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Thank you, Pandemic! (Really)

Thoughts on achieving meeting and event carbon neutrality in a post-Covid world.

One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic shut down was the dramatic decrease in carbon emissions because of limited volume in all modes of transportation:  few flights, limited train trips, minimal autos on the road, and virtually no cruises. According to the Global Carbon Project (GCP) global carbon emission levels were down a record 7 percent in 2020.

Many companies and countries have committed to reducing their carbon emission goals or achieving carbon neutrality over the next several years. Unintentionally, corporate travel bans, and government restrictions of 2020 helped them get closer to those goals. However, I fear that as corporate business travel and face-to-face events come roaring back, we will have amnesia and return to business as usual. That’s exactly what happened after the Great Recession. According to the GCP, carbon emissions rebounded 5 percent in 2010 from the lower 2008 levels; I am hopeful that we will not give up all the positive momentum made over the past 15 months.

My call to action to meeting planners is re-evaluate your meeting portfolio and meeting tiers so that meetings are predetermined to be either fully virtual, fully in-person, or hybrid in delivery. Strive to keep a certain percentage of meetings entirely virtual to reduce your carbon footprint. Instructional programming such as internal sales trainings, product updates, and investor calls are well suited for online delivery.

Some companies are trying a cadence approach to meeting delivery. For example, an organization with four annual Board of Director meetings might now hold two online and two face-to-face.  Another strategy to is to reduce the travel distance for attendees, using cars, trains, and light rail instead of air travel. Creating a hub-and-spoke hybrid meeting design with a central event location and multiple regional locations can help accomplish that.

While we’re already seeing revenue-generating, pipeline-building, and hands-on training meeting quickly return to an in-person format, I agree with the current consensus that hybrid meetings and events are here to stay. Several factors make them extremely valuable: Amplification of reach resulting in increased attendance; more inclusivity and accessibility for those who typically might not participate because of cost, geographic location, or health concerns; and improved Return on Investment (ROI) metrics. With hybrid meetings in play for the long term, I am hopeful that the negative impact of face-to-face events on our environment will be reduced.

To assist planners who want to learn how to reduce and/or offset their event carbon emissions, my thanks to bp Target Neutral for creating a free-to-use tool kit: Events | Calculate and offset your emissions | bp Target Neutral.

Betsy Bondurant, CMM, CTE, is president of Bondurant Consulting.

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