Today’s article is a brief look at the issue of air miles and transportation when it comes to planning events – in particular corporate conferences. There are 2 main factors here. The first is the amount of travel with international corporate events – conferences, trade shows, etc. And the second is the travel to and from the venue in terms of local travel – car pools, taxi companies, bicycle access, shuttle buses and such like.
With the carbon footprint of an International Conference often being more than 80% of the total footprint of the entire event, there is clearly something wrong with the model of a relentless circuit of events where delegates travel from all the world for often no more than a 3 day event and pumping thousands of kilograms of carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. One obvious way of off-setting this is by restricting the number of conferences. At the moment, there are often a few conferences about the same subject or industry and all set up by different organisers. This is not easy to achieve so possibly it’s more realistic to concentrate on developing more online conferences, like the Nearly Carbon-Neutral conference model is freely available for guidance and recommends that all proceedings take place online. The rapid rise in tele-conferencing technology and online communication in general means that it’s a ripe time to focus on practical ways to make conferences more efficient without the drastic measures of just cancelling them outright. Platforms like Skype, Zoom, Webex, Connect and GoToMeeting can allow up to 50 people and, if arranged carefully, up to 250 people. The typical conference format, with some work and planning, be adjusted to fit digital platforms and that is what needs to continue happening.
If busy professionals with families were given the reassurance that not travelling thousands of miles to physically attend a conference wouldn’t negatively affect their career or leave them missing out on essential relationship building, learning and development, then surely they’d be happy to skip the long hours of travelling and just get online and take everything they needed as well as contribute that way. It’s about more than just the technology. The merging of physical and cyber attendance has to be such that it means that anyone invited is given encouraging reasons not to travel. Marketing of the event has to give equal importance to shouting out about the benefits of virtual attendance and make it abundantly clear how that works and what it entails. It’s as simple as selling anything, by focusing on the benefits to the consumer. All this can of course be combined with spelling out the positive effect on the environment so make delegates realise the virtue as well as the practical wisdom in the choice not to travel so far when they can gain as much from the conference from the comfort of their home or office. Another obvious advantage of reduced carbon conferencing is the cost. Attendees who may struggle to afford to attend a conference will not be left out this way as if there’s a simple, one-off fee, that is entirely different to having to pay travel, accommodation, meals, entertainment etc. – the many costs of travelling abroad for an event.
In short, we need to make any small or large international corporate event or conference virtual version appear to be just as relevant as its physical version so the online event seems just as much worth attending and therefore the obvious choice of many.
Now let’s take a look at the transportation to and from the actual conference venue. For starters, having a conference in a location with great transport links is helpful for those who have to travel to attend the event. For example, the British Library is only a few metres from Kings Cross station in London as well as the international rail destination of St Pancras. And of course therefore the Eurostar links are perfect. This is good as it means it’s possible to avoid cars altogether if travelling via either station. Of course, not all conferences will have this kind of ideal location. For those that cannot avoid a certain distance to public transport links, there is the possibility of car pooling, with apps that are easy to use and can connect attendees in a very useful and sustainable manner. There are 100% electric vehicle taxi services also. Having excellent bike access and storage facilities will encourage the possibility of cycling to the venue. A dedicated app or website for travel that is used only by the delegates will encourage teaming up and saving on ‘single-use’ journeys as well as encourage dialogue between the delegates about saving money on travel. They just need to be presented with clear and simple alternatives that are so appealing on different levels that it becomes a no-brainer. Some time, thought and planning here will make a lot of difference.
So although transport may not be the first thing that you think of regarding an event, if you’re thinking sustainable, then it’s something that should be right up there with the other priorities.