The sustainable tipping point in the events industry – when can we enjoy guilt-free corporate meetings & incentives?

It was in the last weeks that new milestones were reached in the dash to preserve the world we cherish so much. Without counting chickens, 2023 is set to be the first year in which electricity generation from fossil fuels will fall. Make no mistake, this is a very big deal. But how long will it be before our corporate event programmes are considered neutral in terms of climate impacts.

A journalist recently posited that a specific car journey could be less carbon intensive than the same journey made on a bike, if that human-powered journey was fuelled by imported foodstuffs – the example given included out of season asparagus, shipped from South America. The point being that almost all human actions have a measurable impact on our burgeoning carbon emissions. 

Work to do

The events industry is responsible for significant carbon emissions. There was a time during covid where it was suggested that we would all be confined to digital events in future, there were even fanciful notions of virtual holidays – click-bait in its pomp.

Citing another journalistic perspective, a prominent sustainability podcast recently reminded listeners of the positive impacts of travel – amongst other things that it promotes co-operation and stimulates research, whilst at the same time, it lessens the misunderstandings that leads to conflict. So, travel and events are set to remain, but the status-quo isn’t an option.

Sustainable progress and green washing

Parts of the events industry are moving fast to deliver genuinely sustainable products, others are scrambling to react to a market trend where they are hopelessly floundering. In the short term this is going to lead to real issues of integrity, with the press publicising examples of where practices undermine the sacrifices made by consumers. Whilst there is very evident ‘green washing’ in the events industry, there is serious progress being made as well.

From the supplier-side, there is the recognition that local supply chains need revitalising. What this means for the consumer is that the destination becomes more striking - being less familiar and more authentic is the ultimate reason we travel. When the sustainability process starts to deliver these synergies, then the changes will be cascading.

Carbon neutrality … and then some

Sustainability professionals continually remind event management professionals that sustainability is about so much more than green travel and solar powered hotels. Travel and accommodation are significant factors in the sustainability of events but focussing on these issues rather devalues the potential gains of genuinely sustainable events. 

Qatar was vocal in its promotion of an electrified, affordable public transport network during the FIFA World Cup – this infrastructure should be the envy of the world. Yet the idea that Qatar is a sustainable destination on the basis of this transport network is fanciful. Sustainability is about carbon neutrality, but so much more. It is about preserving regional identified through local supply chains, it is about gender equality in meaningful positions in the labour market, it is about ensuring the wellbeing of the land & oceans, as well as so much more. Sustainability offers immense opportunities to reset our behaviours - to produce the micro and macro societies that we all crave. Set the bar the low enough and just about everywhere will be sustainable in the near term.

The prize

Corporate social responsibility or environmental, social, and corporate governance or something else on the near horizon - corporations will face oversight of their behaviour and consumption choices. In 2023, sustainable events remain a minority occurrence, not contributing positively to the sustainable betterment of our world. 

Yet, with some planning, even in 2023, legacies from event programmes are absolutely assured – money spent in a destination can leave lasting benefits, whilst the actions of the suppliers will ensure that the costs are either minimised or neutralised.

The electricity production tipping point that we are expected to achieve in 2023 is truly monumental. There will continue to be green washing, but there will also be true sustainability – where the money committed by a corporation makes a positive impact on location and a neutral impact on the wider world. 

We are justifiably engaged in a race against time to clean up our act in the event industry, but when the dust settles, a guilt-free, empowering process of local investment will have meaningful impacts on the local social and economic fabric of a destination. Life will be so good beyond the tipping point.

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