Monday, 9 August 2010

Carbon confession

It's that time of year again: time for the carbon confession. The time of year where I get to find out how badly my air travel kicked the planet in the teeth.

Things didn't seem so bad in 2007 when I first started tracking: 12,357 miles logged. Alarm bells went off in 2008, however, when my personal air miles peaked at 58,309. Something had to be done. But how do you reconcile requests to plan and verify sustainable events with a moral imperative to cut carbon? It's tough.

So I started to do a few practical things.
  • Taking direct flights. Sometimes not the best choice financially, but better from the perspective of reducing miles and take off and landing emissions. With enough lead time to ensure seats are available at a reasonable price it's helping.
  • Consolidating trips. It may require being away from home for a longer stretch of time but in many cases I'm able to save money and emissions by scheduling project trips back to back. So instead of two return trips, three one-way trips add up to fewer miles and in the long run, less time in transit than if trips were taken separately.
  • Being prepared. When you know you can only do one site visit and there will be no further opportunities to come back in-person you tend to make sure you're well prepared to do everything you need to do in one visit. Training myself to be prepared that my one site visit is my only shot has prevented the need for multiple trips.
  • Choosing a greener airline. This is tough, but sometimes possible if multiple airlines service a destination. Check out Greenopia for information on what your airline is doing to be more sustainable.
  • Packing less. Being on the road often has honed my packing efficiency. Less weight is best for hassle-free travel, and fewer emissions.
And I started to do a few things that were tougher choices to make.
  • Asking for flexibility with site visit times.
  • Requiring only one and saying no to additional site inspections.
  • Declining speaking opportunities unless there is a clear and measurable ROI.
  • Opting to have other staff located closer to the event region conduct site inspections and meetings, rather than myself where I'm farther afield.
So, I'm starting to make a dent. In 2009 mileage dropped to 40,196. This year I've dropped to 27,296 air miles. A dramatic part of this year's drop is due to client events being closer to my home, although 5,000 miles were directly reduced through consolidation, which is still progress.

I know that even despite best efforts I'm still having a negative impact. However by being thoughtful about it I hope it's in a way that does less harm.

Thursday, 5 August 2010


On television they're the evil Visitors. In the graphic novel and film he's scorned as a terrorist. For meetings the letter "V" might assume the same degree of loathing and dread: the Virtual Meeting! Striking fear in the hearts of many an event professional, the virtual meeting is something we can't deny but at the same time can't find it possible to fully embrace given how counter it is to the destination-driven business model for meetings.

Yet for event sustainability the model presents significant benefits, as proven by a recent analysis of a hybrid meeting.

The Event: An invitation-only business meeting, hosting attendees from around the world. 1600 executive attendees attending in person, 5700 technical specialists attending virtually.

The Scope: Carbon footprint analysis completed for the in-person meeting, including venue, hotels, ground transport and air travel. Additional analysis of the virtual meeting, including estimated electricity used while in the virtual environment.

The Result: An estimated 2355 metric tons of carbon emissions were produced by the in-person meeting for 1600 participants. The 5700-person virtual event produced an estimated 5.6 metric tons for carbon dioxide. 10,054 metric tons of emissions were avoided by inviting technical experts to participate virtually: the equivalent of taking 2000 cars off the road for a year.

The reality-check: Would all of the virtual attendees have attended in person if afforded the opportunity? Likely not. However the question remains: as a specific audience whose event-participation needs are fulfilled by attending virtually should they attend in person? In the case of this event it would seem the traditional model of more heads in beds might not apply, and another business model is at work to meet attendee expectations.

What does the trend toward hybrid meetings that integrate technology to enable participation mean for event sustainability and destination managers? Are we denying what seems to be an inevitable march toward and increasingly virtual meeting experience? Or are we creating a proactive strategy to deliver the best experience using the most effective medium for the audience?