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Conscious about carbon

Conscious about carbon

Louisa Daley talks to industry experts about carbon tracking and how it can change the future of events.

Sustainability – it’s a key concern and focal point in the events industry at the moment. Many eventprofs have implemented sustainable initiatives and have made great strides to raise awareness. However, one difficulty remains: exactly how do we measure our carbon footprint in order to reduce it? This is where carbon tracking can help.

To understand what carbon tracking resources are available, and how carbon tracking can benefit all areas of the industry, Louisa Daley spoke to Anita Howard, strategy director of ICE; Anna Abdelnoor and Ben Quarrell, co-founders of isla; Maya Mhatre, co-founder of Reset Connect; and Jo Austin, sales director at Lime Venue Portfolio and The Venue Collection.

Industry help: SAM and TRACE

Of late, there have been various industry developments to support eventprofs with carbon tracking. For example, ICE, the global community of corporate event planners, in collaboration with DRPG, Cvent, Maritz Global Events, Encore and ACC Liverpool, recently introduced SAM.

“SAM is a free event sustainability carbon measurement tool that was created for the industry, by the industry,” explains Howard. “SAM came about because our corporate community faced barriers. They either didn’t know where to start, the tools were too complicated or they simply didn’t have the time,” she adds.

Howard perceives SAM as the start of an events planner’s carbon-reduction journey. “Everyone needs to start somewhere,” says Howard, “SAM is a great starting place as there are no cost barriers, it’s not complicated, and no training is necessary.”

SAM works by capturing data from not only the event planner, but also from the delegate. From there, SAM creates a visual ‘carbon bubble’, otherwise known as a carbon measurement score. “By understanding the amount of carbon used, event planners can then take steps to reduce their carbon footprint for future events.” she adds.

As the data from SAM isn’t owned by an individual, SAM will be able to share the average carbon output for conferences, awards, and other types of events. “Once we have a benchmark, we can know how to improve,” says Howard. “But we have to work together. Data from all apps need to be shared quickly so we can all start improving today,” she encourages.

Similarly, sustainable body isla has introduced TRACE, a purpose-built carbon measurement platform, dedicated to the events industry. Quarrell tells me TRACE works by measuring emissions from transport (production), travel (audience and crew), accommodation, energy usage, catering choices, materials, waste/recycling and online events. “Designing the data capture has been a balance between getting the right type and volume of data to create a meaningful report, and not getting bogged down in the minutiae so that data becomes impossible to capture,” he reveals.

“The way TRACE is designed means that reports are generated in real time and can be exported to share with clients, sustainability offices, reporting teams, or anyone that needs to know their impact,” adds Abdelnoor.

Aside from measuring carbon and generating reports, TRACE also provides eventprofs with guidance and advice on how to reduce their carbon footprint. “After all, we’re not tracking carbon for fun, we’re tracking it because we need to reduce it,” says Abdelnoor.

When creating TRACE, “usability was key” for both Abdelnoor and Quarrell. “We went through an extensive testing process to understand the challenges people may face and used this to create supporting resources, a knowledge hub and training to support planners using the tool,” Quarrell explains.

“TRACE is more than just a way to measure and reduce environmental impact; it’s a way to enable transformation at a sectoral level, which benefits the whole industry, the businesses operating within it, and the brands who own events.

“With the data available from TRACE, isla will be able to understand the areas that we can and should innovate in, to drive the most effective action,” adds Abdelnoor.

Making better choices

Carbon calculators are not the only ways to help eventprofs with their carbon-tracking journey; there are also dedicated events such as Reset Connect London 2022.

Reset Connect London is a sustainability ecosystem and green investment gathering that notably takes place (28-29 June) during London Climate Action Week.

“Our event aims to connect businesses on the journey to Net Zero with sustainability solutions, thought leadership and financing and investment opportunities,” explains Mhatre.

“Events are an incredible way to conduct business, networking and education, but they are also responsible for huge emissions,” Mhatre reminds us. Considering this, I ask Mhatre how the event tracks and reduces its own carbon footprint. “As a first-year event, rather than having our previous year’s emissions to reduce against, we aim to make better choices to start low in the first place,” says Mhatre. These choices come under three categories: energy, travel, and materials. After all, “these categories are the biggest impact streams for events,” she says.

First of all, Reset Connect London chooses suppliers, where possible, based on their sustainability credentials. “ExCeL London, where our event takes place, runs on 100% renewable energy, which means our venue-associated electricity usage can be logged as zero emissions,” she explains.

Mhatre also reveals the event has chosen to collect visitor data, including how its attendees travel to the event, and where they are travelling from.

“We are also avoiding materials where possible such as carpet, badge holders, printed show guides and single-use signage,” she says. Instead, Reset Connect London is opting for low-impact options such as modular stands which can be reused multiple times.

In addition to these three key areas, Reset Connect London has also launched its own series of online workshops with Green Circle Solutions. “Our workshops teach eventprofs what to measure, how to calculate emissions from this data and how to use these insights to guide sustainability objectives and strategies,” she explains. Since the launch of the workshops, Mhatre tells me the very same learnings and workshop calculator are being used to track the event’s carbon footprint.

Echoing Howard’s view, Mhatre believes “sharing knowledge and best practice, supporting innovation and collaboration are key to reducing the industry’s carbon footprint”.

Catering: ownership of carbon

Carbon tracking doesn’t stop at energy, travel, or even materials; there are food emissions to consider too. According to Lime Venue Portfolio’s ‘Big Conference and Events Survey’, 45% of event feedback is focused on food.

“This shows food is a significant consideration for delegates, and therefore it should be for organisers,” says Austin. “In many cases, food is the biggest source of potential, negative environmental impact,” she adds.

To meet this need, The Venues Collection has recently introduced menus with the carbon emissions listed per meal. Furthermore, this summer, it will also implement ‘carbon labelling’ across its event menus.

“We have labelled our food this way to empower our customers to make an educated choice when choosing the food to be served at their events,” explains Austin. “Knowing the impact a meal has on the climate gives organisers more ownership and control over what they are choosing for their delegates and the total impact their event will have on the climate,” says Austin.

So, how does ‘carbon labelling’ work in practice?, I ask Austin. “Each of the items on the menus are colour coded with varying shades of green. This easy-to-understand scale helps organisers and delegates see, at a glance, where each item sits on the carbon emissions scale,” she explains.

“By providing carbon labelling, we are helping to increase delegate satisfaction post-event. Knowing where their food is sourced is important to delegates. We encourage organisers to share information and the actions they have taken to create sustainable events,” she adds.

Whether you’re using a carbon calculator, making greener choices when planning events, or even carbon labelling your delegate’s food – it’s time to show the industry that you’re conscious about carbon.