Many believe that crisis can be a catalyst for change. At H&E North, we believe the pandemic has given the events industry an opportunity to lead a green recovery. As delegates and industry staff get used to travelling less, working from home and embracing virtual experiences, there has at least been a positive environmental impact.
However, as lockdown restrictions ease, there is a risk that the protective equipment required to make events COVID-secure is headed for landfill, while a move away from public transport will undoubtedly put more traffic on the roads with the return of in-person events.
We hear the views of a panel of industry stalwarts, from venues, event planner and suppliers, on how the pandemic has impacted the future of sustainable events…
Amid the excitement around the prospect of venues being allowed to safely reopen, Jon Davies, Managing Director of sports stadia caterer Levy UK, maintains hospitality providers must not lose sight of their ethical and sustainable responsibilities: “Sustainability cannot be seen as optional post-pandemic – now is the time to recommit to our principles, not compromise on them.
“We must look to increasingly leverage the power of our supply chain to consistently drive up food safety and welfare standards and positively impact the health of our planet. Where possible, providers should diverge from air freight and food imports and return to more localised supply networks. This will help lower carbon emissions while also supporting smaller local producers who have struggled during the pandemic.
“We must also be prepared to challenge overreactions that would make the guest experience unattractive, overly sterile or otherwise unsustainable. Single-use plastics may be seen as a ‘safer’ option short term, but takeaway-style service is not the only way to deliver safe and hygienic experiences. We cannot let a disposable culture reassert itself as a new long-term normal – nor do guests want a substandard experience.”
As Head of Conference Leeds, Claire Heap has seen all her partner venues adapt their conferencing offer as a result of the pandemic, with sustainability remaining at the forefront of their decisions: “Catering is one of many aspects that has been closely reviewed to ensure that measures align with government guidelines, which has meant that the day of group catering or buffet-style lunches is no longer possible, making way for single serve portions instead. As such, venues are adapting their sustainability plans, moving from glass bottles through to using recyclable or cardboard packaging for events, to minimise single use plastic usage. The academic institutions across Leeds have been working towards a plastic-free future with some of their research and development projects and will be in a strong position to guide the venues in this respect.”
As the industry reacts quickly and positively to the challenges of lockdown, Claire has witnessed a huge shift to online events: “It was great to see a number of events across the city, including Leeds Digital Festival, the International Medieval Congress and the fourth Arabic Linguistics Forum adopt a virtual event rather than cancel completely. It has also been interesting to see the development of hybrid events since restrictions began to ease, with September’s UKickstart Event setting a great example of a successful hybrid event. Delegates attended virtually from the comfort of their own home or in-person at one of the 13 regional hubs, with the Studio Leeds having acted as the hub for Yorkshire.”
If brands truly want to innovate and demonstrate their corporate social responsibility values, Joe Taylor, director of full service creative agency Evensix, agrees virtual events need to be a key consideration: “When hosting a physical event, not only does the event team need to consider the logistics of getting people to the venue, but they will also need to consider the amount of food wasted, rubbish cleared and the energy required to run that event. According to a Birmingham University study, a one-day physical event produces up to 170kg of CO2 and five tonnes of refuse waste. Through virtual events, not only can brands commit to a reduced carbon footprint in terms of delegate travel, but delegates can feel assured that they are also doing their bit.”
Anthony Chadwick, Founder of Conference Virtually, has run his own global virtual veterinary congress since 2013 when 300 delegates registered. This year, he welcomed 10,000 delegates from over 100 countries: “I believe we have saved many million travel miles since we started in 2013. Plus, digitalising learning democratises it and we have an obligation to share our knowledge with other developing countries.”
Despite mounting industry frustration at global companies taking the decision to ban conference attendance until the summer of 2021, Anthony feels this is a sensible way forward: “Into the future, I believe that the events industry should be looking at hybrid events with small audiences and live streaming to reduce the carbon footprint of these events and keep people safe until a vaccine arrives.
“This is an ideal time to investigate technology even more thoroughly to make virtual events more interactive and interesting for delegates listening in from home. Often at physical conferences people are too reluctant to speak in front of their peers. My experience is that anonymity loosens their tongue, while use of mixed and virtual reality can give an even greater interactive experience.”
For Anthony, the benefits of this change are obvious: “Returning to physical events at the moment is dangerous and wasteful of precious resource. A reset is required when physical events can restart for the sake of the planet and our future generations. We’ve been thrown a lifeline – we must grasp it!”
Throughout lockdown, Wyboston Lakes Resort has continued to work towards its self-imposed 2020 Green Objectives initiative to reduce its carbon footprint by 50% by 2025. In the last few months, this commitment to sustainability has earned it the Gold Standard with the Green Tourism Awards and the International Association of Conference Centres’ (IACC) Green Star certification. The resort joins a swell of UK venues now choosing to sign up for association-wide efforts to achieve greater green credentials. Bodies such as Green Tourism and IACC offer their members advice and practical support, helping venues conserve their local areas and economies, paving the way for joined-up industry approach.
The resort also partnered with one of the growing number of online business energy consultancies to minimise its energy usage costs and CO2 usage. Some of the initiatives in place include upgrading the lighting across site to the latest energy efficient LEDs which are turned off by movement sensors when a room is not in use, and ensuring energy ratings are considered as part of the purchasing decision for all new heavy equipment.
The resort recycled over 20,000kg of cardboard waste in the last year, as it continues to fulfil its Zero Waste To Landfill promise for the fifth consecutive year and actively supports the Mia’s #20percentless campaign to cut back on single-use plastics.
To counter the inevitable rise in fuel emissions as delegates avoid public transport due to coronavirus fears, it has recently expanded its charging capabilities to encourage electric car usage. The resort has the latest V3 Tesla Superchargers, which can recover up to 75 miles of charge in five minutes and up to 1,000 miles per hour.
As clients, delegates and employees expect more from the venues they work with, such environmentally friendly initiatives are key to futureproofing our industry for the benefit of our communities and ultimately the planet.