Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Saving the environment, one virtual event at a time

By Lysa Campbell, CEO at Retail Marketing Group

In November 2020, the Prime Minister announced his 10 point plan for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’, which spanned across numerous industries and aimed to create 250,000 highly-skilled green jobs in the UK by 2030. Alongside rising questions over the long-term environmental impact of fossil fuels, the announcement provides an ongoing opportunity for the UK to develop new innovations across the board, to help reach the ultimate goal of zero emissions. This is an area that the events industry has been focusing on for the last few years.

However, even with this increase in carbon budgets, domestic emissions need to be reduced to at least 3% per year to reach the UK’s 2050 target of reducing emissions by 80% from 1990. There may not be time to develop completely new technologies in this time frame, and therefore companies need to start looking at advancing and improving current technologies. One of the sectors that can be rapidly addressed is virtual and hybrid working, events and conferencing.

The last 12 months has seen in-person events either cancelled or converted to virtual. Then, in February 2021, the government announced its phased reopening of society, meaning events and conferences will be allowed to meet in person once again. Many companies see this as a requirement to use virtual OR In person events, yet by combining them into hybrid events businesses can actually further the UK’s goal of Net Zero by 2050.

Going virtual and hybrid to be sustainable

‘Going green’ for events and conferences means so much more than bamboo straws and refillable cups. To make an event truly sustainable, companies must alter the perception of what an event is, what they need to take away from it and then drastically reduce the need for travel, hospitality and waste, all of which have a severe impact on the environment. In order to do this effectively for both the planet and their bottom line, they must consider virtual and hybrid alternatives.

Virtual environments are the most sustainable way that companies can host events. Physical events demand a huge amount of travel, not just for attendees but for site contractors and the event staff themselves. A three-day virtual conference with an average attendance of over 3,000 people can result in more than 3.75 million kilograms of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere, equivalent to 75,000 car journeys between London and Paris.

Virtual and hybrid events and conferences minimise the need for people to travel, in addition to the need to ship equipment, staging and other materials, saving time and cost for everyone involved. Not only this, virtual and hybrid conferences are much more accessible to people around the world, facing no geographical limitations or impacts on the environment and giving businesses the ultimate flexibility in organising events.

Aside from travel and logistics, many events produce a huge amount of event paperwork that ends up being thrown away. According to a study from Birmingham University, a one day physical event can produce over five tonnes of refuse waste, including flyers and leaflets. This is an often overlooked aspect when thinking about the environmental impact of physical events and conferences. Waste caused by printed materials such as brochures and marketing collateral increases the carbon footprint of an event, alongside the emissions output that is needed to generate these materials to begin with. Virtual and hybrid events cut out the need for this completely, providing the same information through creative digital formats.

Paving the way to wider industry discussion

In 2020, more than a dozen companies took part in the WM2041 Five Year Plan roundtable, a virtual event discussing how businesses can help the UK achieve its ambitious target of being net zero carbon by 2041. The roundtable created designated priority areas such as carbon and energy interventions, travel, and resources.

Virtual events such as the WM2041 roundtable provide an opportunity for wider discussions on the challenges that are facing the UK and the world. Hosting the discussions on virtual platforms showcases a desire from companies to push for a greener alternative to working in every aspect of their business.

The future of virtual events

Virtual events are not designed to replace every aspect of live events, instead combining the best of both worlds to create a unique, greener experience. This provides the engagement of live events with the versatility of digital, to create the next generation of events: the immersive virtual or hybrid event. Solutions like Retail Marketing Group’s E:VENT already offer an easy and affordable way to host virtual and hybrid events, delivering an energetic and vibrant experience for both the physical and virtual attendee.

This should be the goal for any brand or event organiser wanting to connect with its audience and deliver on their ROI. As brands look to regenerate events post-COVID, we will begin to see the true potential of immersive virtual events as they gain in popularity.