John Keenan

John Keenan
Contributing Editor at Conference News

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24 Apr 15

Event organisers must get serious about climate change

Five years ago the UN climate summit in Copenhagen ended in disappointment. The so-called Copenhagen Accord committed Governments to little more than trying to do better in future.

Now, with the United States promising to cut carbon pollution by up to 28%, there are reasons to hope that an international agreement on climate change will be reached in Paris later this year.

But well-intentioned onlookers can be forgiven for wondering why world leaders need to circle the globe, burning up the atmosphere, in order to, er, save the planet.

What are the hosts and organisers of these mega-events doing to help reduce carbon emissions? Not as much as you might hope.

Most of the big international venues regard environmental policies as a marketing tool, a tick box to trump their rivals. But hard data or evidence on how the events sector is implementing green pledges is hard to come by and the PR put out by the venues relies heavily on anecdotal evidence.

Organisers of events – from the Cannes Film Festival to the Dubai Boat Show – do not put green issues at the top of the agenda.

When it comes to improving the carbon footprint of an event, they leave the decision to their customers – and they have other priorities. The option of a low-carbon option for an event will come with a higher price tag. Organisers rely on the venues to take the initiative while the venues wait to be prompted by event organisers - a Catch-22 recipe for stasis.

According to the Carbon Trust, if event organisers are to avoid the conflict between efficiency and hitting deadlines they must put sustainability to at the heart of the approach to event management. It shouldn’t be a bolt-on to look good on the brochure.

The trust has put forward a few simple steps for future events (the Paris summit included) such as reusing materials, more efficient storage between events and working with customers that take their environmental credentials seriously to identify how they can reduce the impact and communicate successes.

These are hardly huge demands yet they could make a big difference.

Preparing this piece, I got in touch with the Association of British Professional Conference Organisers to ask what their members were doing to help make their meetings more sustainable.

“We don’t focus on sustainability, I’m afraid,” the spokeswoman told me.

Let’s hope organisers in Paris take a less sanguine attitude.

Any comments? Email: John Keenan

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