In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the events industry by and large pivoted to virtual events in response to governmental gathering restrictions. And while this pivot was at the time viewed as an interim solution until things got ‘back to normal’, little by little the positive results revealed themselves.
For example while virtual meant no travel, the byproduct that resulted was that this made attendance more convenient and a reduction in fossil fuels. People on the other side of the country, or even the globe, were able to experience the event without having to leave their living room. While this made sense for anyone traveling out of state, it then also became quite clear that even local attendees found a livestream easier than driving to their downtown convention center further reducing the carbon footprint of events.
Further – making events more accessible through the addition of a virtual component also has led to an increase in attendance, something we have seen consistently across the board. Our own Toast of the Town metrics support this with compelling reporting of a consistent YOY growth of a +50% increase across our 2020 & 2021 roster of events. While this is significant growth, we have also seen some organizations absolutely shatter their previous attendance records when they switched to virtual in 2020, having realized 100% or more YOY growth.
It’s not just organizations that benefited from virtual adoption – the planet did too!
While Mother Earth may be hoping we all opt for 100% virtual options moving forward, we all know that in-person events are surging right now. Truth be told, as an events company we are thrilled to see this, as there is nothing that can quite replicate the energy in a room of a live event. So while we may not be able to say goodbye to the fun and engagement of an in-person event, or the perks and breadth of virtual ones, we instead lean on blended hybrid options as a perfect solution, offering the benefits of both in-person and virtual rolled into one incredible package.
Here are our top reasons why virtual & hybrid events could be the future of sustainability for the events industry:
The number one factor contributing to greenhouse gas emissions is travel. Attendees generally use air travel to get to conferences or symposiums, and is the transportation method with the biggest carbon footprint. In 2020 the results were clear as emissions plummeted and global energy use dropped. Thus showing what a positive impact reduced travel has on the environment.
On the positive side of this trend we conversely saw how resorting to virtual setups for events, helped to also positively affect the event. By offering remote access, event producers have gained accessibility to a much higher level, more sought after speaker roster and at a reduced cost due to the reduction of travel and lodging costs. With a more marketable keynote, and even easier access, event attendees were also more than ever incentivized to log-on from home, leading to event growth overall. All in all, the reduction of travel has, and will, benefit events and this world we live in in the future.
Less Energy Consumption
According to a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan, results showed dramatically lower emission rates for virtual vs in-person conferences. Specifically citing the May 2020 Air Miners Conference which was held virtually, the results showed a staggering 66% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to what an in-person event would have produced. This included metrics such as room lighting, data transfers, computer energy usage rates and more. Read the full report here to learn more. Many may not think of this impact but with many events around the world it can be an impressive win back for the environment.
We love live events, but let’s be honest – they can be very wasteful. It’s actually something we often pride ourselves on as a meeting planners to reduce excess waste, and thus being more efficient and profitable. But it’s a fine line between being efficient, and coming across as a cheap event or unprepared. All that aside, the virtual or hybrid event option does offer a scenario that helps to eliminate waste in a number of areas: food, swag, and materials.
- Food is a must for most in-person events, but any event planner will tell there is slippage – or the amount of food provided vs the amount of food consumed. This food not consumed is still made, prepared, presented, and then just thrown away. That’s not even counting the full plates of food returned to the kitchen sans 2 bites. It happens much more than you may think. Consider speaking with your catering vendor about food waste and as part of your contract with them asking if any unplated food can be donated to a local non-profit and ask if composting is something they do as part of their back of house waste management? The answer may be no, but asking is a good place to start and help them become more environmentally conscious because they see that their clients care.
- Swag is an organizations or sponsors way of making sure you learn about or get more familiar with their brand or message, and a built in event marketing cost most will not think twice about spending. But too often does the event pen, usb, souvenir bottles, tote bags (and the list goes on and on) just end up in the back of someone’s office drawer, only to be thrown out in a few months. The great news is that swag done well can actually work to help your event become more environmentally friendly, it just takes a little tact. For example: Water bottles can be branded and filled at the beginning of the event with easy refill options throughout the event so that plastic water bottles are removed as a need and and creating a reduction in waste. The rule of thumb here is to make sure all swag has purpose in the event, is made out of recyclable materials, and if there is an opportunity where it can save you in spending in other areas, it really can be a win win.
- Materials waste refers to name badges, handouts, event fliers, event signage, lanyards, and more. With a virtual event this can all be handled digitally on the event website, event app, or seamlessly across both. With that real-time notifications, digital check-ins, and online programs with speaker bios can be at your attendees fingertips. What does that mean? Less signage, shorter registration lines, less questions from your attendees because they are more informed than ever.
Toast of the Town, LLC was the first event company in Anchorage (and may still be the only one) to become Green Star certified. Taking care of our environment is something that is important to us as a business and because of that we take considering more eco-friendly solutions seriously and we hope you all do too! It’s only with everyone’s mindfulness that we can impact this industry as a whole, and in turn our planet.
For more creative ideas on how to make your next event sustainable, contact our event experts at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907.302.2323