Anita Howard, Strategy Director for International Corporate Events, an event company specialising in high-impact event planning across the globe, discusses her time at COP26 and what the outcome of the summit means for the event industry.
Hi Anita! Tell us about your involvement in COP26?
We joined the UN, the UNFCCC, and the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC) and brought a group of corporates up to a session at COP26. This was actually the result of us getting involved with the Net Zero Carbon Events initiative, created prior to COP26. We wanted to make sure that corporate event organisers were represented at the summit. They really want to see the event industry become more sustainable, and to make sure we all move in the same direction and make that happen.
So, what’s the main focus within the events industry?
One of the things we’ve been talking about for a number of years is trying to get all parts of the event industry to come together, and for us all to have a common voice so we can start creating a roadmap to a sustainable future. There are so many initiatives out there that are absolutely amazing. You have all these different groups doing things, and I think it’s brilliant what they’re doing, but I just feel that we all need to join together now, to try and get this moving quickly. There is going to be a huge issue when events are fully back to normal after COVID, relating to events not being sustainable. We need to come together as an industry to tackle that.
Is there a long way to go?
Yes. Everyone talks about little steps, and we do all need to share those little steps. In some ways our industry is very sustainable. Venues are doing an amazing job of using renewable power. I think everyone is trying. We all need to start working in the same direction, which can be difficult when sustainability means so many things to different people, which is why we’ve gone for the Net Zero Carbon Events initiative. We think that’s achievable.
Are we in any different position than we were before the agreements at COP26?
This is an interesting question. I think ultimately the answer is, time will tell. On the plus side, there were over 1000 people signed into our session at COP26. Now is the time for us to actually do it. We all have to feed in to the roadmap that’s going to be laid out. It can’t just be the venues, or the advertising agencies. It has to be the whole industry. I think we are in a better position, providing we all put aside our egos. We need to just crack on with it and not let politics get in the way.
Do you think that operating in a more sustainable manner is going to affect event professionals’ ability to turn a profit?
Everyone knows there’s a cost implication to being more sustainable. For example, if you want some beautiful red carpets for an event, you have to also deal with recycling them afterwards. There is going to be a cost, but you have to be creative about that. It’s all about how you budget for it. Instead of having 200 delegates at your event, why don’t you have 180 instead, and use the money you would have spent on those delegates to have a more sustainable piece of carpet, or graphic, or something like that. There is a cost, but it’s nothing compared to the cost to our planet and children if we do nothing.
Overall, should the industry be happy about COP26?
Yes. I’m always a positive person, so I think that the industry should be pleased. The future looks very rosy compared to where we were this time last year, when everyone was still talking, but nothing was being done. Now we have a plan to put into action.