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Emission reduction: Making conferences greener with technology

Jose Tejedor, CEO at Virtway, offers green solutions to conference organisers

The scientific community has reached a near unanimous understanding on climate change. 97% of climate scientists agree that the adverse weather and environmental changes of the past century can be attributed to human activity, and it’s been estimated that the mean surface temperature of the planet has already risen by roughly 1°C since the late 19th Century. 

It’s now broadly understood that we need to take steps to reduce our impact on the environment, with luminaries such as David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg ensuring that the issue remains in the public consciousness. For conference organisers, this can present a new challenge. Many attendees will now expect events to be organised with an eye on sustainability, but this is no simple task. Event planning is already an incredibly difficult process, and this would add yet another layer of complication. However, by using technology, it’s possible to simply and efficiently reduce the carbon footprint of events. So, let’s look at some of the options available to you, helping your conference to go green. 

Reducing emissions 

Corporate travel is by far the largest contributor to the emission levels of a business conference. The average conference attendee emits approximately 145KG of CO2 emissions per day, but when there is extensive travel involved, this can soar to almost two tonnes per attendee. As such, those interested in boosting the green credentials of their event should make reducing long distance travel their greatest priority. 

One of the most effective ways to do this is to stop delegates from travelling at all. Event organisers have been experimenting with using videoconferencing technology for some time now, but while, this is a much greener solution than air travel, the experience is often clunky and deeply unsatisfactory when compared to physical conferences. Making use of 3D virtual world technology provides a solution for those interested in providing a remote conference, without having to make the sacrifices previously associated. The technology allows for events to be recreated in a virtual environment, and users can use an avatar to interact with others just as they would in the real world. Being the closest possible thing to a traditional conference, by bringing delegates from around the globe together in the virtual world, event planners can ensure that they still benefit from the spatial cues that they would in the physical world. For example, if two attendees wished to break off into a small group to network, this is incredibly easy compared to videoconferencing. Such platforms are also more immersive and interactive, allowing for events to be delivered to a truly global audience at a greatly reduced carbon footprint.

Virtual worlds do not need to replace real world events outright, and it won’t be feasible to always do so either. They can instead be used in a complimentary fashion, allowing organisers to scale or descale without increasing their rate of emissions, or diminishing the bottom line. For example, with a mirrored virtual event taking place, the need for long distance air travel is reduced. Furthermore, it will be possible for more attendees to be invited and a smaller venue to be used. This will help to reduce the environmental impact of the event. 

Of course, it won’t be possible to implement a virtual world in every scenario, but there are still measures that you can take to reduce the impact of travel. You could consider setting up a travel portal for attendees. Here, they’d be able to see if any other delegates are travelling from a similar 

area, allowing for rides to be shared. Not only does this mitigate the impact of travelling to events, there will be extra opportunity for delegates to potentially network. 

Reducing resources and waste 

A traditional business conference usually involves masses of paper brochures, handouts, programmes and business cards, and unfortunately, most of this will end up in being thrown away. Using technology to reduce your reliance on paper can help make your event greener. 

By using a tablet and an e-ticketing app, you’ll be able to check attendees in electronically. This will generate valuable data, letting you see exactly who has arrived in an efficient fashion. It also requires no paper at all, making your event more sustainable.

You could also develop a web or mobile app for your event. This will vastly reduce the usage of paper utilised by your conference, as delegates will no longer need to carry around much of the paperwork needed for an event. If you wanted to go the extra mile, giving your conference presence in a virtual world would allow for these materials to be exchanged electronically, which again reduces paper wastage. 

Furthermore, organisers should seek to unlock the power of big data and analytics to streamline their conferences. For example, by running statistical analysis on the amount of food consumed in previous events, or those of a similar size, event planners can reduce the likelihood of over ordering, thus reducing waste and the impact on the environment. If this data isn’t available, you could think about choosing caterers that use organic foodstuffs, rather than those which use overly processed ones. 

We’ve never been more aware of our impact on the environment, and the public is rightfully calling on businesses and governments alike to help combat climate change. These demands have now also been placed upon event organisers, and conferences are now expected to be sustainable. Change won’t happen overnight, and it may take some time for all conferences to be truly green, but by leveraging the technology available to us currently, we can go some way to being more environmentally friendly.