search tools like Google flights to filter for itineraries that are lower-emitting.
- Learn about what type of energy is used at the event location, and if it is a low-carbon source. There are a growing number of venues and hotels across Canada that use clean, low-carbon energy, such as hydro or solar. Seek them out, and support them.
- Design delicious, tasty plant-based menus. Diets rich in plants are better for health and the climate. Learn about the carbon footprint of different menu options using the event food carbon calculator.
- Reduce waste, especially from food. Roughly one third of the world’s food is wasted. In fact, Project Drawdown identifies food waste reduction as a top solution for acting on climate change globally. So provide accurate guarantees, check portion sizes, empower chefs to source imperfectly delicious produce, opt for smaller plates and find a caterer that supports food donation.
Looking to learn more about what a net zero event journey could look like? Check out this case study.