Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The 5% Solution to my Bridget Jones Funk

I'm in a Bridget Jones kind of funk. Not over a Daniel Cleaver. Or a Mr. Darcy. No, it is World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim who last week caused the thought to cross my mind that it might be a relief if the world was to actually end December 21, 2012. At least that would mean I didn't have to think through the depressing reality of the World Bank's recent projection of what a world four degrees warmer would actually look like.

Grab the ice cream. Pull the covers over my head. Give up. Closed for business. Enjoy the sparkle-less twilight of a climate change reality where we all might be hosed anyway!

Then, in a mope that would make Scarlett O'Hara envious, I came across a rather hopeful article by Andrew Winston. One that caused me to peek out from under the comforter and wonder if there's a reason to be more hopeful.

In the article Winston suggests an important and I think feasible target: 5% carbon reduction per year. Not so impossible, surely? But to know for sure, what would it require for your event, or event company?

Understanding your carbon footprint. An event's largest carbon impact is typically associated with transportation. But other things matter too: building energy use for meeting space and guest rooms, audio visual equipment, waste production and purchased materials like catering, registration supplies and collateral. Virtually every item we use at an event has an emissions impact. So be clear what your energy and material inputs are and what the emissions output might be. If you're getting started and don't feel you have the knowledge, a carbon accounting or sustainability consultant can help you. Or you might see if you can take advantage of free carbon calculators online. Maybe you even have a sustainability department within your company that can help you. Taking a complete and thorough inventory at the start will help you realise more reductions in future.

Measuring a baseline carbon footprint. Once you've understood how carbon applies to your event, or event company, start to measure. For an event pick an appropriate scope, considering all the factors in step one that might apply. For an event company consider a specific timeline you'll want to capture and compare. An annual baseline - or 12 month cycle of activity - could be a good starting point. Your business travel footprint is likely important if you're an event company, particularly your air emissions.
MeetGreen has been measuring their carbon footprint from air travel since 2009. Although a slight up-tick in emissions was noted last year, the overall reduction in carbon impact since 2009 has been 16%, evidence the 5% per year solution is possible for one business.

Identifying opportunities to reduce. There's many ways to do this.Your big wins will come by looking at things like reducing air travel and eliminating material use and waste. I know what you're thinking: what's left? Remember....we're looking at 5%. Could you grow new remote audiences and divert 5% of your current attendees to a paid, virtual event package? If you take 20 trips per year could you eliminate one?  Would regionalising a global event help? Could you reduce ground shuttles needed by choosing walkable, cities, venues and hotels? Can you eliminate bottled water and individually packaged items? Can you reduce wet food waste by sharpening order quantities or donating left-overs? Are there local suppliers for the goods you might be shipping longer distances? These are all ideas to put on the 5% solution list.

Committing to follow through on real strategies. It can be helpful to sort your options by short and long-term actions. Make sure to assign responsibility. Stake a claim to what you will do visibly so it's clear you're serious, and expect people to contribute, either through employee reviews or in supplier contracts. Also consider incentives to reward progress. Cultivating a clear commitment that engages your event or company stakeholders will hold you accountable on those days where - like me this week - you want to pull up the covers and forget about it.

Measuring progress to continue improving. Put a feedback mechanism in place. This could be a simple online form for your team to record air travel. Or you might consider a partnership with a carbon offset company that calculates how your event baseline is changing, and provides you with opportunities to offset emissions you can't avoid.
In 2010 Hilton reported a 7.8% reduction in carbon output through their Lightstay program.
So when you feel over-whelmed by the doom and gloom of the climate crisis think: 5% Solution. It may not only be the path to weight loss, but also smarter, innovative business practices that reduce risks and costs.

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