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How Do We Achieve Real Sustainability in the Global Events Industry?

Whichever event you attend nowadays, the word “sustainability” is on everyone’s lips. There is lots of talk, lots of very genuine intentions and lots of determination to improve the sustainability of the events industry.

The global events circuit is one of the most dynamic and exciting industries to work in. From state-of-the-art mobile technology, game-changing medical treatments and techniques through to the development of safer and cleaner environments in which we can live, work and enjoy our lives: all of life is here.

According to the GSMA’s fourth Mobile Net Zero report, published at MWC 2024, there was a 6% global decline in carbon emissions by mobile network operators between 2019-2022.

While this can’t necessarily be interpreted as a blanket status for carbon emissions, and while several factors are at play, it is encouraging news. The question is: can we globally implement and continue this level of carbon reduction across the events industry and the industries supporting it? And how can we collaborate now to ensure what we're doing is starting to make a difference?  


Who is spearheading sustainability?

With all this being said, it’s no surprise that some of the big expos are taking an ambitious lead in how we conduct large-scale business more responsibly.

Hannover Messe (happening in May 2024) is the global expo that covers the future of industrial technology, and they've pledged to be carbon neutral by 2035. What’s more, the electricity that powers the entire show is generated by hydropower.

NAB 2024 is an event that highlights the very best in broadcast technology and content. It also has its own sustainability awards, and the organisers and planners encourage exhibitors to be as sustainable as possible via considerate design, construction and certification.

The Barcelona-based Mobile World Congress is going even further. MWC has been certified as carbon neutral for ten years, and was four times recognised by the Guinness World Records as “The world’s largest carbon neutral trade show”.

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Decarbonising the industry

So, if these giant events can step up, what can the event industry do? Fortunately, the event activities we need to reduce and the simple, positive steps we need to take are clear. But we must take them quickly.

It’s not going to be easy. The events industry has a way of operating that has been ingrained for many years. Change can be difficult, often disconcerting but if we can start by implementing small measures then a larger evolution could and should become more achievable.

It is important to note that a number of these small steps have already been taken - the industry just needs to do them better and faster.

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Energy Efficiency

This is a big one. Minimizing energy consumption during the event will directly drive down carbon emissions, as energy is consumed at so many points.

  1. Choose energy-efficient technology and use equipment rentals for kit such as lighting rigs and AV platforms to reduce freight requirements.
  2. Implement smart temperature and power controls  to avoid unnecessary heating or cooling.
  3. Utilizing natural light whenever possible is a simple step, although it may not be practical in many preexisting venues.

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Sustainable Venues and Suppliers

If you’re an exhibitor, your control over the venue’s environmental practices might be limited, but try to find out each venue's environmental practices in advance and plan how energy-efficient you can make your operation.

If you’re organising an event, prioritize finding a venue with progressive environmental standards and ensure you contract sustainability-minded suppliers:

  1. Brands and exhibition designers alike need to prioritise reusability in exhibit designs. It’s obviously tempting to create a dazzling new display for every event, but faced with a future of conscious responsibility, the emphasis needs to be on reusing and repurposing existing exhibition components or stands as far as possible.
  2. Check whether a venue has energy-efficient LED lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems - and if it uses renewable energy sources such as hydro or solar power.
  3. Partner with caterers who use local, seasonal ingredients and minimize food waste. It’s worth asking how they account for their practices if you’re serious about offsetting your event’s carbon footprint.
  4. Choose suppliers who offer sustainable products and prioritize reusability: this is especially important and useful for cross-border exhibitions, and is a great way to set a precedent for future exhibitions and exhibitors.
  5. Source and collaborate with trusted local contractors to reduce the amount of staff travel needed - a vital step in cutting tangible carbon emissions.

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Reducing High Waste Generation

It goes without saying that events generate significant waste from single-use plastics, uneaten food, disposable decorations and printed materials. Event organisers need to implement increasingly robust waste management policies at each stage, including:

  1. Implementing clear recycling stations with signage for varied materials.
  2. Choosing reusable plates, cutlery, and cups instead of disposables.
  3. Encourage attendees to bring their own water bottles by providing refill stations.
  4. Using digital signage and online resources to move away from printed materials.
  5. Choose sustainable and reusable elements for stands and display items.

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Offsetting remaining emissions

Even with best efforts, some emissions are unavoidable. Consider:

  1. Partnering with organizations that plant trees or invest in renewable energy projects to offset remaining carbon emissions.
  2. More effective event waste management reduces environmental impact - and can even save energy consumption.

What can we do now?

Of course, it’s easier to write a list than to put into practice - but if we start prioritizing these strategies, the events industry can significantly reduce its environmental impact and create a more sustainable future for gatherings of all sizes.

If you're looking to put on an exhibition, exhibit abroad or feel that you could streamline your operation for exhibitions, it's worth partnering with experts who know and stay abreast of regulations, who are connected to local contractors and resources in multiple locations, and who can ensure your designs and logistics remain efficient, sustainable and cost-effective.

Give us a call or book a free consultation if you're interested in improving the sustainability of your events and exhibitions.

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