COP26 and the Sustainable Future of Events

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Alex Hughes, Co-founder, Totem Hybrid Events

Covid-19 was a ‘reset’ moment for the events industry. We stopped, we worried, and we all responded in different ways to that moment – and we are still adapting to the ripples of change.

Alongside that reset, something else happened – something which came as a surprise to many. We saw Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues move into the foreground for business, something which it had been able to marginalise or ignore for too long. The onus shifted onto what big business can do to help society and the wider world.

In that moment of pause for the events world, many of us thought about our ESG responsibilities much more seriously – and also about the potential for reputational damage by ignoring these issues.

COP26 and the focus on events

There was a lot to think about. Event management choices have a huge impact on the environment. In the UK alone, the events industry emits 1.2 billion kg of CO2 emissions every year. From supply chains to programming, waste reduction to travel, venues to marketing – all of these potential pitfalls require important decision-making and reputational reckoning.

But it would be completely wrong for us to look at this situation as an exercise in damage limitation. We also have huge opportunities to bring about positive change in many ways across all industries. Events provide a place to share ideas and to accelerate sustainable change on a global scale. And with the right systems in place, events can also have a much smaller negative impact on the planet.

One event that aims to achieve great things is of course COP26. As the UN Climate change conference sets out to secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach, countries are being asked to come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century.

But as the main architect of the Paris climate agreement, Christiana Figueres, recently commented, it will be key for the event’s organisers to use some element of hybrid and to find the “sweet spot” between physical and virtual to allow for safe and efficient negotiations.

The advantage of hybrid

Hybrid event technology represents the sustainable future of events, in which people from across the world can attend from anywhere and vastly reduce the carbon footprint of the event in doing so. But in fact, there is a range of ground-breaking tech that can help to further offset climate dangers, enabling all events organisers large and small to present a better future for the event industry, and to reduce CO2 emissions.

In my next post, I’ll outline examples of how innovative solutions offer opportunities for events to minimise their carbon footprints, while also making sustainable activities more engaging and meaningful.